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Larry Kurtz is delighted to bring back the Festival, even if small

June 24, 2021   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

“The way it works out is,” began Larry Kurtz, Artistic Director the Orangeville Blues and Jazz Festival, “when the town staged the drive-in series of concerts last year, they had some success with it and this year, they invited us for two nights, Friday and Saturday, on August 20 and 21.”

With sincere excitement, he told the Citizen, “Better than no show – these two nights are something. It’s been agony for the last two years, not doing it.”

When it came to funding the two shows, it was suggested that, while there was a budget for the summer concert series last year and is again this year, to help boost that budget, the Jazz and Blues Board were encouraged to apply for funding, also via the town.

“We received $15,000 to use for talent, hospitality and promotion,” said Mr. Kurtz. “Because it’s a drive-in concert, I can’t image sitting in your car for two hours.”

Although the two concerts that are this year’s token Blues and Jazz Festival, Mr. Kurtz continues his role as Artistic Director, as he said, “Hiring and paying the musicians – the town provides the sound and the stage and we provide the instruments and the acts. So, we can talk to the sound company to work with what we need to go along with the instruments and the musicians.”

He added very happily, “Because there are only two concerts, I’m very pleased to have top acts: Laila Biali is singing on the Friday, August 20. She has played our festival. She won a Juno Award in 2019 and hosted the online Juno portion this year – so, this’ll be our second time with her playing. She’s a fantastic piano player too and will be accompanying herself.”

Laila Biali, in addition to wining a Juno in 2019, as Larry Kurtz observed, and a string of accolades and awards, has toured with Chris Botti, Suzanne Vega and Sting. She has travelled on tours over five continents, performing at Carnegie Hall in New York.

The CBC has brought in Ms. Biali to host the radio show Saturday Night Jazz.

“Ryan Grist is opening for her,” said Mr. Kurtz. “We’re engaging all local talent. Ryan is on the statue in the park behind the Town Hall [with Larry Kurtz]. He used to be involved in the festival but he’s gone back to school for his PhD in music. He’s hoping to become a professor in music. He’s always been an educator in Jazz and he used to be involved with the band at the high school.”

For their second night’s concert, Larry Kurtz and his band, the Lawbreakers, will be opening and they have several star musicians playing in that band, all of whom are local talent.

“Saturday my band and I will be the opening act – I even asked pianist Stan Chang to play. They are all local talent. Tom Griffiths on bass has played internationally, played with Dan Hill. Drummer Chuck Keeping plays with Big Wreck and he’s playing with the band this time. James Legere on guitar has played at Little Caesar. So, I’m excited about that too.”

Headlining the Saturday night show is Jordan John, whose father is the well known Blues musician, Prakash John. Jordan John is a sensational lead vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, who was invited by the Queen of Sole, Aretha Franklin, to open for her; at 16 years old, he was “jamming on drums with the artist formerly known as Prince.”

He performed “as a featured lead vocalist and guitarist for 16x Grammy Award Winning Producer & Hitmaker David Foster, at the 30th Anniversary of the Blue Note Tokyo.”

His high energy, talent and versatility have delighted audiences and impressed his fellow musicians.

A duo of wonderful shows.

For readers who do not know much about the Orangeville Blues and Jazz Festival, as it has been closed down for the last two years, as have so many other events – world wide – it began as a good idea by Larry Kurtz primarily, and went on from a small one-day free event in 2003, which nevertheless brought in 2003 Juno Award winner, Jack deKyser and seven other highly talented blues and jazz artists. In 2004, the Orangeville Blues and Jazz Festival was incorporated to be managed by a Board of Directors and had won its first local award: Best Downtown Initiative.

From that time, in 2010, the Festival grew in length of time to a free four day event, run by 160 volunteers, offering 86 acts and attracting 30,000 visitors to the area and the town.

In 2011, the Festival was awarded top 100 festivals in Ontario. The “Blues Cruise” [of vintage and interesting cars] on the Friday evenings was added, along with a New Motorcycle Show and Shine, as were also a second main stage and beer garden for the Friday and Saturday.

The Festival brought over $1 million into the local economy with increased numbers of visitors at 33,000, making it not only on the top 100 festivals and events in Ontario but also Festival and Events Ontario’s largest event in the Hills of Headwaters region and a major event in Southern Ontario.

Over the ensuing years, the standards have been maintained, the volunteers have stayed loyal and everyone misses this fabulous festival.

In a much smaller time, the two shows on Friday, August 20 and Saturday, the 21st, the best in Blues and Jazz will once again ring out in the park in Orangeville.

With a capacity for 80 cars, Mr. Kurtz is naturally hoping the restrictions will lighten up, so that people can get out of their cars and sit on a lawn chair. The town will let people know for sure closer to the time.

He says, “It takes some figuring so that everybody can see the stage but they’ve got it down. One thing nice for me is the town is organizing it all, so I can concentrate on the music.”

As things open up, he has a few gigs himself on the horizon: a gig to play in the Kincardine Blues fest festival on September 10. Hopefully, by then, people will be allowed to get out and sit on the lawns with their chairs. Closer to home, he is playing at the Tap House in Orangeville, in their parking lot.

As owner of Kurtz Millworks, he commented, “My wood working business has stayed really busy – this winter I purchased a new router, to do work I couldn’t do before. Just everybody’s renovating; people can’t go anywhere. So, we’ve been doing that.”

Otherwise, he has been, “just practising in my basement, We haven’t tried to rehearse online.”

However, this year begins and ends the Blues and Jazz with two of the Drive in Summer Concert Series in August at the Rotary Park.

Larry Kurtz said, “We’re prepared to do this, this year but next year we’ll be full tilt.”

Tickets for these and the other shows, plus details go to for Drive-in Summer Concert Series or call on the telephone: 519-415-8687.

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