Sue and I first went to the festival in 1997 - Junior Wells was there that year - we stayed in l'Heritage hotel on that occasion.
We came again in 1998 and Sue and I were playing with battery amps and outside our tent and either Jean Claude [there with his band Blues Oldsters] or Jan Van Stappen from the emplacement next to us [there as an agent representing artists] wandered over and introduced themselves.
So it began.
Those involved initially in the jam session both at the Cognac campsite in1999-2000, and then from 2001 using the stage opposite the Cafe du Canton (run by Christian & Giselle Bories) were: Pete & Sue Boulter from Watford, UK (Pete Boulter & the Bluematics) Jean-Claude Joëlle Durand and friends from Vannes, Brittany (Blues Oldsters and Joko Blues) Jan & Suzie Van der Stappen (from Crossroads Blues Cafe, Antwerp, also promoter and agent for blues performers.
Equipment was, small amps, guitar, bass, harmonicas. Jan had some of his bands playing at the festival, so had more equipment. Jean-Claude – guitars, harmonicas and prime communicator in French. Henri Van Raemdonck joined a couple of years later, bringing his Hammond Organ and Leslie Cabinet. Pete & Sue Boulter gave up bringing equipment after a few more years – pa, drums, amps., and then Henri took the jam to an entirely different level, enticing a regular gang of musicians who knew each other from the Antwerp, Crossroads Cafe jam and have their own bands, who are strong and practical and think nothing of bringing huge amounts of equipment from Belgium and Holland every year.
It became known as the 'THE XO BLUES JAM': Henri van Raemdonck – Hammond & Leslie and video , Bruno Van Reeth – sound and light and recording technician, Rene van den Hoven – drums and multi-lingual , Jan Van de Berg – piano, organ and photography, Koen Van de Walle – Guitar, Harp, Vocals , Elias Wysocki – Bass , Jo Bogaard – Guitar, Vocals , 2011 & 2012 Jam Stage officially recognised by the Mayor of Cognac and new position with more room. Two cafes Canton & Olympia fund stage. Bruno sound and lighting technician provides and sets up equipment and recording with help and strength from those from Belgium and Holland.
We – Pete and Sue Boulter – continue to attend every year, as does Jean-Claude Durand (if not playing at other festivals). The event has a dedicated and regular audience and players who attend XO Jam Session every day over 4/5 days, many say it's the best thing at the festival. As always, no-one gets paid - nobody ! There maybe a few free drinks, and some sociable and subsidised meals after the jam is over.