Time for the blues (weather or not)

By Dagney C. Ernest | Jul 12, 2017
Blues fans can take “Biscuit” Miller, left, home with them, as the blues-funk bassist and bandleader graces the labels of Savage Oakes’ Ruffed Grouse (red, pictured) and Entwined (white) wines. At right, Walter Trout, live in Amsterdam.

Rockland — The 24th North Atlantic Blues Festival week has arrived, and the pieces are falling into place. Even the weather outlook is good. Of course, that’s the one variable out of co-founders and –producers Paul Benjamin and Jamie Isaacson’s hands, as this year’s closer, Walter Trout, can attest.

Trout was set to close the 2007 NABF too, and took the Rockland Harbor Park stage as clouds rolled in. Rain has never stopped performers or dancers at the summer festival — in fact, sometimes it is a welcome relief from the heat. But that day, the rain clouds had some heat of their own.

“It’s the only time we’ve had that kind of storm. We’ve had heavy, heavy rains, but we’d never had a storm,” said Benjamin. “And when the lightning started, we had to stop the festival.”

A serious health crisis almost stopped Trout for good in the interim, but he is back with a vengeance. Also back, less than two months after being named the Blues Music Awards’ Contemporary Blues Male Artist, is Baton Rogue ambassador Kenny Neal, playing the set before.

Local — and international — favorite Shemekia Copeland, winner of numerous BMAs and officially crowned the New Queen of the Blues in Chicago, will make her first appearance at the blues fest as a mom. Her first child, a son named for her father, the late, great Johnny Copeland, arrived in December.

Current BMA bass player of the year David “Biscuit” Miller is making more than one appearance during the Rockland blues festival weekend. Union’s Savage Oakes Vineyard and Winery is offering the official wines of the 2017 North Atlantic Blues Festival, and they feature Miller on limited-edition souvenir labels.

“Biscuit will be signing his bottles at Main Street Markets Friday from 6 to 8 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday, during the club crawl,” said Benjamin.

The limited-edition bottles also will be available at the Savage Oakes tasting room, 175 Barrett Hill Road in Union. Another limited-edition blues festival bottle is issued by Fiore, to be purchased on the festival grounds and then filled with the artisan olive oil and vinegar of choice at the Fiore storefront on Main Street.

Blues festival attendees also may get a chance to be documented this year. Benjamin said the folks at Renys, a festival sponsor, are hoping to bring a camera crew one of the two days and record the whole crowd singing the store's “Maine Adventure!” jingle. And the lineup encourages all-fest attendance.

• Both days will begin with young musicians from the nearby Midcoast Music Academy blues intensive summer camp, playing from 10:30 to 10:55 a.m. Playing between acts each day are L.C. and The Driver, one-time Midcoast regulars.

• Saturday’s main stage acts open with Christone "Kingfish" Ingram, who graduated from his Mississippi Delta high school last month. Fans of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” may remember the guitar wiz making a big splash a couple of years ago. He’ll play 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

• Ex-opera singer, and former backup singer for Joe Louis Walker, Sari Schorr has taken Europe by storm as a blues rock singer and she should do the same, with her band, The Engine Room, in Harbor Park 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.

• Anthony Gomes, Canadian-born and Chicago- and Nashville-honed, brings his virtuosic guitar playing and songwriting — of late taking a turn to rock — to the main stage 1:45 to 3 p.m.

• Biscuit Miller & The Mix are guaranteed to pack the dance floor; after their 3:15 to 4:30 p.m. set, they’ll bring Gomes back for a reunion jam (Miller played a few years in Gomes’ band).

• Shemekia Copeland has played just about everywhere, including for the troops in Iraq and Kuwait; and with everybody — she’s opened for The Rolling Stones — but local blues fans remember her first performances here, when she was still a teen. She’ll give the first-day crowd an inspiring send-off 5:15 to 6:45 p.m.

But not too far off, because the fest’s famous club crawl of regional blues bands begins at 8 p.m. Cover is waived for festival bracelet wearers (Saturday or weekend) at clubs, but you don’t have to be a ticketholder, or 21 and older, to take in what the club crawl offers all along Main Street. There will be five bands playing on Main Street, from in front of Key Bank to just before the ferry landing — and yes, the street will be closed to vehicles.

Many of the same bands are playing in city clubs Friday night, albeit not officially part of the festival. Sunday offers a couple of official options also open to the public, not just ticketholders: blues brunches start at 9 a.m. upstairs at the Time Out Pub (live blues by Pat Pepin) and the Trade Winds’ Eclipse restaurant; and the open after-fest jams, to which all musicians are welcome, at Time Out and at the event center below Eclipse.

• After the MCMA kids show their stuff, Sunday gets under way with blues/roots/gospel keyboardist Kelley Hunt, making her North Atlantic Blues Festival debut in seven-piece band company 11:15 a.m. to noon.

• Dwayne Dopsie & The Zydeco Hellraisers promises to bring the Big Easy to the Lime City, sending the crowd into zydeco mode 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.

• The NABF often offers an all-star showcase and this year’s highlights masters of the blues harp. Harmonicon, featuring Sugar Blue, Billy Branch and Jason Ricci, plays 1:45 to 3 p.m.

• Kenny Neal also won the BMA for Contemporary Blues Album for “Bloodline,” which features eight members of his extended, music-legacy family (you’ll spot a couple in the band). The swamp-blues master and multi-instrumentalist plays 3:15 to 4:30 p.m.

• Capping the 2017 fest is the great rock-blues guitarist Walter Trout, back to full throttle after a harrowing few years that included a liver transplant. He’s played with John Lee Hooker and Big Mama Thornton and was a member of Canned Heat and John Mayall’s legendary Bluesbreakers, but he became a star with his own band … and will demonstrate why 4:45 to 6:15 p.m.

Blues fest nuts and bolts

Gates open at 9 a.m. both days, rain or shine; bring lawn chairs, blankets and sunscreen, but leave coolers, sun umbrellas, tents, video recorders, pets and alcohol at home. There are food and merchandise vendors on site.

For those who did not get advance tickets, admission bracelets are $40 either day, $75 for a weekend pass, at the gate for adults; there is a daily gate fee of $5 for children age 6 to 12, free for younger kids. The official festival program, produced by Courier Publications LLC and included in last week’s newspapers, is around town and will be available on the grounds. For more information, visit northatlanticbluesfestival.com.

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