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Kitchener Blues Fest relies on variety to stay alive, says artistic director

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The Kitchener Blues Festival has unveiled this year’s lineup, and like in other years, some people are upset over it not being purely blues music.

Claude Cloutier is the artistic director for the county’s largest free blues festival and is responsible for booking the bands.

“This year we’ve got Pursuit of Happiness, The Box, Cooper Brothers, The Kings, Winter Sleep,” Cloutier said.

But he’s noticed people voicing their concerns over his bookings.

“I’ve always called them the Blues Police. But those are the people that really care about the blues and want to see it pure at the festival,” he said.

Cloutier says 70 per cent of the lineup is still blues, but adds the mixture of genres is needed to draw in more people and keep the festival going.

“Well it’s a challenging year for us because our costs across the board have gone up 25 - 30 per cent in everything. And our American funds are limited and it costs us a lot of money,” he said.

The festival is volunteer-driven and free aside from the August 8 fundraising concert. Given it costs them $1 million over four days to put it on, Cloutier is reminding people how quickly an event like this could disappear.

“The Limestone Blues Festival in Kingston was around for 26 years and they folded their tent this past fall. A lot of other festivals are feeling the pressure, and I see others going away soon,” Cloutier said.

Virgin Radio KW announcer Rae Kelly says she doesn’t get many requests for blues music since it is more niche.

“But let’s face it, if you want a blues festival in KW, you’re going to have to expand it. You want to introduce blues to other people by getting an artist they might enjoy and hey, they show up early for something and they stay late for something else,” Kelly said.

Cloutier is focused on fine-tuning the event to appease a variety of tastes for years to come.

“We’re going to be celebrating our 25th anniversary in 2025,” he said. “We want to be able to do that.”

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