Blues Bash gang comes through in the crunch

Festival-threatening funding shortage tackled head on, lineup strong for 2011

Veteran bluesman and legendary mouth harp player Charlie Musselwhite and his band play Victoria on Saturday (Sept. 3).

It wasn’t the kind of announcement Darryl Mar wanted to make.

As the Island’s oldest blues festival wrapped up last year, Mar told attendees the show might not go on. Provincial gaming grants had been cut off, to the tune of $15,000, meaning the Vancouver Island Blues Bash was on its death bed.

“We had given ourselves up until January of this year to find enough corporate sponsors to contribute the amount that we would be losing from the gaming funds to enable this year’s festival to go on,” Mar said. “If we were not going to be able to hit our target, we would have seriously looked at cancelling the event.”

Fans were so concerned, many gave personal donations.

Then, staff of the Victoria Jazz Society, which puts on Blues Bash, hit the street and found five new sponsors.

One was Newport Realty. The company’s managing partner, Jack Petrie, said his response to the request was an easy yes.

“In other cities, the festivals are supported by the corporate community. I heard (Blues Bash) was getting harder (to run) with government cutbacks and rising costs,” he said, adding he was interested in involving his company more with festivals.

It helps that Petrie is part of the Victoria Soul Gospel Choir, which is once again performing in this year’s festival, and that he’s an avid blues fan. He also got on board chasing down sponsors and noted that none of them required much convincing to step up.

“People just seemed to listen right away,” he said. “They’re supporting good stuff in the community.”

Mar is relieved to see the festival continuing. “It’s a great festival in its 17th year. There’s a very dedicated following. There’s a strong group of performers as well as fans in Victoria.”

Eighty per cent of attendees are from Greater Victoria, according to a survey conducted a few years ago, while the rest come from up-Island, the Gulf Islands and the U.S.

This year’s Blues Bash has only one less show than 2010, despite the funding struggles. It takes to Ship Point throughout this Labour Day long weekend. Free performances run from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday (Sept. 3 and 4), with headlining performances starting at 7:30 p.m. both nights. Free shows continue Monday from noon to 2:45 p.m.

The festivities kick off with a free concert in Centennial Square tonight (Sept. 2) at 7 p.m. by the Stephen Barry Band.

ecardone@vicnews.com

Catch the headliners

• Charlie Musselwhite Band; Sat. Sept. 3, 7:30 p.m.; tickets $29

• Lucky Peterson Band; Sun. Sept. 4, 7:30 p.m.; tickets $29

• Combo tickets to see both shows are $45. Tickets are available at the Jazz Society office (1031 Vancouver St.), Lyle’s Place (770 Yates St.), Ditch Records (784 Fort St.), or the McPherson Box Office (www.rmts.bc.ca or 250-386-6121).

• For the full festival schedule, showtimes and ticket information visit www.jazzvictoria.ca.

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