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‘Big Launch Concert’ kicks off new music group

The Escarpment Blues Society has a mandate to support and grow the local blues and roots music scene. It officially launches with a star-studded concert May 28.

Excitement is building as a new music collective is ready to take the stage.  

The Escarpment Blues Society is a not-for-profit organization formed to strengthen awareness and appreciation of blues and roots music, while at the same time putting the emphasis on growth.  

The society will support local venues that feature blues and roots music, promote live performances, support artists, highlight recordings and provide education with blues in the schools programs. The society will support local, national and international blues and roots artists for the advancement of their craft in the Niagara Escarpment area.

With these goals in mind, the Escarpment Blues Society is putting together a star-studded launch concert. The official launch takes place Tuesday, May 28.

The “Big Launch Concert” takes place at the Ancaster Memorial Arts Centre in the state-of-the-art, 470-seat Peller Hall. The hall boasts a superior acoustic experience, which is a perfect fit for a large concert.

The concert will feature the Escarpment Blues All Star Band and a stellar lineup of world-class guest musicians.

Here’s a little bit about each performer.

Harrison Kennedy

Harrison Kennedy:  Kennedy is the best soul/blues singer on the planet, and he has a Juno Award to prove it. His career featured time with Chairmen of the Board, but now he graces the stages as a solo performer. He’s a home-grown Hamiltonian who’s proud of his heritage. Kennedy is the nephew of Hamilton legend Jackie Washington, proof that talent runs in the family.  

Jack de Keyzer

Jack de Keyzer:  Jack is a two-time Juno Award winner and a seven-time Maple Blues Award winner. He started his career in Hamilton with the rockabilly group The Bop Cats and played with such luminaries as King Biscuit Boy and Ronnie Hawkins. He’s an international star of the blues scene and even Bob Dylan recognized his talent: “If Jack de Keyzer was from New York, Chicago or LA, he’d be famous.” In Canada, not only is he famous, he’s a blues icon.

Dawn Tyler Watson

Dawn Tyler Watson:  Watson must be putting a wing on her residence to house all her awards.  The list is extensive and a testament to her talent. She’s a six-time Maple Blues Award winner including female vocalist, entertainer, album, and songwriter of the year. She’s a Juno Award winner for female blues artist of the year, a Blues Blast Music Award winner, and she competed in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis and took home first-place honours in the band category. Watson’s sultry voice makes her the cream of the blues crop.

Suzie Vinnick

Suzie Vinnick: Vinnick is a Canadian roots and blues singer-songwriter. She performs as a solo artist and she, too, is graced with numerous awards. She was the winner of the contemporary singer of the year award for her album Fall Back Home at the 2024 Canadian Folk Music Awards. She also achieved finalist status in the solo/duo category at the 2013 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, received the 2012 CBC Saturday Night Blues Great Canadian Blues Award and the 2012 Sirius XM Canada Blues Artist of the Year. Vinnick has won 11 Maple Blues Awards and been nominated for 21 so far. Fresh off a Canada wide tour with Charlie A'Court and Australian bluesman Lloyd Spiegel, she leans into her songs with a voice and presence that highlights her talent.  

Steve Marriner

Steve Marriner:  What can’t you say about Marriner? He’s a multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter and record producer. He’s won seven Maple Blues Awards. He can play guitar with the best of them, sports a mean harmonica, and sings with conviction. He’s been the leader of MonkeyJunk when the group won the Juno award for blues album of the year. Marriner is an in-demand guest artist on numerous albums. He’s a whirlwind who’s toured with the likes of JW Jones, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Harry Manx and a host of others.

Steve Strongman

Steve Strongman: As a guitarist, vocalist and songwriter, Strongman has racked up numerous awards. He has four Maple Blues Awards, a Juno Award, and was selected as the International Blues Challenge winner for best guitarist.

He also co-wrote nine of 10 songs on Struck Down, the new album by The Fabulous Thunderbirds, one of biggest U.S. blues bands of last 40 years. Strongman also co-produced and played on the album, which comes out June 28.

Strongman's performances are simply riveting, and his stage presence bathes you in a rollickin’ good time. One of the co-founders of the Escarpment Blues Society, Strongman is dedicated to not only preserving the blues, but also expanding the blues and roots scene in the Niagara Escarpment region.

And if that’s not enough, this incredible lineup is backed by the talent-loaded EBS All Stars. They are: Colin Lapsley (bassist with Steve Strongman Band, Jesse O’Brien (keyboardist with Colin James), Matt Burns (drums with Spencer MacKenzie) and Roly Platt (multiple Maple Blues Awards nominations as harmonica player of the year.

This concert promises to be one of the most dynamic evenings the Hamilton area has ever seen.

Tickets are available at the Ancaster Memorial Arts Centre box office and online at memorialarts.ca.

The Escarpment Blues Society is not stopping there. Up next the society is bringing Wicked Grin to Stonewalls on Sunday, June 9. Murray Kinsley brings a wicked guitar and his guttural singing fits seamlessly with the band. And wait, there’s more. Tagging along with the band is harmonica whiz Larry Kurtz.  

Wicked Grin will play Stonewalls on Saturday, June 9.

Stay tuned for more great concerts in the coming months. For more information go to escarpmentbluessociety.ca.

Ken Wallis is president of the Escarpment Blues Society. He is the retired associate dean of Media And Entertainment at Mohawk College and host of Blues Source Canada and Blues Source International on INDI 1015 FM on Blues and Roots Radio.