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Blues festival brings big-name acts to Nanaimo this weekend

The upcoming edition of the Nanaimo Blues Festival is a big, bluesy step in the right direction by the Nanaimo Blues Society, with four days of programming at Maffeo Sutton Park featuring top-name headliners from Canada and the U.S.
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Maple Blues Award winner Sue Foley performs Friday at the Nanaimo Blues Festival. DANNY CLINCH

NANAIMO BLUES FESTIVAL

With: Legendary Downchild Blues Band, Rick Estrin & The Nightcats, Sue Foley, Powder Blues Band, Thornetta Davis, Blue Moon Marquee and more
Where: Maffeo Sutton Park, 100 Comox Rd., Nanaimo
When: Thursday, Aug. 10, through Sunday, Aug. 13
Tickets: $50-$75 (daily) or $170 (festival pass) from nanaimoblues.tickit.ca

The Nanaimo Blues Festival is taking huge steps in 2023, with dreams of being the go-to source for blues music on Vancouver Island. With advance ticket sales up 35 per cent from this point last year, according to organizers, the reality may not be that far off.

The upcoming edition is a big, bluesy step in the right direction by the Nanaimo Blues Society, with four days of programming at Maffeo Sutton Park featuring top-name headliners from Canada and the U.S.

Rick Estrin & The Nightcats and Blue Moon Marquee are atop the list of performers on-deck Thursday, which offers an impressive opening night. Estrin, a San Francisco native, is the former lead singer, songwriter and harmonica player of Little Charlie & the Nightcats, while Cowichan Valley act Blue Moon Marquee is one of the top blues bands in Canada.

“We have spectacular Canadian talent at this festival,” said society president Jackie Moisan. “Blue Moon Marquee is getting a lot of international acclaim.”

The Legendary Downchild Blues Band, Sue Foley, and Lady A are among the bands on the bill Friday, with Thornetta Davis and Anthony Geraci & The Boston Blues All-Stars leading the Saturday line-up. Kenny (Blues Boss) Wayne and Tom Lavin & Powder Blues bringing the festival to a close on Sunday.

There’s also after-party events featuring established blues performers Brandon Isaak (Friday) and Jimmy D. Lane (Saturday).

“Last year was a success. As a result, we were able to come back bigger, and with more of a budget for headliners,” Moisan said.

Despite its success, the four-day Nanaimo Blues Society event will never become dependent on top U.S. names, in part due to its commitment to Vancouver Island-based players. “You’ll see about 40 per cent of our line-up is local, from up and down Vancouver Island,” Moisan said.

Among those who benefit from the hometown flavour is 13 year-old Nanaimo singer-guitarist James Vickers, she added. “He’s a remarkably talented young player. James has a really good career ahead of him. He’s really going to go places.”

Vickers is part of the festival’s New Blues Showcase, which is an ongoing point of pride for Moisan. Vickers and other young blues performers from the area reap the benefits of the society’s weekly blues jam each Sunday at The Queen’s in Nanaimo, where much of the momentum for the festival has its early beginnings.

“We have been running the Sunday Blues Jam for 10 years, and it is remarkably popular. The intent through the jam is to provide opportunities for local players, and mentor young players. Through that jam we have absolutely seen our audience of younger people grow, and as a result, we’re seeing younger people come to the festival. It’s our anchor event, and the hard work is paying off.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com