On June 9, the Billtown Blues Association will present the 24th Annual Billtown Blues Festival. Who would have imagined that after 24 years, the little festival down by the Susquehanna River, that started as the dream of a small handful of blues enthusiasts with big dreams and a minimal budget, would still be going strong? Now a major festival that has drawn in some of the greatest performers in the history of the blues, the event has maintained its laid back and family-friendly atmosphere.
The Billtown Blues Festival is for many that one time of year when old friends can gather to kick back and get an opportunity to catch up while listening to some of the blues finest entertainers.
Kicking off this year's show on the main stage will be area favorites The Blind Chitlin Kahunas, followed by The Porkroll Project (the winners in the band category of the BBA's festival auditions,) Taylor Scott, Dave Keyes and the Billtown Trio (featuring Joel Vincent, Bill Stetz and Doug McMinn,) Kelly Richey and Barrence Whitfield and the Savages. Finishing out the night will be Alligator Records recording artist Joe Louis Walker, a recent Blues Hall of Fame Inductee who was nominated for four Blues Music Awards this year based on his most recent release, "Hellfire."
Joe Louis Walker will perform at this year's Billtown Blues Festival.
There also is the acoustic tent, in which Greg Burgess (who won the solo-duo portion of the festival auditions) will perform. Dave Keyes will present an acoustic set in addition to his main stage performance with The Billtown Trio.
One of the main features in the tent will be Steve Mitchell and his Circle of Drums, which is open for the public's participation.
Great music, fine food and some outstanding craft vendors make for a day of fun in the sun. Held at the Lycoming County Fairgrounds in Hughesville, the gates will open at 11 a.m. and the show will begin at noon. As has been the case for a number of years now, there is free bus transportation from a number of locations around Williamsport for those who would rather leave the driving to someone else. Large tents also are available for those seeking shelter from the elements, whether it is the sun or the possible occasional rainstorm. There is also a designated area for those wishing to bring their own small tents or large umbrellas.
Tickets are available at a number of area locations, by mail or through the website, www.billtownblues.org., or one may buy them the day of show at the gate.
History of the blues
Blues is essentially the story of mankind: his good times, bad times and all the time in between.
It is the story of love both lost and found, the telling of mankind's greatest sorrows and of his greatest joys. The history of blues, the recorded music is not nearly as obscure. The first blues song in recorded history is believed to be "Crazy Love," recorded by Mamie Smith, a vaudeville performer, in 1920. The song became a substantial hit, selling more than 75,000 copies in the first month after its release and the floodgates were opened. Women, predominantly backed in a jazz style, dominated the early days of blues, but, regardless of race or gender, the people had found a voice. Blues offered an opportunity to share the joys and pains that were common to all.
Today, nearly 100 years later, the blues are stronger than ever as a musical form. Styles have continued to change, but the themes remain the same. Blues still offer the opportunity to share life's hard times and its good times.
For more information visit the Billtown Blues Association's website, www.billtownblues.org.
Joe Louis Walker
With nearly two dozen CDs under his belt and a couple of DVDs thrown in for good measure, Joe Louis Walker is anything but a novice. He had begun to make a name for himself in the San Francisco area by the age of 16. The death of his friend Mike Bloomfield inspired him to make changes in his life.
He released multiple hits over the years on a variety of labels before settling into Alligator Records in 2012, where he released his most recent album, "Hellfire," which got him four nominations in the Blues Music Awards. 2013 also saw him inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.
Over the years he has been nominated nearly 60 times and has four wins under his belt at present. A veteran, considered by many as a living legend, Walker delivers the blues with a power and passion seldom touched by most.
For more information, visit joelouiswalker.com.
Barrence Whitfield & the Savages
Born Barry White, he took the name Barrence Whitfield to avoid being confused with R&B and soul giant Barry White. Whitfield is a fullthrottle soul screamer in the spirit of Little Richard, Wilson Pickett and Solomon Burke. For lack of a better word, I'll call this Americana, a blending of hardcore rock 'n' roll, soul, R&B, country, folk and solid blues with touches of anything else that might fit their need at any given time.
Known for their high levels of energy and reckless abandon, where Barrence Whitfield and the Savages are concerned, nothing is off limits. This band has nearly a dozen albums to their credit and they have a hardcore cult following that stretches around the world.
