This weekend, the Cincy Blues Fest — presented annually by the Cincy Blues Society — returns for its 21st year, a remarkable accomplishment for a music festival of any sort. The festival — held Friday and Saturday at Sawyer Point along the riverfront — has nationally- and internationally-acclaimed main stage headliners like Watermelon Slim & The Workers and the Reba Russell Band (Friday) and Ana Popovic, Honey Island Swamp Band and Nikki Hill (Saturday).
Some of the coolest things at the Cincy Blues Fest can be found on the “specialty” stages — a “specialty” of the fest — which this year includes a “Women of the Blues” stage on Friday, headlined by national act EG Knight and also featuring locals Rio & The Ramblers, The Juice and Tempted Souls Band. Saturday sees the return of the “Boogie Woogie Hall of Fame Piano Stage,” featuring an international cast of top-shelf Boogie Woogie pianists, including local favorite Ricky Nye and former locals (now Florida-based) Liz Pennock & Dr. Blues.
Speaking of returning locals, the weekend features two main stage acts with serious ties to Cincinnati’s Blues past. Educator, author, DJ, singer and harmonica player Steve Tracy returns to Cincy to play the main stage at 7 p.m. Friday with his band the Crawling Kingsnakes. A Walnut Hills High School graduate, Tracy worked with local Blues icons like Pigmeat Jarrett and Big Joe Duskin, becoming a part of the scene he’d later dig deeper into in the 1993 book, Going to Cincinnati: A History of the Blues in the Queen City. His writing career is extensive — Tracy has written dozens of album liner notes and edited/written/intro-ed several other books on a variety of subjects. Today, Tracy is a professor of Afro-American Studies at University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Saturday at 6 p.m. on the fest’s main stage, Stacy Mitchhart and his band are slated to perform.
Mitchhart grew up in Cincinnati and spent time playing music on the East and West Coasts before returning to his hometown in the early 1990s and forming Stacy Mitchhart and Blues-U-Can-Use, a staple on the local Blues scene for a few years. After a move to Nashville, Tenn., in the mid-’90s, Mitchhart’s musical career really took off. His albums have been widely acclaimed and done well commercially — his 2011 release, Live from B.B. King’s, debuted at No. 6 on the Billboard Blues charts — and he’s received high-praise for his showmanship and remarkable Blues voice. In 2008, Mitchhart was the subject of the well-received documentary NashVegas Blues.
Guitarist Dave Muskett and the group The Juice earned main-stage slots (Friday at 5:45 p.m. and Saturday at 5 p.m., respectively) by winning the Cincy Blues Society’s annual “Blues Challenge” — a live play-off — this past June. Those artists will also represent the Cincy Blues Society at the International Blues Challenge early next year in Memphis.
The Blues Fest again presents the St. Vincent DePaul Local Stage on both days of the event. Always an excellent snapshot of the current local Blues scene, this year the stage will have G. Miles and the Hitmen, the Brad Hatfield Band, Ralph & the Rhythm Hounds, the Noah Wotherspoon Band and Thomas Long & Blue Sacrifice on Friday, and The Bluebirds Big Band, Jay Jesse Johnson, The SoulFixers, Chuck Brisbin & the Tuna Project, the Doug Hart Band and the Leroy Ellington Blues Band on Saturday.
Music starts at 5:45 on Friday and at 4:15 p.m. on Saturday. Advanced tickets are $15 for Friday, $20 for Saturday or $25 for a two-day pass (you can also purchase tickets at the gates). Visit cincybluesfest.org for the full schedule, ticket links and everything else you need to know about the festival.
It’s Commonly Jazz Returns
Another classic Cincinnati event, this one dedicated to Jazz, returns starting this Thursday. One of the oldest free series of its kind in the region, the It’s Commonly Jazz showcases have been running for 28 years, presenting marquee artists like Eddie Harris, McCoy Tyner, Javon Jackson and David “Fathead” Newman.
The free series — running every Thursday in August — returns to the outdoor Seasongood Pavilion in Eden Park this week, beginning Thursday with renowned saxophonist Craig Bailey and his quintet.
The rest of the It’s Commonly Jazz lineup for 2013 features Trinidad-born Etienne Charles, acclaimed for his mix of island rhythms and Jazz, on Aug. 8; young tenor sax wiz J.D. Allen on Aug. 15; Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter/actor Gregory Porter on Aug. 22, presented with Learning Through the Arts, Inc. as part of the Crown Jewels of Jazz Heritage Festival (facebook.com/crownjewelsofjazzheritagefestival); and, for the finale, vibraphonist Warren Wolf, who will be joined by his group of young Jazz lions, Wolfpack.
Music runs 6-8 p.m. For complete info, visit itscommonlyjazz.com.
CONTACT MIKE BREEN: firstname.lastname@example.org or @CityBeatMusic