A claim to blues fame
Rockland — The North Atlantic Blues Festival already has a place in Blues Foundation history, having won the Keeping the Blues Alive Award in 2002 and festival co-founder and producer Paul Benjamin having served as the foundation's president. But Benjamin and co-founder/producer Jamie Isaacson are looking for another laurel this year.
"I put out a challenge on XM Satellite to all the other summer blues festivals to raise funds for the Blues Hall of Fame capital campaign," said Benjamin a couple of weeks before this year's NABF, set for Saturday and Sunday, July 14 and 15 in Rockland's Harbor Park.
Benjamin has no doubt the local blues contingent — and that grows to more than 10,000 this weekend — will help him and Isaacson meet the challenge of pledging $1,000 spread over five years; when he announced the campaign in February during a Marcia Ball concert at the city's Time Out Pub, home of the year-round Monday night blues series, $8,000 in pledges came in.
"The goal is $3.5 million; if 100 fans at 10 festivals pledge, that's a million right there," said Benjamin, who will be rallying the troops throughout the weekend.
Also lending her presence to the effort will be the widow of blues great Little Milton, who turned in his final performance at 2005's North Atlantic Blues Festival. The Hall of Fame will be part of the recently-acquired home of the Blues Foundation in Memphis, directly across Memphis' South Main Street from the National Civil Rights Museum. Sitting on a bench in front of the Hall of Fame will be a life-sized statue of Little Milton. Inside, blues fans will be able to see video footage, hear audio and enjoy history and memorabilia of each of the inductees since 1980. They also will find their own names, if they have contributed to the capital campaign.
"It may be the only Hall of Fame anywhere a fan can be in," said Benjamin.
This year's blues festival offers its own take on honoring the past with Saturday afternoon's Tribute to Koko Taylor, known as the Queen of the Blues. Taylor, who died in 2009, performed at two NABFs. Benjamin, who has just taken on the mantle of president of the Chicago-based Koko Taylor Foundation, has spent two years trying to put together the show festival-goers will experience — the 75-minute set will feature Taylor's longtime band The Blues Machine performing with three singers who have embraced Taylor's fiercely female approach to blues singing: Nora Jean Wallace; Melvia "Chick" Rogers; and Jackie Scott.
"They just headlined the Chicago Blues Festival and were absolutely phenomenal! You could feel the love between the guys (in the band, coming together from other projects) who seemed thrilled to have a paid date together and keep Koko's music alive," said Benjamin.
Festival-goers can expect a high-energy finale, thanks to Taylor's famous "Wang Dang Doodle." And they just might see a bit of blues heritage history. Taylor's daughter, Joyce "Cookie" Threatt, will be on hand and she has told Benjamin she will sing one of her mother's songs.
"I've never known her to sing, but Cookie says she will — we'll see," said Benjamin.
Blues fest basics
Advance tickets, on sale through Monday, July 9, are $25 either day and $50 for the weekend pass. Local outlets are Huston-Tuttle in Rockland and HAV II in Camden. Advance tickets also are sold online at northatlanticbluesfestival.com.
Blues festival gates will open 9 a.m. both days. For those who did not get their tickets ahead of time, admission bracelets will be $35 at the gate each day for adults; children age 6 to 12 get in for $5 and those younger will be admitted free at the gate. No pets, coolers, sun umbrellas, alcoholic beverages or video recording are allowed on the grounds. Blues lovers are encouraged to bring lawn chairs, blankets, sunscreen and sunglasses. The festival is a go, rain or shine. For more information, call the festival hot line at 593-1189 or visit northatlanticbluesfestival.com.
The official festival program, produced by Courier Publications LLC, is already around town and will be available on the grounds. Following is a preview of this year's lineup. In between acts, the side stage will host performances by Mark LaVoie and Dave Keller.
NABF Saturday lineup
• Can trombone be a lead blues instrument? It can if wielded by Randy Oxford, whose band was a finalist in last year's International Blues Challenge in Memphis. They will perform from 11 a.m. to noon.
• High-energy blues guitarist Albert Castiglia toured with Junior Wells and Sandra Hall before striking out on his own, with award-winning results. He will play from 12:15 to 1:15 p.m.
• The Royal Southern Brotherhood unites two legendary roots-rock bloodlines with a rising star guitarist. Cyril Neville, Devon Allman and Mike Zito will rock the waterfront from 1:30 to 2:35 p.m.
• Rick Estrin & the Nightcats are wowing the blues world, driven by acclaimed songs, harp and guitar prowess and give-em-a-show stagecraft. They will play from 2:50 to 4 p.m.
• The much-anticipated Tribute to Koko Taylor will run from 4:15 to 5:20 p.m.
• Acclaimed guitarist/vocalist Tab Benoit will cap the day with music rooted in the rich musical and cultural traditions of his native Louisiana. He will play from 5:35 to 7 p.m.
NABF club crawl
This year's Saturday night club crawl will put Juke Rockets, Sideways Highways, the Bad Daddys and Sensations on Main Street; Pam Baker at the Trade Winds Red Jacket Restaurant; Blue Steel Express at Trade Winds' downstairs lounge; Dave Keller at Landings Restaurant and Lounge; Blind Albert Blues Band at Waterworks; Brave New Blues (upstairs) and the blues jam with Poke Chop (downstairs) at Time Out Pub; D.W. Gill Blues Band at Rock Harbor; the Rock City Blues Band at Rockland Café; Mark "Guitar" Miller at the Navigator; the Eric Green Band at Myrtle Street Tavern; Matt and the Barnburners at Amalfi on the Water; Pat Pepin at Trackside Station; Zack Pomerleau at Café Miranda; and the Don Brewer Blues Project at The Pearl.
NABF Sunday lineup
• Nova Scotian blues is alive and well, as proven by the fresh-faced and emotive Charlie A’Court. The award-winning singer/songwriter will play from 11 a.m. to noon.
• Toronto-born Anthony Gomes honed his skills in Chicago and Nashville to become an ax-wielding, soulful blues-writing powerhouse. He will rock from 12:15 to 1:20 p.m.
• Guitar slinger Ana Popovic, a native of the former Yugoslavia, returns to the fest on the heels of a hot album. She will play from 1:35 to 2:45 p.m.
• Benjamin has been trying to get John Mayall to the festival for years and this is it, a rare chance to experience the latest work by the seminal British blues rocker. Mayall and his band will perform from 3 to 4:15 p.m.
• It's not often the fest hosts a Grammy winner, but Roy "Chubby" Carrier caps the weekend with this year's award for Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album to his credit. Chubby Carrier and his Bayou Swamp Band will throw a zydeco party from 4:30 to 6 p.m.
Wait, there's more …
While the festival does not begin until Saturday morning, many of the same bands performing in the NABF Club Crawl can be found playing in city clubs Friday night. There will be live regional blues at the Trade Winds (up- and downstairs), Landings, Waterworks, Time Out (up- and downstairs), Rock Harbor, Myrtle Street Tavern, Rock City Café, Amalfi, The Pearl, the Navigator and Trackside Station.
Before and after the Sunday main stage lineup, there are blues club options. Blues brunch will be served at Time Out (Pat Pepin) and the Trade Winds (Brian & Friends) starting 9 a.m. And at 8 p.m. Sunday, both locations will host open jams, to which festival performers occasionally pop in, hosted by Brian McClean (Time Out) and Blue Steel Express (Trade Winds.
For more information, including full performer profiles, visit northatlanticbluesfestival.com.
Courier Publications' A&E Editor Dagney C. Ernest can be reached at 207-594-4401 or firstname.lastname@example.org.