15th Annual New River Blues Festival 2017
We headed up to the new river to catch the 15th Annual New River Blues Festival for Labor Day weekend. We rented our regular farmhouse up on the New River for a whole week, so we could relax, enjoy the mountains, and some Blues Music. This year's line-up at the New River Blues Festival was awesome. These performers were truly great. The crowd gets bigger, and the music gets better year after year. This year, I brought a friend of mine and his wife (Ken & Judy). We were roommates 20 years ago. We connected recently on the internet, and I found out that we both love the blues. He belongs to the Charlotte Blues Society and worked at the famous Double Door Inn for years as a bouncer before they closed it down. So we had to invite him up to the farm for a week of relaxation and Blues Music at the New River Blues Festival. We arrived Friday afternoon, grabbed our cameras, strolled around the picturesque countryside along the river photographing nature until Ken and Judy arrived at suppertime.
The weather had taken a cold turn while we were there which changed our plans a bit. We planned on floating the New River, but that wasn't going to happen before the New River Blues Festival. It got down into the 50's during the night, so the day started out too chilly for getting into the water. We opted to explore the nearby town of West Jefferson on Saturday. There are plenty of shops, dining, and you can even tour the cheese factory. While we were there in West Jefferson, Ken found out the King Bees were doing a kick-off party for the New River Blues Festival at West Jefferson NC Hotel Tavern from 2 - 5 pm. We were chowing down on some out of this world burgers at Black Jack's Pub & Grill, so a soon as we downed our burgers, we headed over to the Hotel Tavern to catch the party. We arrived around 3:30 pm, and the tunes were great! The place was so packed it was standing room only. That was NOT working because the place was just too small. After about five minutes of dodging servers and guests, we decided we arrived too late to the party, so we left, vowing to arrive early next year. Plus, we would see the King Bees tomorrow.
We arrived at the 15th Annual New River Blues Festival for Labor Day weekend around noon on Sunday. Ken was kind enough to buy our tickets for the event, so we were on Will-Call. The people who help at this event with the River House Inn bed and breakfast are very nice folks. They quickly confirmed we were on the list, paid the $3 parking fee and drove onto the field and parked. They divide parking into sections here in the country, 4-Wheel drive and 2-Wheel drive, we were on the 2 wheel drive side. This is the 15th year the River House Inn bed and breakfast hosted the event. Gayle Winston is the owner of the River House Inn and is one of the best people you will ever meet. She is as friendly as they come.
Everyone grabbed their cameras and chairs and headed down towards the stage. We scoped out the big poplar tree, and it was already filling up with people. So we found a spot half in and half out of the shade and set up all our chairs. We got settled, pulled out the camera equipment, and checked out all the interesting people decked out in Blues attire for the event. The BBQ place caught my eye right away, Ohhhh... the smells that came across that lawn filled my nose and taste buds with pure excitement. Hot dang! Blues Music and some North Carolina BBQ from Big Mo's BBQ...Son, it was on at that point.
After a few days of clouds and rain, we were glad to see a perfectly sunny day for the event. You couldn't ask for a better day. The King Bees were bustling around getting a few things set up. Donovan Murray of Celtic Force Promotions was running around getting the sound system set up and running properly. "BIG Mike Kincaid" who plays the Saxophone for the King Bees kicked off the event right on time getting the crowd pumped up by whooping and hollering. Donovan Murray with The Celtic Force Promotions introduced the first act of the New River Blues Festival, Lakota John. He is a 20 year old Native American from Robeson County, NC who is so good it will blow your mind. He has opened for Taj Mahal, what an accomplishment at such a young age. This fella could finger pick a guitar like you can't imagine. He also had an amazing voice and unique style. After his set, Lakota John told us he had been playing since he was 6 years old. His dad was a musician as well, and he got curious about who inspired the musicians his dad listened to, and that is how he got interested in the Piedmont Blues players when he was 13 years old. Watch Lakota John because this guy is going go far in his musical career. He told us he actually doesn't tour all the time. He is studying Computer Security in college and was busy full time with that. He was just touring during summer break.
The King Bees played for a bit, and then Johnny Rawls took the stage. It seems like the guys from Mississippi just have that special Blues touch and sound. His vibrato on that Fender Telecaster was GREAT. It's one thing to get a good player, but Johnny Rawls is also a showman. He can work up the crowd into a dancing frenzy, just like it should be. The old Blues players were party men playing for the dancing and fun of the people around them. It's good to see that still goes on. The music was made to make you dance. Ronnie Van Zant once penned these song these lyrics, " I don't care for fancy music if your shoes can't shuffle around." I believe that boy understood the Blues.
The next player was Donald Ceasar, The Blues Emperor. The harmonica player originally from Leesville, Louisiana. He is an incredible harmonica player, and you'd better put your dancing shoes on or put your seat-belt on because he is going to take you on a ride. Donald was a hopping, jumping, twirling, singing, playing dynamite dancing machine. They should have named him Donald "Kid Dynamite" Ceasar. Donald did an awesome set and had some crowd interaction when he invited a lady on stage to play his Galvanized Rub Board with a set of spoon handles. She managed along pretty good with a little coaching.
The next act up was Sandra Hall Empress Of The Blues. She is a Blues singer out of Atlanta and she has the Blues voice down pat. Once you hear her, you are hooked and are will want to hear her again.
Next on stage was Grammy nominated, Ike and Val Woods from Miami FL. This duo was awesome, and Ike's guitar work was great. Ike was a showman for the group and got everyone going. Vals' amazing voice just took the music and the show up two more levels. They ripped it up good and really turned up the tempo at the end. Keep in mind this event starts at 1 PM and ends at 6 PM and the King Bees, who backs up each act at the festival, at this point have been playing for about 4 hours but they played their hearts out. Ike ripped it up on a Chuck Berry Song "Johny Be Good," and he tore into that guitar. Rob --Hound Dog-- Baskerville kept up with him. Rob started playing behind his back and those two took off into their own world as they played and let us come along for the ride.
Needless to say that after 5 hours of a OUTSTANDING BLUES EVENT, it was time for those Blues players to quit and go get some rest. The King Bees were great and put on a heck of a show. This year marks the King Bees, founders of the festival, 30th year as a band together. Rob “Hound Dog” Baskerville, and Penny “Queen Bee” Zamagni, the husband-and-wife duo have been doing blues a long time. 30 years is a true dedication. If you like this article, come join these folks next year. They do the New River Blues Festival every Sunday of the Memorial day weekend. I can't wait for the 16th annual New River Blues Festival. Check out their website for next years line up and venue