Preview: Pittsburgh Blues Festival skews younger with such headliners as Los Lonely Boys and Tab Benoit
July 18, 2013 4:00 AM
Blues veterans The Nighthawks make a return trip to Pittsburgh Blues Festival.
By Scott Mervis Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The 2012 edition of the Pittsburgh Blues Festival at Hartwood Acres was honored to present Bobby "Blue" Bland.
It turned out to be the last time the city would see the blues legend, who died last month at 83, joining the ranks of so many greats from his generation.
We've become accustomed to seeing a name like his on a blues festival bill, but it's become a challenge for a promoter trying to book one.
Pittsburgh Blues Festival
Gates open at 4 p.m.
Miss Freddy & Blue Faze (5 p.m.)
The Slide Brothers (6:30 p.m.)
Youngblood Blues Camp (8 p.m.)
Big Sam's Funky Nation (9 p.m.)
Gates open at 1:30 p.m.
Olga Watkins Band (2 p.m.)
Gina Sicilia (3 p.m.)
Pittsburgh Blues All-Stars (4:30 p.m.)
Joe Louis Walker (5:30 p.m.)
Eric Lindell (7 p.m.)
Los Lonely Boys (9 p.m.)
Gates open at 1:30 p.m.
Shot O' Soul (2 p.m.)
Turbosonics (3 p.m.)
J.D. McPherson (4 p.m.)
theCAUSE & friends (5:45 p.m.)
The Nighthawks with Billy Price (6:45 p.m.)
Tab Benoit (8:45 p.m.)
Where: Hartwood Acres, Hampton.
Tickets: Friday, free with a bag of non-perishable grocery items to donate to the Food Bank. Saturday and Sunday: $30 advance/$35 gate; $50 weekend pass; $5 student/military discount; 12 and under free. www.pghblues.com or 412-460-BLUE (2583).
"A lot of them have gone to meet the maker, you know what I mean," says Moondog's owner Ron Esser, who books the festival. "As far as senior guys go, there's who? Buddy Guy and B.B. King, that's it. Who's left?"
The senior members at the 19th annual Pittsburgh Blues Festival, which runs Friday through Sunday, are Calvin Cooke (of the Slide Brothers), who turns 70 next year, and Joe Louis Walker, a San Francisco singer-guitarist and Blues Hall of Fame member who is a sprightly 63.
The headliners this year are younger guys like Los Lonely Boys and Tab Benoit, whom Mr. Esser says is one of the more in-demand musicians on the circuit.
"Tab is involved with Voice of the Wetlands, all the problems they've been having in New Orleans, and he's been in movies [like 'Hurricane on the Bayou']," Mr. Esser says. "He's just really like high energy, and he's a good-looking guy. He's got it all going. He's one of the hottest acts going right now in the blues."
Mr. Esser is also excited about Blues Festival newcomer J.D. McPherson, an Oklahoma player with a rockabilly bent.
"I saw him at that WYEP festival last summer and then I saw him on 'Letterman' or 'Leno' and I was like, 'This guy is great.' I think in Triple A, like WYEP, listeners really respond to his music."
An old favorite, which has played Moondog's many times, is rugged Washington, D.C.,-based blues vets The Nighthawks, led by Mark Wenner and featuring Pittsburgh drummer Mark Stutso.
"At this point in my career, it can't do me any harm: They're my favorite blues band by far," Mr. Esser says. "Over all the years I've been doing this, they're the band. When you talk about a rock band, you talk about the Stones. That's what they are, they're like the Rolling Stones of the blues."
The Nighthawks will be joined by Billy Price, whom Mr. Esser says doesn't get enough credit in his own hometown.
"You go to clubs around the country and there's 8-by-10 pictures of Billy Price when he sang with Roy Buchanan."
In assembling the lineups, Mr. Esser says he tried to mix up the bills so there wasn't too much of any one style on a particular day.
"No offense, but any kind of music, if you listen to the same thing for hours on end, gets boring, no matter what it is."
So there's Mardi Gras music from Big Sam's Funky Nation (led by former Dirty Dozen Brass Band trombonist Big Sam), gospel-blues from the Slide Brothers and the Tex-Mex style of Los Lonely Boys, among others.
Representing the future of the blues will be the Young Blood Blues Camp, assembled by guitarist Jimmy Adler and playing a prime-time Friday slot.
"We have to continue to bring younger people in, and I really try every year," Mr. Esser says. "We have all these young teenage kids playing blues songs and it's really cool. They're really into it. They're going to get to play on a big stage between the Slide Brothers and Big Sam. I told them, 'You're going to be at a festival in front of thousands of people, and you're going to see what it's like.' And that's what we have to do. I told them," he says laughing, " 'Otherwise, when the last one of us dies, you can just take the Blues Festival logo and all that [stuff], throw us in the grave and just put it all on top of us, and bury it. That will be the end.' "
And that of course would be a shame as the Blues Festival, music and tradition aside, is the primary fundraiser for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.