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Burnin’ for Blues?

Nineteen reasons you should attend Cincy Blues Fest’s 19th annual event

By Mike Breen · August 3rd, 2011 · Music
Next year, the Cincy Blues Society’s annual summer showcase of local, regional and national Blues talent will celebrate its 20th anniversary. One of the Queen City’s prize music festivals (and one of the best Blues fests in the region), 2012’s Cincy Blues Fest is sure to have many unique features and surprises, but you could say that every year. There are tons of reasons to attend the 2011 event Friday and Saturday at Sawyer Point. In honor of its 19th anniversary, we give you the Top 19 in easy-to-digest list form.

19) You can’t say you’ve fully experienced Cincinnati until you’ve frolicked for hours in the humidity and laughed in heat stroke’s face. Performances start in the evening (5:30 Friday and 4:30 Saturday), so wear sunscreen and hydrate and you’ll be fine.

18) Catch a great one-man Blues band that doesn’t sound like one man. Ben Prestage (on the Budweiser Main Stage Saturday at 7 p.m.) sings, plays acoustic guitar, harmonica, banjo, lap-steel and fiddle, as well as foot-drums, on stage. But it’s his authentic, swampy Blues songwriting that gets the attention.

17) Because a lot of volunteers work hard to make the festival happen. Around 500 people volunteer for the event each year. (Cincy Blues Society is a nonprofit organization.)

16) You’ll get a glimpse of the future of Cincinnati Blues when Brian Keith Wallen takes the Main Stage Saturday at 5:45 p.m. Wallen’s rootsy, Country-tinged songwriting is remarkably accomplished, especially considering he’s just 19.

15) You’ll get a mini-preview of the next International Blues Challenge. Wallen earned his Main Stage slot at the Cincy Blues Challenge earlier this year, winning in the solo/duo category. The band winner was quintet Miss Lissa & Company, who kick things off on the main stage Friday at 5:45 p.m. Both will be going to Memphis early next year to represent Cincinnati in the International Blues Challenge.

14) You’ll be showing support for homegrown music. The Blues Fest is always a great opportunity to check out what the Greater Cincinnati Blues scene has to offer. The St. Vincent De Paul Local Stage features area bands nonstop Friday and Saturday.

13) The natural setting of Sawyer Point and its Ohio River backdrop make for a perfect music festival locale.

You deserve to relax.

12) Learn fun facts like how a “harpist” in Blues actually handles the smallest instrument on stage. Kansas-based guitarist Aaron Moreland and singer/harpist (“harmonica player” to us laymen) Dustin Arbuckle developed Moreland & Arbuckle’s sound following a decade of tinkering. Though touched by an assortment of Americana genres, the musicians still use Blues as their launch pad. The duo plays the Main Stage at 7 p.m. Friday.

11) When you attend the Cincy Blues Society’s Winter Blues Fest in January, you can make an informed comparison between the two events and dazzle your friends.

10) Let Rick Holmstrom show you that the Blues formula can still be messed with. After several years as a sideman in Los Angeles, the guitarist released Hydraulic Groove, a record based around programmed beats and samples. While he doesn’t make albums on computers anymore, Holmstrom — on the Main Stage at 10:15 p.m. Friday — continues to push boundaries with his imaginative writing style.

9) The fest now has a new website (www.cincybluesfest.org) that is easier to use, so bring your smartphone and show everyone how modern and well-organized you’ve become.

8) Show your kids it is possible to look cool playing the trombone. The funky Chicago Blues of Big James & the Chicago Playboys (Saturday at 10:15 p.m. on the Main Stage) is driven by bandleader Big James Montgomery, who sings and wields the trombone alongside a saxophonist and trumpeter (plus full backing crew).

7) Recent studies have found that live Blues can reverse male pattern baldness, boost your libido and pay your rent on time. (Results may vary.)

6) Witness the vocalist Downbeat Magazine said “places near the top of the list of the finest living singers of soul blues.” Such lofty praise is something Tad Robinson must be getting used to. Besides glowing reviews, it’s become more unusual for Robinson to not be nominated in national Blues awards programs. Robinson performs at 8:30 p.m. Friday on the Main Stage.

5) You can dress like The Fonz and no one will flinch! Cincy Blues Fest’s popular themed stage goes Rockabilly this year. Friday’s lineup “Rockabilly Stage” features local and regional ’billy acts all evening, including Cincinnati’s Straw Boss and Stardevils.

4) You can hang out with fellow Blues fans from across the country. Serious Blues fans travel to festivals if they’re good enough. Cincy Blues Fest passes that test and helps our local economy in the process.

3) See why Cincinnati could be called the Boogie Woogie capitol of the U.S. The Boogie Woogie Piano Stage is the Blues Fest’s most unique element, showcasing some of the finest pianists in the world who play the rolling, energetic style. From 4:30 p.m. until the 11:30 p.m. “Grand Finale Jam,” the Piano Stage will be jumpin’ all Saturday.

2) Hear what “Bessie Smith meets Diana Krall meets Janis Joplin” might sound like. Mississippi singer/pianist Eden Brent plays the Main Stage Saturday at 8:30 p.m., but you might see her around the Boogie Woogie stage, too. Though she’s developed her own style by blending in Jazz and Pop influences, Brent studied under Boogie/Blues pioneer Boogaloo Ames when she was 16.

1) You’ll be helping the Blues live on for future generations. Young performers who’ve benefited from the Blues in the Schools program perform annually at the Cincy Blues Fest, which uses proceeds from the event to fund the educational programming. And parents can introduce their kids to Blues on the cheap — for teenagers, admission is $5; kids 12 and under get in free.

The 2011 CINCY BLUES FEST runs Friday-Saturday at Sawyer Point. Admission is $15 each day ($25 two-day passes available at the gate Friday). Buy tickets, check out performance times and get club details here.



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