Reviews – 2009 – Alan White

The 3rd Carlisle Blues Rock Festival (2009) – Alan White

The third Carlisle Blues Fest took place at the Swallow Hilltop Hotel on Friday 13th to Sunday 15th November 2009. A rather unusual time for a music festival, but perfectly timed to boost those winter blues during the run up to Xmas.

This was the second year the festival had been hosted at the Swallow Hilltop Hotel; the first festival, held at the Lakes Court Hotel (now The Hallmark Hotel), was so instantly successful it had to move to a larger venue

Each year’s festival has grown on the success of previous years and it is already challenging the long established festivals for top rating in the UK.

The festival’s success is partly due to the format, being a ‘weekend break’ in an hotel setting, all under one roof, so the weather has no bearing on the event. Indeed, once inside you forget all about the world outside. You are enveloped in a great friendly atmosphere, meeting old and new fans from all over the UK and Europe. The blues artists and bands are carefully selected and booked months before the event, so there is a balanced mix all within the blues genre, unlike some ‘blues’ festivals which increasingly book ‘rock’ bands to pad out their programmes. The artists genuinely love playing at Carlisle, they say it has a warm feel to it; many arriving the day before they are due to perform and staying afterwards to meet fans and soak up the friendly, casual atmosphere.

Another key to Carlisle’s success are the late night jam sessions. These are led by a band to get the session rolling then artists just join in. On the Saturday night we had the probably unique sight of major stars such as Earl Thomas, Ian Siegal, Connie Lush, Sean Webster and Mark Butcher all joining the band Ov8 on stage – something you couldn’t pay to see elsewhere. Fans were repeatedly saying “I can’t believe I’m seeing this – wonderful stuff!”

Like other blues festivals, artists come from the USA and this year we had the soulful and charismatic Earl Thomas, who was wowed by the enthusiastic audience, and the magical guitarist Tom Principato, who had toured Europe before, but this was his first ever UK gig, another first for Carlisle which the fans greatly appreciated.

A major reason for the festival’s success is the impeccable organisation, headed up by Nick Westgarth. Many months of work go into the planning by a team of volunteer helpers and specialists, from selection and booking of bands, publicity, stage management, lighting and sound crews, hospitality, catering, etc., etc. Amazingly, all of this is achieved with no financial support from any sponsors or grant funding.

Finally, the main reason for Carlisle’s success are the loyal fans. A great friendly crowd of people from Carlisle and all over the UK and Europe with a passion for the blues. Many of them are friends who meet up at each festival, many of them say they love coming to Carlisle because it’s so friendly. Many of them say it’s the perfect blues festival – it’s the best yet…. until next year!

So there we have it, the third Carlisle Blues Fest, now second to none.

Alan White