Thunder and rain didn't keep music lovers away from this year's Thunder Bay Blues Festival — and neither did it dampen suggestions from blues aficionados who want to hear more from artists of that musical genre.

This year's blues festival was headlined by acts like Collective Soul and Great Big Sea, but attendees like Paul Haines say they want to see the blues get a higher profile.

"The main acts aren't really blues," he said. "I'd like to see more blues, like maybe a Johnny Winter or something like that would be good."


Thunder Bay Bluesfest concert-goer Frank Burns says he enjoyed the festival and hopes the event stays true to its blues roots. (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)

Frank Burns said he considers "a little variety is good, as long as they don't stray too far from the core [of blues], that's why we're here."

'Good mixture'

But other festival attendees, like Suzanne Bernard, were less concerned.

"To me it's good to have a mixture, and it was a good mixture," she said. "[There were] great bands, great bands."

It’s not uncommon for events like blues and folk festivals use big-name bands from other genres to sell tickets, said Roddy Campbell, editor of a national folk and roots music magazine called Penguin Eggs.

Paul Shaffer returns

Concert-goers who took in Bluesfest on Saturday night were surprised by the return of a local music legend.

Paul Shaffer — a longtime keyboardist for David Letterman's band — took the stage to introduce Los Lobos, and join them for a song.

Festival organizers received a call earlier in the day that Schaffer was in town, said Trevor Hurtig, Bluesfest's head of marketing.

"It's very reminiscent of when Patrick Sharp brought the Stanley Cup down here two years ago," he said.

"Anytime you have something really neat like that … you definitely relish those moments, there's no doubt about it."

"Artistic directors of these festivals obviously are looking at putting bums on seats," he said.

"[A] prime example is Great Big Sea. There's nothing bluesy about them whatsoever, but they're very popular and they will attract a good crowd."

Many festivals have to attract those crowds to survive, Campbell said, adding there are fewer big-name blues artists touring these days, "so I think that might be one of the reasons why they're going outside [the blues genre]."

Big Friday audience

Audience renewal helps keep musical festivals alive, according to Norma Coates, an associate professor at Western university's faculty of music.

Festival organizers need to make "sure these [events] are solvent," she said.

"I know that Sarnia has just stopped its Bay Fest [be]cause it was no longer making the money necessary [to run it]. That was the bigger deal.  Keep it solvent [and] renew the audience.


Doug Deming and the Jewel Tones were one of many bands that played at the Thunder Bay Bluesfest this past weekend. (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)

Coates said she also feels strict musical genres are becoming less important, as more people can find a variety of music online.

Typically Thunder Bay’s blues festival sees about 15,000 concert-goers during the three-day event, said Trevor Hurtig, Bluesfest's head of marketing.

As for the rain Saturday, Hurtig said he doesn't yet know what impact it had on attendance — but he said a strong audience turnout on Friday should help mitigate any shortfall.