Roots and Blues 2013

Throw off those cold and flu blues and think hot, sunny days with even hotter music.

  • Jan. 16, 2013 7:00 a.m.

Signed on: Ben Waters is coming back and Vancouver’s The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer make a first appearance.

Throw off those cold and flu blues and think hot, sunny days with even hotter music.

With just 212 days to the 21st version of the Roots & Blues Festival that runs Aug. 16 to 18, three stellar acts have already signed on.

Get ready for 2013 Maple Blues Award nominees The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer, boogie woogie piano virtuoso Ben Waters and Appalachian real deal Malcolm Holcombe.

Festival marketing and publicity manager Scott Crocker says, The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer (HAM) has been described as being “akin to a sweaty fling between a sack full of harmonicas, a mess of foot percussion and a very greasy telecaster.”

Shawn Hall and Matthew Rogers say they’re making blues for a changing world.

Hall provides soul-tinged vocals and distinctly dirty blues harp, while Rogers simultaneously pours out throbbing drum grooves and guitar licks.

The duo has played festivals all over Western Canada, sharing the stage with some of the world’s finest blues acts including Jim Byrnes, Dick Dale, and MonkeyJunk.

From the age of 14, when he discovered, virtually overnight that he could play piano, Ben Waters’ life has been centred around his music.

The first boogie woogie he heard was Meade Lux Lewis’s classic Honky Tonk Train. He heard it once and played it back note for note.

It was apparent from that day that Waters possessed a phenomenal talent.

From a very ordinary home, Ben found pursuing his musical dreams an uphill struggle.

School pianos were locked away from him because he wasn’t playing classical music. The same school now cites him as a star pupil.

Without formal training, Waters turned professional at the age of 17 and  had a baptism of fire, playing in every venue imaginable – clubs, arts centres, theatres and festivals all over the world.

Working for and with such names as Jools Holland, Shakin’ Stevens, Ray Davies, Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry, Waters has also toured extensively all over the world.

Waters tours with a group of hand-picked musicians, who are stars in their own right:   Ady Milward on drums (who has chart-topped with other groups); Chris Rand and Adam Davey on sax  and Richard Hymas on bass.

Amazingly, Waters’ 12-year-old son Tom joins the band on sax occasionally, playing like a seasoned pro.

Another new performer is Malcolm Holcombe, whose new album Down the River, his ninth, is born from that bed of contradictions we all lie in.

There are songs here such as Twisted Arms and Whitewash Job that sizzle with anger at a society that seems intent on losing its way and running over its poor and disenfranchised.

These are coupled with songs from a softer, more generous perspective such as The Crossing and In Your Mercy, written in the voice of an old woman who sees “All I worked for/…sold and surely gone,” but who trusts that “many years will tell the truth.”

There is truth embedded in these songs the way quartz is embedded in the steep driveways and black dirt of Malcolm Holcombe’s home in western North Carolina.

The multiple perspectives of these songs speak of the man who wrote them. Holcombe takes the stage in the same clothes he wore driving to the gig, and his soft voice, rasped from years of smoking and singing to be heard in honky tonks, rises to a howl as he frails his guitar with furious precision.

He stomps, growls, rolls his eyes as he plays, then between songs cuts the tension with a corny joke.

A once-legendary drinker and hell-raiser, Holcombe is now many years sober and embraces a gentle if non-specific spirituality.

There are stories from his time of drinking, drugs and wild behaviour, but like most in recovery, Holcombe would rather let the past stay in the past.

“It’s miracle to be here every day,” he offers. “I’m just glad to be able to drive on my side of the road.”

The core of each of his songs is Holcombe’s voice, which can growl like a cement truck in low gear or mellow into a heart-tugging croon, and his guitar playing. Holcombe plays with his bare fingers and his percussive attack makes it easy to overlook the precision with which he plays.

Many of Holcombe’s lyrics arise from his view of present- day society.

“The subject is unavoidable,” he says about the political content of the songs. “There’s just an appalling amount of injustice and greed everywhere you turn.”

The acts of writing songs and playing music have always been hopeful ones, however bleak the subject matter of the songs might be.

“With many more performers to be released in the upcoming weeks and months, including some big-time surprises, take advantage of our member pricing,” says Crocker, noting a limited number of member tickets save up to 35 per cent on gate price.  “Three days of music for $110 or lower?  Come on!”

For ticket information and pricing, visit or call 250-833-4096.


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