| Aug 14, 2019

Without any fanfare, Blue Skies Music Festival hit a milestone in its 46th edition over the long weekend. The festival, which takes place near the Clarendon station, the last remaining station from the old K&P railroad, just at the crossroads between North and Central Frontenac and Lanark Highlands, has remained stubbornly true to its non-commercial hippy roots throughout the decades, but it has evolved in some interesting ways

The artistic directors, including the most recent, Danny Sullivan, have tapped into the burgeoning indigenous music scene over the last ten years or so, and have made conscious strides towards gender parity among the featured main stage acts.

It was not discussed in the program or announced in any way during the festival, but this year, under the artistic director Al Rankin, gender parity among the band leaders was reached. Of the 12 featured bands over three nights, 5 were female led, 5 were male led, and 2 were partnerships between a man and a woman. There were, however, more male backing musicians than female.

Nonetheless, the voices, the genesis of the music, the lyrical and musical core of the performance, was as much female as male this year, for the first time, enhancing the commitment to variety that has been the hallmark of the music at the festival for many years. Ending the festival with the Montreal based Urban Science Brass band, which features a New Orleans style brass jazz band supporting freestyle hip hop, also provided a feeling that something new is afoot on the old Blue Skies stage.

The penultimate band on Sunday Night (Aug. 4) was the afro Cuban band OKAN, which is led by violinist Elizabeth Rodriguez and percussionist Magdelys Savigny. Both of them came to Canada from Cuba as part of the Jane Bunnett supergroup Maqueque, and have ventured off on their own.

OKAN comes from dialect of Yoruba, a language linked to the Afro-Cuban Santería religion. It means heart and soul.

Rodriguez and Savigny were joined by three other players, including their frequent collaborator, legendary keyboardist Miguel de Armas, a newly minted Canadian citizen who wowed the Blue Skies audience in 2018 with his own Cuban jazz quartet. OKAN’s rhythmic, energetic, and hypnotic set was one of the musical highlights of the sold-out festival this year.

Al Rankin, who lives near Inverary, had a stint as the artistic director of the festival a number of years ago. He is the programmer for the Live Wire Concert Series in Kingston and holds occasional house concerts as well.

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