Photo contributed From Ireland, McGoldrick, McCusker and Doyle bring the best of traditional Celtic music.

Artists’ collaborations often golden

Workshops a often weave magic at Roots & Blues

Think warm summer days, Mt. Ida as a backdrop and music to boil your blood and soothe your soul – all in the same day.

That would be the Roots and Blues Festival that plays out Aug. 18 to 20 at the Salmon Arm Fairgrounds.

Along with a stellar lineup, artistic director Peter North has been busy crafting another series of workshops that, as in other years, often include artists who have never met, never mind performed together on stage.

“I am pretty excited about them, they’re the foundation of the festival,” he says. “Eighty per cent of the programming goes from 10 a.m. to 5:45, but we will have night ones as well.”

Kicking it up from zero to overdrive, Ricky Scaggs and his band Kentucky Thunder will perform with Ireland’s Mike McGoldrick, John McCusker and John Doyle at 4 p.m. Friday on the Barn Stage.

“It will be pretty stupid,” says North of the collaboration that will bring country-bluegrass head-to-head onstage with “reel Celtic thunder.”

There are no better practitioners of country blues than Rev. Robert Lee Jones, Dave Essig and Michael Jerome Brown, who will “Keep on Truckin” at the Barn right afterward, says North.

The festival gets “a nice lift-off” Saturday morning with “Soul Food,” featuring the music of Frazey Ford, Dave Babcock, Roots and Blues House Band sax player and perhaps a surprise addition.

“Hands Across the Pond” will rev it up for Celtic fans with the music of McGoldrick, McCusker and Doyle, Irish Mythen, Andy Hillhouse and two of the McDades who are coming to the festival with Maria Dunn.

Gather round the Shade Stage early Saturday afternoon for Stephen Fearing and “If you Have to Choose,” with the music of Willie P. Bennett, someone North praises as being “as good a songwriter as anyone.”

In 1996, Fearing, Colin Linden, and Tom Wilson formed a band called Blackie and the Rodeo Kings to record a tribute album of songs by Willie P. Bennett. Nine albums and one Juno Award later, the band has become one of the most respected names in North American roots-rock-Americana music.

Fearing will be joined in “If you have to choose” by Claire Lynch, long recognized and praised as a creative force in acoustic music and a pioneer who continually pushes the boundaries of the bluegrass genre.

Saturday morning will also feature a good deal of fiddling around, when great Cajun fiddler and old-time banjo player Michael Jerome Brown hosts three members of Lynch’s band and three members of the Lil Smokies in “String Wizards.”

Songwriter Maria Dunn draws deeply on the folk tradition of storytelling through song, melding North American roots music with her Scottish-Irish heritage. She will host “Women of Folkways” on the Shade Stage on Saturday afternoon.

Dunn will be joined by fiddler, singer, and stepdancer April Verch, Dana Wylie, who moved to Britain for a few years to soak up the traditions of songwriting before moving back to the Prairies and Asani, an Aboriginal women’s trio with members based in Alberta and B.C. They are Debbie Houle, Sarah Pocklington and Sherryl Sewepagaham.

This circle of First Nations and Métis women have performed across the continent and also performed for the Dalai Lama and Queen Elizabeth.

Wander over to the Blues Stage in the late afternoon Saturday for “Crossing Muddy Waters,” which will be hosted by Chicago Blues living legend John Primer, guitarist in the last Muddy Waters Band.

Joining him in this workshop tribute will be guitar-playing and singing Keith Scott, another veteran of the Chicago blues scene.

Get ready for a real barn-burner at 6 p.m. Saturday, when Grammy and Juno-award winner Alex Cuba and his dynamic band and Juno Award winner, two-time Grammy nominee, and Officer of the Order of Canada, soprano saxophonist/flautist Jane Bunnett and Maqueque serve up a lively “Cuban Sandwich” at the Barn Stage.

“It will be a real rhythm explosion,” says North, pointing out Bennet is the only artist in the workshop who does not hail from Cuba. “Alex and Jane have never done workshops, but they have done sessions.”

“Canadian Classics” workshops will be held on Saturday and Sunday.

Homegrown singer-songwriter Blu Hopkins will play host to April Verch, Braden Gates and Andrew Hillhouse in a look at Canadian contemporary and traditional folk songs on Saturday. Sunday’s workshop will be hosted by Dana Wylie and include Jay Gilday, Braden Gates and Asani.

Also on Sunday, “Two Pianos – No Waiting” brings Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne and Garth Kennedy of the Roots and Blues House Band together to celebrate different blues piano styles going back to the 1920s.

Not a workshop but crafted that way, says North, Sunday night’s tribute to Leonard Cohen drew enthusiastic response from all the artists approached to perform.

North says one particular high note of the session that runs Sunday night prior to Alex Cuba’s finale will be Wylie’s touching tribute Hallelujah Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah.

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