No chance of getting the blues at Burnaby music festival

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More than 5,000 people attended the 14th Annual Burnaby Blues and Roots Festival on Aug. 10 at Deer Park, in Burnaby B.C.
Photo courtesy Kenza Moller 

Sun shines on beloved blues and roots event


BURNABY, BC - When I woke on Saturday morning, the view outside was dreary: overcast clouds hung low, with the occasional pitter-patter of rain making an appearance. While it was typical weather for Vancouver, I couldn’t help but cringe, knowing the Burnaby Blues and Roots Festival was setting up over the open field at Deer Lake Park and hoping it wouldn’t get too soggy.

By noon, however, a blazing sun broke through the clouds, shining over the willow trees and pines that cradle sprawling Deer Lake. Visitors began to pour into the field set up between three stages at the Burnaby Blues and Roots Festival, with the smell of grilled smokies drifting throughout the park. Early-goers strolled through the Artisan Village, a collection of pop-up booths that sold everything from ancient mammoth tusks to tie-dyed dresses to necklaces made of Scrabble tiles.

More music and stages this year

The first artist to take the Main Stage was a vivacious David Gogo, who pulled from his latest album, Soul Bender, and cracked jokes with the sun-kissed crowds around him. Soon after, the Westwood and Garden stages sprung to life with a mix of old and new artists. Brickhouse, which has been around for more than 17 years, delighted crowds with their old-school blues while blues-based rocker Shaun Verreault boomed from the Westwood Stage.

This year was the 14th Burnaby Blues and Roots Festival and the first time it expanded to three stages, with 12 artists packed in between 1 and 9 p.m.

As the only blues and roots festival in the Lower Mainland, the festival usually attracts more than 5,000 visitors, and this year seemed as busy as ever. A group of women in line at the frenzied lemonade stand laughed about past visits to the festival as they watched over a group of kids, who strummed painted cardboard guitars and rocked fairy-style face paint courtesy of the Blues Family Area.

In fact, the entire festival was a child-friendly: near the front of the stage, children danced along to the tunes, and strollers were parked alongside blankets spread in the massive field. Powered by Espresso offered free milk for baby bottles, and children under 12 were welcomed to the event for free.

Food carts, beer garden and artisan village

As 5:30 p.m. rolled around and a beaming ZZ Ward took the stage, the sun was still high overhead. “It is warm out there — so don’t be afraid to put a little sunscreen on a stranger!” ZZ Ward said with a wink before diving straight into the song 365 Days off her most recent, critically-acclaimed album Til the Casket Drops.

Between the musical sets, people strolled among food carts, the wine and beer garden, and the Artisan Village, where they perused rings made from forks and beer bottle wind chimes.

After buying a necklace strung with an old typewriter key, I was drawn back to the festival crowd by the cheers that greeted long-time favourite Charles Bradley, who enjoyed the crowd as much as they did him. After a soulful In You, in which he crawled across the stage, he grinned at the crowd. “I don’t consider you friends,” he said. “I consider you brothers and sisters.” His words summed up the feel of the festival perfectly, with groups of friends amidst families, newcomers mingling among long-time festivalgoers.

Blue Rodeo caps a beautiful day

Blue Rodeo capped off the festival as the sun set over kayakers drifting over the still waters of Deer Lake. After a glowing introduction from festival organizers that highlighted the fact that Blue Rodeo had the keys to the City of Toronto, lead singer Jim Cuddy smiled. “Don’t get too excited,” he told crowds. “I’ll have you know the only thing the keys to Toronto open is the door to a crackhouse!”

The five-time Juno award winners were the perfect way to end the night, with a blend of songs new and old that revitalized the crowds before they strolled off under the warm August sky, still singing along to How Long.

I left knowing most of the crowd would have been there even if the clouds hadn’t cleared this morning – and they’d probably be back next year, as well.

Artisan booths popped up all around Deer Park during the festival, offering an eclectic array of arts and crafts.
Photo courtesy of Kenza Moller

Visit our stories page to read about other great festivals in western Canada