WHEELING?- It's the 14th year for the Heritage Music BluesFest at Heritage Port in downtown Wheeling. And, if you were there during year No. 1, you'd never believe it's still going - and stronger than ever.
"There are more people peeking over the fence now than were here the first year," Bruce Wheeler said.
Wheeler single-handedly plans and produces the blues festival each year.
Robert Randolph and the Family Band
The Spin Doctors
"Although, I couldn't get through the weekend without my hard-working family by my side and a dedicated crew of volunteers," he said.
"It's a labor of love. I love the blues, and I love to see the fans come from a couple dozen states. We've gotten to know a lot of our attendees, and we feel like one big happy blues family the second weekend of every August."
Wheeler, who also serves as executive director of the Wheeling Symphony, is excited about this year's lineup.
"There's great variety - as usual. This year we've got the Robert Randolph and the Family Band closing Friday night. I saw them in Indianapolis last fall, and they put on quite a show. Lots of energy. Lots of dancing. Saturday's closer is Tab Benoit, who has been here a couple of times. He's always a favorite. And Sunday we've got Ana Popovic playing early evening, leading up to the Spin Doctors.
"Now the Spin Doctors have gotten some interesting comments. Most people remember them as a poppy group from the late 1980s and the '90s. But if you listen to their latest album, 'If the River Was Whiskey,' you'll hear the blues. I think they'll surprise the audience - in a good way," Wheeler said.
'"I'm also looking forward to Jarekus Singleton, who plays Saturday from 3-4 p.m. He's touring in support of his debut Alligator Records release, 'Refuse to Lose.' There's a lot of buzz about him. He's a protege of the late "Ironman" Michael Burks.
"Friday, we've also got Matt Guitar Murphy, who people will recognize from 'The Blues Brothers' movie. He's paired with a cutting-edge act from Florida, the Nouveaux Honkies. On Sunday, we have Chicago blues legends Billy Branch and Lurrie Bell."
Friday kicks off with the free preview, a Taste of the Blues, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Merchandise and food vendors will be open for business. Billy the Kid & the Regulators will be priming the main stage pump during the lunch hours, and will return to open the festival at 5 p.m.
"We are really proud of Billy. He came in third this year at the International Blues Challenge band competition in Memphis. A Western Pennsylvania boy, he's been on the festival's second stage and the main stage, and he hosts our after jams each night at River City."
While it is the music that brings the blues lovers to the festival, it's the atmosphere that keeps them there. The Ohio River as the backdrop, the food vendors and hand-crafted items for sale add to the weekend's enjoyment.
"We've got some great new local food vendors coming this year. Thomas Gilson is bringing his grilled cheese cart, The Cheese Melt, with a special blues sandwich he's whipping up especially for the festival. Frank Figaretti is bringing his Uncle Frank's hot dog cart. And Mmm.... Popcorn will be popping corn on the spot, and tossing it with assorted flavors. Also some of our favorite food vendors are returning - Sherry's Crab Cakes, Rolling Smoke BBQ, Ideal Provisions and more."
"A big feature this year is the Gibson Guitar Bus, sponsored by C.A. House. It's a traveling museum/studio of various Gibson products," Wheeler said. There is no additional charge for festival ticket-holders to board the bus.
"You can also visit with our friends at the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise Land Yacht, and plan your next blues cruise."
Jewelry, art, bronze statues of music icons and other hand-crafted items will be for sale throughout the weekend.
For more information, visit www.heritagemusicfest.com.
Here's the schedule for the weekend:
Friday, Aug. 8
11:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m. .... TASTE OF THE BLUES (free preview)
GATES OPEN AT 4 p.m. (wristbands required)
SATURDAY, AUG. 9
GATES OPEN AT 11 a.m. (wristbands required)
SUNDAY, AUG. 10
GATES OPEN AT NOON (wristbands required)