For more information check out their website at www.barrencewhitfieldsavages.com.
Richey cites her major influences as Roy Buchanan, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix. She currently has more than a dozen recordings under her belt and is considered one of the best guitarists on the contemporary blues scene. Her website states it best in reference to her new CD ... " 'Sweet Spirit' packs a potent knock-out punch that leaves Richey standing her ground as a serious, balls-to-the-wall, unapologetic rocker."
In a style reminiscent of some of the era's most ferocious players, Richey gives it everything she's got. The band is a powerhouse trio that holds nothing back as they burn through blues of various styles.
For more information on Kelly and the band check out her website at kellyrichey.com.
and the Billtown Trio
(Dave Keyes will also perform in the Acoustic Tent)
Dave Keyes is one of those piano players who can do whatever is asked of him regardless of what style it might be and do it with finesse, passion and a real flair. Over the last decade, Keyes has worked in many roles as a band leader and conductor for both Broadway shows and television, most notably conducting more than 600 performances during the six-year run of the Grammy-winning Broadway musical smash Smokey Joe's Cafe.
Essentially, if it's out there, chances are good that Keyes has played it. A recent work, "Wanna Hear You Say Yeah!," with The Harmonious Five, features vintage R&B from the late '50s and early '60s. He performed at last year's 24 hour Blues-A-Thon, held by the Uptown Music Collective. He will be performing with local talents Joel Vincent, Bill Stetz and Doug McMinn, who have been playing the Billtown music circuit for ages.
For more on Keyes, visit www.davekeyes.com.
In the world of blues, Taylor Scott is a very young man, but he is a young man with heart, soul and more talent than many performers several times his age. Scott is a roots musician whose heart is overflowing with the passion to make soulful music. Influenced heavily by blues, soul, funk, gospel and jazz, Scott's singing, playing and writing tells his story.
At present, his discography consists of a single, four-song EP, but blues fans have not seen the last of this talented young man. Scott has nowhere to go but up and he has the tools and the ability to get there. More may be found at taylorscottmusic.com.
The Porkroll Project
Winners in the band category of the Festival Audition
In concert, The Porkroll Project is a hard-rocking, six-piece band, who play a high-energy blend of fresh covers and originals. The music is blues, but it's done up "Porkroll style," a little bit of grease, a good dose of funk and a whole lotta drive and grind. Throw that together with some dangerous lead guitar and harmonica, powerful organ, and rippin' piano, and you have a recipe for a night where anything can happen.
For more information, visit www.porkrollblues.com.
The Blind Chitlin Kahunas
The Blind Chitlin Kahunas are quite possibly, one of the most bad-ass live bands in the land. Each performance is an evocative eruption of individual musical prowess and collective heart and soul. The band is well-rooted in the blues, yet prolific in a masterful infusion of soul, funk, R&B, jazz, folk, outlaw country, pop and classic rock influences ... creating a wholly original vibe with a strangely familiar tone.
The band features the talents of guitarist and vocalist Chris Bovard, bassist and vocalist Kim "Kimbo" Reichley, keyboardist and multi-instrumentalist Webb Kline and drummer and vocalist Joel B Vincent.
Find more information at www.kahunablues.com.
Greg Burgess (solo-duo winner of the festival audition concert) has been singing and playing the piano ever since, as he says, he "first felt the pangs of unrequited love." He is the pianist, vocalist, songwriter, and musical leader of Burgess, Mitchell & Seal, a piano, bass and drums trio which performs a wide variety of jazz, blues, swing, latin, bop, and R&B. Burgess has performed often at the Billtown Blues Festival and has been recorded numerous times by George Graham of WVIA through the Homegrown Music Series, including a solo TV broadcast and one with singer/guitarist Debbie Davies.
More about Burgess may be found at www.gregoryburgess.com.
Steve Mitchell will be hosting his "Circle of Drums" once again this year.
This was a very popular event in the acoustic tent last year, so if you did not get to check it out, put it on your list of "must see" for this year's festival. This is an opportunity for any aspiring drummers in the audience to sit in and participate.
In the studio, working with composer Ed Bogas, Mitchell produced music for 25 years of Charlie Brown television specials, as well as for "Garfield the Cat," "Sesame Street," "Nova," the PBS documentary American Experience and thousands of commercials.
For more, visit www.gregoryburgess.com/Page471.htm.