Edmundston hosts 23rd annual Jazz and Blues Festival

Hundreds of fans enjoyed music, food and friends, as the  23rd annual Edmundston Jazz and Blues Festival kicked off on June 23.

This two-day outdoor event originated in 1994, when musician Gilles Guerrette recruited a group of volunteers to orchestrate the first edition of the festival. As the years went by, support for the festival grew, and it expanded into a four-day event. Three years ago it was shrunk back to two-days, but Michelle Daigle, president of the festival committee, does not think that is a bad thing.

“It’s still here, it’s still alive, and that is what’s important,” said Daigle. “It’s a really nice festival. The reason we put this on is because people really love the jazz and blues type of music, and they’re passionate about it. Unfortunately, it’s not music that you often hear on the radio or television, and as a group of music lovers, we want to help provide access.”

Even though the festival is a community event, Daigle said it draws people from all over the region, including Quebec, Maine and other parts of New Brunswick, which helps bring business to the city of Edmundston. In return, local businesses support the festival financially with sponsorships, and with some services.

This year, 500 two-day access passes were sold before the start of the festival, with many buyers being recurring attendees.

The 23rd annual Edmundston Jazz and Blues Festival took place Friday, June 23, and Saturday, June 24. (Elizabeth Theriault)

“People return every year. Once they come, they almost always come back,” said Daigle.

Gary Dionne of Green River, New Brunswick, who has been attending the festival since the start, said he purchased his two-night access pass and came to listen to blues and socialize with friends.

“I’m a guitarist, so I come to support the local music, and it’s great that they’re still having the festival,” said Dionne.

The festival scheduled ten different musicians to play in various parts of the city over the two days. In addition, on Thursday, a pre-festival supper was hosted at the Grey Rock Casino with a performance by Gisèle Gaudreau.

Rick Vaillancourt of Madawaska was the program director of the festival for ten years before stepping down four years ago. He is a musician himself, and has been drumming for 56 years. Now, he plays with the Old Timers, a group of musicians who take music to old age homes.

Vaillancourt still attends the Jazz and Blues Festival every year.

“It’s jazz and blues. It gets in your system, and it’s a big deal in Edmundston. It’s been going on for so long, and I hope it continues. The committee did a really nice job this year,” said Vaillancourt, as the musicians of the hour, the Nathalie Renault Quartet, played on the stage at Place de L’Artisan.  

Nathalie Renault, of Campbellton, New Brunswick, performed twice during the festival — on Friday evening and again Saturday morning.

“I’ve been doing music for 30 years — I love it,” said Renault. “It’s nice to be a part of this festival. You can really get to the people, because they’re all together sitting outside. And you can get people that don’t usually attend inside venues.”

The Jerry T. Blues Band, of Madawaska, Maine, played Saturday evening, and received a standing ovation at the end of its set.

“We were thrilled to see the reaction. It was high energy, and people were really grooving,” said Jerry Thibeault, front man of the band. “Standing ovations don’t come often. We were really belting it out, and it showed in the crowd that we were getting to them.”

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