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Orangeville Blues and Jazz Festival organizers plan for ‘bigger and better’ with 20th anniversary 




Written By Sam Odrowski

The Orangeville Blues and Jazz Festival is pulling out all the stops for its 20th edition this year, bringing a stacked lineup of local and international talent to the downtown core over three days.

Countless JUNO Award-winning acts make up the more than 75 artists who will take over downtown Orangeville from May 31 to June 2 with their eclectic live performances.

The festival will feature Canadian artists from coast to coast – Vancouver Island to Halifax – and everywhere in between.

Everything that Orangeville Blues and Jazz Festival fans have come to love over the years will be returning for its 20th edition – only bigger and better.

“This is one of the most popular events in the area and you're going to have a great time. You will find tons of stuff to do all day, every day,” said Larry Kurtz, festival founder and artistic director “There's lots of variety and if you're into music, you're going to see great performances.”

Something that sets the 20th edition of the Orangeville Blues and Jazz Festival apart from past year's is the calibre of artists that make up the lineup.

“Budget wise, we went for a lot of headliners,” said Kurtz, who books all the performers each year. “A lot of bands that in other years would be the sole headliner, we've got around seven or eight of them.”

Kurtz said he's designed the music schedule so that no matter what time of day it is, there's always something different going on between the Broadway Stage, Opera House, and main stage in Alexandra Park. 

“There's lots of variety within the genres, so there's something for everybody,” he said. 

In addition to live music, the Orangeville Blues and Jazz Festival will see the return of its much-loved events. The Classic Cars Blues Cruise will return to Broadway on Friday (May 31), the Broadway Ramble and New Orleans Style March will both return on Saturday (June 1), and the Blues & Bikes Show and Shine Event will be back on Sunday (June 2).

Several restaurants throughout Orangeville will serve as satellite locations for live music and there will be pop-up bands performing on the street throughout the weekend as well.

Changes & Improvements to the 

Festival

The festival had over 500 responses to a survey soliciting feedback after the 2023 event and has taken that input to make a few changes this year.

The Broadway Stage, which is usually located on Broadway, near its intersection with Second St., is moving further east toward Wellington St. to create more space and reduce any potential congestion.

For the very first time, a Visitor Information Centre will be set up where the Broadway stage was previously, at the Second St. and Broadway intersection. The information centre will be great for first-time visitors to the festival or anyone who has a question about how it works.

There will be an eating area to accompany the many food trucks set up along Second St. this year.

More porta-potties are also coming to the downtown area of the festival and there will be more activities for children, centred around arts, crafts and music.

Broadway businesses have been invited to engage in sidewalk sales, setting up tents in front of their stores to become more interactive with the thousands of people who march up and down the main thoroughfare over the three-day event.

Notable Acts This Year

The lineup for Friday (May 31) features returning fan favourites Jack de Keyzer and the Legendary Downchild Blues Band on the main stage.

Jack de Keyzer was the headliner for the very first Orangeville Blues and Jazz Festival in 2003 and will return to where it all began, in Alexandra Park, for the event's 20th anniversary.

Over at the Opera House (87 Broadway), Laila Biali is sure to leave attendees entertained with a world-class jazz performance. Like many of this year's artists, she is a JUNO award winner. Biali also hosts CBC Radio's “Saturday Night Jazz with Laila Biali.”

“She's one of Canada's most popular jazz artists,” Kurtz noted.

Some of the highlights for Saturday (June 1) nights' programming include Memphis, Tennessee's Ghost Town Blues Band and Nick Moss Band, featuring Dennis Gruenling, a world-renowned harmonica player.

The Ghost Town Blues Band will be leading the New Orleans Style Jazz March through Broadway on Saturday ahead of their very first performance at the festival.

“They've played other festivals in Ontario, so they have a good following. They're pretty popular here,” said Kurtz.

Entertainment on Sunday (June 2) features Dawn Tyler Watson, a multi-award-winning artist out of Montreal. The JUNO award winner is one of few Canadians to have won the Memphis Blues Challenge, an annual battle between roughly 200 bands. She'll be performing with the Ben Racine Band., featuring horns, and sounds that will get the audience moving. 

Also on Sunday, a special harmonica show, Harps of Gold, will feature Juno Award winners Steve Marriner and Paul Reddick, alongside Larry Kurtz and Jerome Godboo.

“That'll be a highlight for sure,” said Kurtz.

Spencer MacKenzie, 24, brings a more youthful energy to the Blues and Jazz Festival. He's a blues artist out of Southern Ontario, who's been nominated for a JUNO Award and the Independent Blues Awards. MacKenzie is part of the younger generation of blues musicians keeping the genre going strong.

“He's a very high-level guitar player, and tours all over North America. So he's coming to play as well on Sunday”

Another artist, still relatively young at 37, Devin Cuddy, will bring his Blue Rodeo-influenced music to the Opera House. His father, Jim Cuddy is the lead of Blue Rodeo and has had an impact on his style, although he takes a different approach, more focused on the roots and Americana genres.

A more unique style of performance for the Orangeville Blues and Jazz Festival will come from the Caribbean jazz band, CaneFire. Its members play with steel drums and steelpans, creating a special vibe for those who see them live.

Kurtz said while the festival has featured Latin jazz bands in the past, CaneFire's performance will be a first of its kind for Caribbean jazz in Orangeville.

Continued Support Ensures Festival's Longevity

Orangeville Blues and Jazz Festival organizers are thrilled with the success the festival saw in 2023, with record attendance, amounting to more than 40,000 attendees over three days.

Not all festivals and annual music events in other communities have been as fortunate. Since COVID-19, many have had to cut back on their programming or close altogether due to a lack of support.

Kurtz said the Orangeville Blues and Jazz Festival is very fortunate to have the community's support to ensure its success each year, as it keeps the event running strong. 

“A lot of people who come to the festival, they don't know the acts, but they know they're going to be good,” Kurtz explained.

In fact, over 90 per cent of the people who go to Orangeville Blues and Jazz are repeat attendees.

“That's a testament to the quality and what this organization has been able to accomplish,” said Peter Ross, the festival's director of development and marketing.

With less money available through provincial and federal grants this year, the festival's organizers are hoping to drive more people to the main stages at Alexandra Park and the Opera House.

“If we can increase the numbers who are coming into the park, that'd be great,” Kurtz said. “It's a shame that the acts are all there and people just don't go see it.”

He noted that at $20 per night, a ticket to the main stage at Alexandra Park will enable attendees to see several world-class acts for a fraction of what they would pay to see them individually.

“Ticket sales, are an important part of what we're doing and help us pay for the talent we put on,” said Ross. “We want to encourage people to take full advantage of the fact that the opera house and the main stage are there. Yes, they're ticketed events, but if you want to support the festival, that's the number one way to do it – buy a ticket.”

Kurtz said each year, costs go up, making ticket sales increasingly important. Last year's event saw record revenue but it was coupled with record expenses. 

“Cost inevitably go up, but we try to manage our costs as much as possible,” he noted. 

Kurtz said he'd encourage the public to come out and support the Orangeville Blues and Jazz Festival from May 31 to June 2, and celebrate the 20th edition. 

“The goal of the festival is to bring this talent to Orangeville and expose people to music they may not have heard on the radio too much. But its great talent coming from this country, all over North America, and around the world in that [blues and jazz] genre,” said Kurtz

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