If you’re looking for a modern-day example of the famous Willie Dixon adage “The blues are the roots and the other musics are the fruits” in action, then think of the Lancaster Roots & Blues Festival as the equivalent of a farmer’s market for your senses, with as extensive and diverse an offering of roots and fruits as you’ll find in any one place.
Last winter, we had the pleasure of reporting to you on the inaugural edition of the festival, which featured performances from blues men and women like Johnny Winter and James Cotton, Sugar Ray and the Bluetones, the Heritage Blues Quintet, Chris Thomas King, Samantha Fish, Lonnie Shields, and others, in addition to an impressive range of local and national rock, soul, zydeco, country, folk, jazz, reggae, indie, and swing acts, including such names as Edgar Winter, Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers, and Loudon Wainwright III.
Taking place next Friday and Saturday (February 6 & 7) across ten stages throughout downtown Lancaster (all within an easy walk of one another), this year’s festival line-up is just as impressive, including mostly new acts as well as a few return visitors in the likes of Clarence Spady, the Gas House Gorillas, Sweet Leda, and Tom Principato (this year, as part of a “Masters of the Telecaster” pairing with fellow guitar slinger Jim Weider that will also include one-time members of The Band and Levon Helm Band), to name just a few. Among the bluesier names on the bill this time around are veterans such as Joe Louis Walker, Corey Harris, Kim Simmonds and Savoy Brown, and Mac Arnold and Plate Full o’ Blues; other top names including the “he said, she said” act of Peter Karp and Sue Foley, harmonica man Jason Ricci, and the powerful vocals and guitar of Popa Chubby; and rising stars like Joanne Shaw Taylor, Albert Castiglia, Dana Fuchs, and acoustic performer Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton, who you may recall Living Blues magazine having named the Artist Deserving More Attention in the publication’s 2013 Living Blues Awards.
In between, we’ll also be trying to check out a few more of the blues-based and headlining acts, including the up-and-coming Nikki Hill, the after-midnight stylings of the Trudy Lynn Blues Review, the acclaimed Kelly Bell Band, former Dickey Betts band guitarist and singer Mark May, Homesick James protégé Johnny Long, zydeco performers Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band, Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt founding member Jay Farrar, old time rock n’ roller Charlie Gracie (whose song “Butterfly” hit number one back in 1957), ’90s alternative rockers Live, Grammy Award-winning bluegrass outfit The Steep Canyon Rangers, the powerful horn-driven funk of Big Sam’s Funky Nation, folk/country/gospel singer Iris DeMent, and classic rock band Iron Butterfly, which will be launching both a new album and tour in 2015.
Indeed, with 75 acts spread across only two nights, the big challenge again this year will be getting to see all of the musicians we’d like to, a bit of a Herculean task when you have artists like Blind Boy Paxton, Albert Castiglia, Jay Farrar, Chubby Carrier, Mac Arnold, and Corey Harris all playing overlapping sets during the same two-hour period Friday night. Even with the earlier start on Saturday (beginning with the Masters of the Telecaster show at 2 p.m., with Iron Butterfly and Blind Boy Paxton – for those who may have missed his Friday night set or want to come back and see him again – both playing at 4), this still makes for a whole lot of music to squeeze into one weekend.
And for students, players, and fans of certain artists, there will be even more to take in, with several of the musicians offering master classes throughout the two days, including Weider and Principato (on mastering the Telecaster blues style of playing), Blind Boy Paxton (on the evolution of the acoustic guitar in the pre-war blues), bass player Kenny Aaronson (Bob Dylan), boogie woogie pianist Bram Wijnands, and long-time Billy Joel drummer Liberty DeVitto, the latter of whom you can also catch on stage during a Saturday night set from The Reach Around Rodeo Clowns.
For those wanting to stock their inner roots cellar with some quality live music to help make it through the rest of the long, cold winter, we can’t think of a better place to do your looking than the Lancaster Roots & Blues Festival.