Big attendance, big delays

By Jeff Labine

This year’s Thunder Bay Blues Festival broke some records and possibly some rules.

Thousands attended the annual music festival over the weekend, which featured big name acts like Burton Cummings, Tom Cochrane, Serena Ryder and Colin James. The three-day event, which wrapped up on Sunday, was packed throughout the weekend at Marina Park as each Canadian band took to the stage.

In terms of attendance and sales, Bluesfest was well ahead compared to last year, said Thunder Bay Community Auditorium general manager Bob Halvorsen.

He guessed they saw an increase of around 50 per cent.

“Last year was less than stellar, but this year was fantastic,” he said.

“After 15 years of doing this with back-to-back years where we didn’t do so well and then this year where we came roaring back to have the best year ever after 15 years is just fantastic.”

Despite the records being set, there were a few hiccups including delays that pushed some acts well into midnight and beyond the 11 p.m. closing time. The first delay happened on Friday due to rain while the other involved Cochrane’s guitar, which delayed him from performing at his scheduled time. On Saturday, Colin James’ flight into Thunder Bay was delayed and when he arrived to the festival, he required a sound check, which pushed the schedule farther back.

Halvorsen said they did receive some complaints about the noise.

“We made a decision that we made an investment in those acts, that’s where all the money is and they are what people are here to see,” he said. “We decided to plough ahead and go past the 11 p.m. curfew. We have gone passed in other years (but) this year was a little more than any other year in terms of time.”

Halvorsen added that they apologized for the technical difficulties and believes that most understood that these kinds of things happen at live events. He wasn’t aware if the festival violated any bylaws by going past midnight.

Lori Quesnelle arrived on Sunday at 9:30 a.m. in order to snag a prime spot. She was attending the festival with her husband and a few friends and said she spent the entire weekend at Bluesfest.

“I want to see Burton Cummings and I’m short and blind and I want to be able to see,” she said on why she arrived so early.

“There’s certain bands that I like to see and I don’t like to be pushed and I don’t like to be stomped on so this way I avoid a lot of rudeness and ignorance.”

Quesnelle said she was disappointed that she wasn’t able to see everyone she wanted because of the delays.

Quesnelle said they had obligations they needed to go to at midnight, so they had to leave.

“We had to leave before Colin James came on,” she said. “We had to leave before the other band came on the other night. I understand 20 minutes to half an hour but an hour and a half is too much.”

She said the delays could impact if she returns to the show next year.

Dave Redding and Jan Cummings, who both travelled to Thunder Bay from St. Paul, Minn., didn’t appear to mind the delays. The pair have been attending Bluesfest for 11 years and Redding said he’s never seen that happen before to that extent in all the years they have come to the festival.

“It’s bound to happen,” Redding said. “We’ve been here for 11 years and never had a glitch. It’s been flawless.”

Redding explained that it was around the second or third year at Bluesfest when they met a couple from Timmins. From then on, it became a tradition for the two couples to meet up in Thunder Bay and take in the music festival.

Both Redding and Cummings enjoyed the all-Canadian lineup this year.

“We don’t get to hear the Canadians all that much,” she said. “It was fun. The first year we came here it was because Downchild Blues Band was here. I said I would love to see them again and here they are.”

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