Blues festival coming March 14, 15

It’s been 23 years since the first River City Blues Festival took place in Marietta. This year’s festival will take place March 14 and 15 at the Lafayette Hotel on Front Street.

Now one of the area’s most popular annual musical events, the blues festival came from more humble beginnings.

“The first one was basically a folk-type music event held in a gazebo along the river,” said coordinator John Gifford with the Blues, Jazz and Folk Music Society, which sponsors the event.

He noted that the late Cobbler John Bolen, who died just last week, was a founding member of the BJFMS and a driving force behind the annual blues festivals.

“In fact, we’re probably going to rename next year’s festival in honor of John Bolen,” Gifford said. “It will be the same event with the same format, but with his name.”

In the 23 years since its founding, the blues festival has grown into a two-day affair with professional blues talent from across the country. The festival is held a month after February’s annual River City Blues Competition and the winner of that contest is always featured as the opening act for the blues fest.

This year the Tee Dee Young Band from Lexington, Ky., will kick off the festival Friday night.

“They’ll open at 8 p.m. for the Chris O’Leary Band,” Gifford said. “Tee Dee Young also won the blues competition and went on to the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tenn., in 2012. But our blues competition rules require winning acts to wait two years before they can compete again.”

BJFMS member Helen Holt said participating in the Memphis challenge often spurs local blues competition winners to try again.

“When they go to Memphis it tends to inspire them to up their game a bit,” she said. “So they may come back after a couple of years to try and win the local blues competition and go to Memphis again.”

Saturday’s matinee performers, beginning at 1:30 p.m., include The Hoo Doo Men, Blind Boy Paxton, and Thornetta Davis.

Rounding out the festival, starting at 8 p.m. Saturday, will be Long Tall Deb and the Werewolves of Alabama, and the Victor Wainright Band.

Proceeds from the River City Blues Festival help support BJFMS events and activities throughout the year,

But the society also supports Blues in the Schools, an effort that educates area school children about the blues and encourages them to develop their musical talents.

Holt said funding from a raffle to be held during the blues festival will support Blues in the Schools.

“We’re raffling off a package of tickets to a variety of blues and other musical events, including two tickets for the Cleveland Blues Society’s Blues Cruise (on Lake Erie) this year,” she said. “It’s really very popular. They sold out for the cruise last year.”

Students who participate in Blues in the Schools are included in the local Schools That Rock group that will also be featured from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. during the blues festival Saturday.

“We’re actually splitting the bill this year between the younger Schools That Rock group and the Washington State Community College Music Club,” said Mark Doebrich, who directs the two groups.

He said there will be about 16 performers altogether, from sixth grade through college, with the younger group playing one set and the older musicians another, culminating in a final piece including both groups.

“We’re so looking forward to this every year. It’s a real rush. Last year we had people dancing in the aisles,” Doebrich said. “We’ll do some blues, rock and some acoustic numbers, including a special tribute to John Bolen.”