Lovin’ the blues
Rockland — The North Atlantic Blues Festival turns 20 this year ... but there’s always room for something new. Those who are in Harbor Park a half hour before the two-day festival begins Saturday morning, July 13, will bear witness to a NABF first — a main-stage wedding.
“We’ve had a few engagements, but this is our first wedding,” said Paul Benjamin, who co-founded and produces the annual festival with Jamie Isaacson.
Knot-tiers Brenda Hatch and Mike Whitman of Glenburn are among those who have gotten engaged at the blues fest, five years ago. Two years earlier, when they began dating, Hatch had introduced Whitman to the festival, which she has been attending for more than a decade.
“A friend had heard about it and we decided to give it a try. We were hooked! It’s such a relaxing atmosphere, I always have an awesome time,” said Hatch the last week of June, in town to secure one of Harbor Park’s few RV sites for festival weekend.
Hatch and Whitman have made the festival a part of every summer, getting to know performers and other regular festivalgoers along the way. They particularly have become friendly with Maine blueswoman Pam Baker, who plays the local clubs on festival weekend. Five years ago, Whitman made an arrangement with Baker to help him propose to Hatch at the Trade Winds … but circumstances got in the way.
“I was feeling under the weather that night, so he ended up proposing the next day at the festival. It was July 13,” Hatch said.
When July 13 showed up on a weekend again this year, the couple decided it was a sign to get married and began to think about places by the water. Then they realized it was festival weekend.
“We said, we can’t, it’s blues festival weekend and we have to go to that! But we talked to Paul and I was really surprised when he said ‘Sure, why not? We’ll put you right on stage,’” said Hatch.
It will be a quick and simple ceremony, officiated by a friend. Whitman’s best man is a friend who usually attends the festival with the couple. Other friends and family members will be on hand.
“My sister is standing up with me. And my kids, who have never been here,” she said, adding her two daughters are very excited about the unusual nuptials.
Although she is somewhat shy, Hatch said both she and Whitman feel good about getting married on the festival stage.
“The festival is our favorite place — really wonderful — so why not,” she said.
The newly-wedded couple will be sharing their favorite place with thousands of attendees over the weekend. Following is the nuts and bolts of the Midcoast’s own blues fest; for the complete lowdown, visit northatlanticbluesfestival.com.
Blues fest basics
Blues festival gates will open 9 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, July 13 and 14. 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.
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 performance by one-man-blues-band Ben Prestage.
• 11 a.m. to noon: The 2013 International Blues Challenge’s Best Band winner, Florida’s Selwyn Birchwood Band, kicks off the day with some swampy Florida blues.
• 12:15 to 1:15 p.m.: Kansas City’s Samantha Fish, 24-year-old singer/guitarist, won the 2012 Blues Music Award for Best New Artist and has been on the road ever since.
• 1:30 to 2:35 p.m.: The day’s first of two supergroups, True Blues, brings heavy hitters Corey Harris, Guy Davis and Alvin Youngblood to the festival stage.
• 2:50 to 3:55 p.m.: Eddie Taylor Jr., son of late icon Eddie Taylor, has become the patriarch of a true Chicago blues family; you’ll find a sibling or two playing with the band.
• 4:10 to 5:25 p.m.: Supergroup No. 2, the Blues Broads, showcases highly regarded vocalists Dorothy Morrison, Tracy Nelson, Annie Sampson and Angela Strehli, individually and together.
• 5:40 to 7 p.m.: The Lee Boys from Florida will introduce the fest to Sacred Steel, a form of gospel with a hard-driving, blues-based beat, infused with R&B, jazz, rock, funk, hip-hop, country and music from other nations.
NABF club crawl
Main Street will be closed to traffic and open to the blues beginning 9 p.m. This year's Saturday night club crawl will put Juke Rockets, Sideways Highways, Matt and the Barnburners and Bonnie Edwards & Practical Cats on the street; The Sensations (upstairs) and Blue Steel Express (downstairs) at The Chowder House at Trade Winds Motor Inn, with Roger Hurricane Wilson outside; Lebish and Grinnell at The Landings Restaurant; Downeast Soul Coalition at FOG Bar & Cafe, with Wicked-Blues Band out back; Blind Albert Blues Band at Waterworks Restaurant & Pub; Brave New Blues (upstairs) and the open blues jam with Poke Chop (downstairs) at Time Out Pub; DW Gill Blues Band with Steve Arvey at Rock Harbor Restaurant & Pub; Mark Guitar Miller at Navigator Restaurant & Lounge; Eric Green at Myrtle Street Tavern; and Pat Pepin at Trackside Station. Note that most of these band/club pairing also will offer live music Friday night, July 12.
• 11 a.m. to noon: Matt Anderson, the first Canadian to win the International Blues Challenge in Memphis (2010) and opening act for Old Crow Medicine Show, opens the fest’s final day.
• 12:15 to 1:20 p.m.: Many know Sugar Ray Norcia for his stint as lead singer of the legendary Roomful of Blues, but he and The Bluetones has been playing all over the Northeast since 1979.
• 1:35 to 2:45 p.m.: The multiple awards-winning Holmes Brothers have served up a joyous and moving blend of blues, gospel, soul, R&B, rock ‘n’ roll and country.
• 3 to 4:15 p.m.: The one and only Popa Chubby brings his rockin’ blues and powerful presence to the ocean’s edge.
• 4:30 to 6 p.m.: Renowned R&B, soul and gospel singer Mavis Staples, a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and Grammy winner, including the Lifetime Achievement Award, takes the festival there in a big way.
Sunday, before and after
There are blues club options Sunday, as well. Blues brunch will be served at Time Out (Pat Pepin) and the Trade Winds’ Chowder House (Brian & Friends) starting 9 a.m. And at 8 p.m., both locations will host open jams, to which festival performers occasionally pop in, hosted by Brian McClean (Time Out) and Blue Steel Express (Chowder House).