More blues than you can shake a root at

By Bryant Lukes

Quiet night on the Mississippi riverbank, plucking the strings of daddy’s banjo. The raft listlessly floats by the neighbourhood youngin’ digging for skipping stones and the rare bullfrogs. And, of course, all the coal mining–which seems odd in the middle of the Mississippi.

These are the images evoked in our imaginations whenever snatches of blues and roots music tumbles out of that old AM radio. This year the Calgary Blues and Roots Festival will relegate those images into grandmother’s scrapbook as they enliven the festival lineup with a star-studded affair sure to cross all demographic dimensions.

This year, Cake, the Lyle Lovett band, David Byrne, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings and Johnny Lang will play the festival, in addition to many others. Cake, especially, have made quite a name for themselves in the media for their politically charged antics, including the wearing of star-spangled undergarments.

“I think it’s hilarious,” chuckles Bryan Taylor, the man putting on the Blues and Roots festival this year. “I think it’s really funny, as politically, I am very anti-George Bush. I see a lot of humour in them wearing American flag underwear.”

Putting on the festival at McMahon Stadium, Taylor is gearing up this weekend to ensure a helluva show. He shouldn’t have too much trouble. Prior to this Taylor was managing acts in Nashville, Tennessee.

“Well, it’s being on the other side of the table because that’s what I did,” he says. “I managed acts in Nashville then. Now I am on the side of the table where people show up and I pay them. But it’s still very much a part of our artist development philosophy. Whether you’re a manager or a promoter of a festival, the goal is to grow the artist’s career and if this happens we win.”

Taylor doesn’t have time to rest quite yet, as plans are underway to ensure next year the Blues and Roots will blow the minds of all.

“Once September hits we’ll be starting to look at new acts. I’d like to spend some time and find three or four bands, maybe one per day, that are like Cake. Bands that will appeal to a younger audience but still won’t chase the older audience out the door.”

No worries of that happening at the festival this weekend. People anticipate the beginning of the festival this Thursday when Cake, along with Kris Demeanor and David Byrne, take the stage. It promises to be a show no one should miss.

No more rafts on the river or boys in denim overalls poking dead frogs in the mud. No more banjos and buckwheat between yellowed teeth. This is the Blues and Roots Festival, a time of unity. Specifically, it’s a time for people to unite around star-spangled undergarments.