Diamond Award Winner: Kitchener Blues Festival

I hold my music concerts to high standards. For me to love them, I’m looking for an experience similar to the Montreal Jazz Festival, Hillside or the Mill-Race Folk Festival. I love each for different reasons. I now count the Kitchener Blues Festival among that list of must attend if you possibly can.

The Montreal Jazz Festival is something very special because there are high quality jazz acts on multiple stages in the streets around Place des Arts–and its all free. Thousands of people flock to see the music and experience the street life. You have a sense of being part of something much bigger than the sum of its parts.

I had never seen anything like it anywhere else till I attended the most recent edition of the Kitchener Blues Festival. Due to rain and conflicts, I hadn’t been able to attend in recent years but it’s always been a true gem. But this year, the festival took a leap to greatness by having three stages within easy walking distance of each other and two with large tents. They no longer needed to rely so heavily on mother nature to deliver great weather to get the crowds to come. On the Sunday for instance, several hundred people enjoyed Kitchener’s own Steve Strongman at the Clocktower stage that previously would have stayed away.

Overall, the weather was great this year. That fact combined with big names such as David Wilcox transformed King Street into something truly amazing. There were people–thousands of them–everywhere from the Friday night right through to late Sunday afternoon. King Street on Friday evening was hard to recognize with thousands gathered in front of Kitchener City Hall for some great old time blues by the likes of Rick Estrin and the Nightcats. But what I found amazing was that the crowds extended right down to Queen Street with vendor booths lining the streets and all the businesses open. The closest I have seen to the sense of electricity in the air on King Street before was for the Crusin’ on King evening but in this case it started Friday night and lasted all weekend. The crowds went as far as Frederick/Benton when the Kitchener Downtown Business Association Tent was hosting concerts.

Downtown Kitchener embodied the definition of a pedestrian-friendly people place. I loved seeing it and experiencing it. So we now have three or four days when downtown Kitchener belongs to the people of Kitchener, now we just have to work on the other 361 days.

The three main stage strategy worked wonderfully. The Kitchener Blues Festival permanently put itself on the map. One of the greatest compliments that I can give is that I finally found a festival that I can compare to the Montreal Jazz Festival, right here in downtown Kitchener. I am so excited about it that in addition to this award, I am putting the festival immediately onto my Essential Kitchener page.

Coal Dust

As if we needed another one, I spotted a new payday loan outlet on King East near Cedar when walking home from the blues festival. These outlets have already received their own coal award so I won’t give them another but I wanted to bring it to your attention as yet another sign that the east end of downtown Kitchener is not yet enjoying the revitalization being seen in the core between Frederick and Victoria and now moving further west.

Coal Award Winner – Abandoned house on Charles near Ottawa Street

Abandoned house on Charles Street near Ottawa Street

This is the house that inspired the Diamond and Coal awards. I decided to hold off on featuring it though because the house beside it had gone on sale before I could. With the for sale sign gone, the time to tell this story has arrive.

Driving by one day about when I started my blog, I looked at this house and decided that I should highlight examples of where downtown Kitchener could do better. It also lead me to decide that to counter balance these examples with what was working and that deserved to be celebrated so in a way this house has already had a positive effect.

But not enough! This house adds nothing to life downtown. It is an eyesore and is sitting there asking for trouble of one kind or another. It makes the nearby empty lot look attractive. Neither belong at an intersection in the shadow of King and Ottawa that is being reborn.

I hope that officials at the city, police and fire departments are on top of this situation and doing what they can. Perhaps it is time to revisit this property to see what can be done to spur redevelopment or even the removal of the eyesore. Demolition in this case would be a good thing.

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