It’s gonna to be a hot time in the city this summer, folks. London has music festivals! Blues, rock, folk, world, jazz, country, bluegrass. Does any city have more summer music? Seems unlikely.
Sunfest, the world-music lollapalooza dreamt up 23 years ago by founder and director Alfredo Caxaj, kicks off the festival season. It’s arguably the biggest and best of the music weekends, drawing more than 200,000 to Victoria Park. It runs Thursday to Sunday, July 6 to 9, and features over 30 performers. (For a complete list: https://goo.gl/rgy4Eh.) Did we mention it’s free?
Downtown residents get a few days respite before the volume cranks up as Rock the Park hits Harris Park. It kicks off Wednesday, July 12 with an evening of country music, featuring Lady Antebellum, Kelsea Ballerini, Brett Young and Jason Benoit.
Then the rockers (and hip-hoppers) take over for three evenings and a Sunday afternoon of mayhem and fun. Featured acts include DJ Mustard (Thursday), Vanilla Ice, Salt n Pepa (Friday), Bleeker (Saturday), Alessia Cara (Sunday). If rock and hip-hop are your thing, you’ll want to be there. Day passes: $60 or $65. VIP section: $125. Meet-and-greet packages with selected artists: $200/$300. For complete lineup: https://goo.gl/B5ralX.
A few blocks away, the venerable and slightly more sedate Home County Music and Art Festival serenades Victoria Park — for the 44th time. It runs Friday to Sunday, July 14 to 16. As always, it’s free, but volunteers will be at the entrances and around the park, looking to fill the donation jars. Home County was originally for folkies only. Nowadays it presents a range of styles, but still mostly roots music. At time of writing, the festival hadn’t announced a final lineup. Big acts from generations and festivals past — the Valdys and Murray McLauchlans — didn’t feature in the preliminary list. But Juno-winning Inuit crossover star Susan Aglukark is here, also throw-back folk trio The Once and Stratford-based Celtic outfit Rant Maggie Rant. Delightful folk-pop harmony duo Dala returns as well. (Watch festival Facebook page for updates: https://goo.gl/Ft62vj.)
Not all the music is outdoors. London Music Hall has country superstar Dwight Yoakam on Thursday, July 20 (7 pm/8 pm, $69-$178). Yoakam has been churning out hits for over 30 years. He’s currently touring a new album, Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars …, in which he affirms his Appalachian roots with bluegrass renditions of his pop-country hits. Intriguing.
Scottish hard-rockers Nazareth are at the Hall on Wednesday, August 2 (7 pm, $39.50). Nazareth must be as old as Methuselah by now, having been around since the 1960s. But they still have a packed schedule, playing gigs around the world. Desperate to see them but can’t make August 2? They’re at Station Music Hall in Sarnia Saturday, August 5 (7 pm, $39.25).
It might seem disloyal to mention the Kitchener Blues Festival — after all, London has its own Bluesfest coming later in the month (see below) — but mention it we will. It runs Thursday to Sunday, August 10 to 13. See the website (goo.gl/LrpZAu).
If there’s a prize for the festival with the best-named acts, Kitchener should win. The Harpoonist and The Axe Murderer, a raw-sounding blues duo from BC, will be there. Also Saskatoon-based Juno-winners The Sheepdogs. And my personal favourite, Miss Angel and The Homewreckers, a Miss’ippi blues band. Miss Angel has been touring since 1975.
The same weekend Goderich, Ontario hosts the Goderich Celtic Roots Festival. It goes Friday to Sunday, August 11 to 13 ($25-$40 per day, $65 to $80 weekend). The lineup is impressively varied, with acts from all over Canada and the UK and Ireland. It rightly includes Quebecois acts (Les Poules á Colin, Yann Falquet & Pascal Gemme) and even a Métis outfit from Winnipeg, Métis Fiddler Quartet. Multiple Juno- and Polaris-winner Joel Plaskett and his Dad, Bill, will be there promoting their album Solidarity. (For a complete lineup, see website: goo.gl/dGkMpI.)
The London Music Club has Atlanta-based slide-guitar blues quartet Delta Moon — “music as it should be — raw and honest” — on Thursday, August 10 ($20/$25). And then on Saturday, August 12, Station Music Hall in Sarnia has legendary bluesman Bobby Rush (6 pm/7 pm, $35). Rush, a Blues Hall of Fame inductee (2006) and multiple Blues Awards winner and Grammy nominee, had his first hit record in 1971. His latest album, the delightfully-named Porcupine Meat, came out last year. He’s also at the Kitchener fest, Sunday, August 13, 7 pm.
The good ol’ Purple Hill Country Hall, near Thorndale, is holding the annual Bluegrass Opry Reunion Friday to Sunday, August 18 to 20. Featured acts include Allen Family Reunion Band, Rescue Junction, Stompin’ Flyers and more ($15-$60). See Purple Hill web page for details: https://goo.gl/WhLGYP.
Canadian jazz royalty comes to Revival House in Stratford when saxophonist Jane Bunnett and sultry singer Molly Johnson appear together on Friday, August 25 ($40-$80). It’s part of the Stratford Summer Music Cabaret series.
Finally, the last hurrah of summer: London Bluesfest, running Friday to Sunday, August 25 to 27. It was a freebie in Victoria Park last year. This year it moves to Harris Park, the focus shifts a few degrees from pure blues towards rock, and there is an entrance fee ($49-$236). Headliners include the multi-award-winning Robert Cray Band, with a classic blues sound, legendary Canadian rocker Burton Cummings, the LA-based rock band Wallflowers, featuring Bob Dylan’s son Jakob, and a reconstituted Blood Sweat & Tears (sans David Clayton Thomas). For a complete list and late additions, see festival website: https://goo.gl/4u7MKd.