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Annual music festival kicks off Friday

August 8, 2013
By PHYLLIS SIGAL - For The Times Leader , Times Leader

"All shades of blues" are on this year's lineup of the Heritage Music BluesFest - from contemporary to roots blues, and from Canadian to Grammy-winning blues, according to Bruce Wheeler, who created the festival in 2001.

"This is one of the most diverse lineups, but still rooted in the blues, that we've had in all 13 years," he said.

"From the great female vocals of Joan Osborn to the icon, Dr. John, to the new sound of contemporary blues with JJ Grey and Mofro - they are all what I like to present. I've said it year after year - we present all shades of blues."

The Heritage Music BluesFest gets underway Friday at 11:30 a.m. with a free Taste of the Blues. There will be music, artisans selling a variety of wares, as well as food vendors ready for the lunch crowd.

The Main Stage music kicks off at 5 p.m. Friday. The festival begins at noon on Saturday and at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

"I feel honored that we have gotten to the point where our stage is graced by three Grammy nominees and the 2013 Grammy winner. On Saturday night, we'll hear Dr. John, who was the 2013 Grammy Award winner for Contemporary Blues Album," he said. Joan Osborn and Ruthie Foster, both 2013 Grammy nominees, will perform Friday and Sunday, respectively.

"For the first time in 13 years, we're presenting three Canadian artists," Wheeler said. "The Canadian blues scene has really come alive in the last few years. One of those bands, Monkey Junk, reached the finals at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis a few years ago, and are now one of the premier blues acts in Canada garnering numerous Maple Blues Awards and Juno Awards, the equivalent to our Grammy Awards."

Also crossing the border from Canada are Harrison Kennedy and the duo, The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer.

Joining the festival from the south, "we go to New Orleans with representation from Glen David Andrews and Dr. John."

Up and coming artist the Lionel Young Band will open the festival on Friday.

"Lionel Young is the only act in the history of the International Blues Challenge to win in the solo and band categories. Also, more interestingly, while he was a violin student at Carnegie Mellon University, he played with the Wheeling Symphony," Wheeler said.

Young played the Main Stage when he was the IBC Solo Winner several years ago.

Wheeler usually does not repeat acts in back-to-back years; however, this year there is an exception.

"Southern Hospitality will return for the band's third year in a row. The first year, they did me a favor by filling in for the gravely ill Honey Boy Edwards. That was their debut performance. And now that they've released their debut album in 2013, I felt they deserved to return to Heritage Music BluesFest."

While the Main Stage is reserved for national touring acts, Wheeler at times offers a spot to a band that has created audience excitement on the Second Stage.

"This year, that band is the Brighter Side Band, from the Akron, Ohio, area. Last year the band created such a buzz when they played the Second Stage, I invited them to the Main Stage.

"There also seems to be a lot of groundswell excitement for Jesse Dee, a blue-eyed soul singer from New England. There seems to be an excitement from radio play among younger listeners," he said.

"But, in keeping with the tradition of presenting the torchbearers of the blues, we have the Blues Hall of Fame inductee Joe Louis Walker who will take the stage just prior to Dr. John on Saturday night."

Also on the lineup are Golden State-Lone Star Blues Revue, featuring Anson Funderburgh, Little Charlie Baty and Mark Hummel; IBC solo winner Little G Weevil; and IBC band winner Selwyn Birchwood.

Wheeler, who also serves as the executive director of the Wheeling Symphony, single-handedly organizes BluesFest throughout the year. In the weeks leading up to the festival, family members help out with a lot of the work, while auxiliary staff members - many of whom volunteer just for the fun of it - are enlisted for the weekend of the event.

"It's a lot of work to produce this event, but the happy faces of people who come from 25 states and multiple countries and feel that Wheeling, W.Va., is the place for their blues family reunion - that makes it all worthwhile," Wheeler said.



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