Blues on the Bay

Effectively landlocked in the City of Champions for most of the year (and snowed under for what often seems half of it), we at the BluesPowR Blog occasionally find a way to sneak off to slightly more coastal climates. Often it’s in the form of family vacations, which usually tends to feature more music from Winnie the Pooh and The Backyardigans than it does the likes of B.B. King and Taj Mahal, a small sacrifice to make in exchange for a much-needed break and some quality fun-in-the-sun time with my lovely wife and two terrific kids. And we’re fortunate to sometimes be able to make trips solely in pursuit of the blues music I love.

With any luck, we’ll have an opportunity to experience a little bit of both in May, when we’ll be looking to pack up the minivan and head south to Annapolis, Md., for the (mostly) annual Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival (CBBF) at Sandy Point State Park.

Despite having encountered its fair share of difficulties (mostly financial) during its lifetime – forcing the organizers to skip a few years along the way, and resulting in the constant threat of an untimely end for the festival that hovers over it like the storm clouds which often accompany the event – the CBBF organizers somehow manage to put together solid lineups for blues fans nearly every time (although the lineup can be somewhat repetitive – acts like Shemekia Copeland, the Nighthawks, and Hubert Sumlin have played the festival numerous times over the years, but hey, there are worse problems to have than continually attracting that kind of talent).

Take last year, for example, which offered probably one of the best festival lineups across the nation with performances from a great mix of established and rising stars, including Albert Cummings, Lonnie Brooks, Ana Popovic, Shemekia Copeland, Back Door Slam, Jonny Lang, and Zac Harmon (Eric Burdon of The Animals and War fame was also scheduled to perform but needed to drop out because of health reasons). BluesPowR Blog unfortunately wasn’t able to make last year’s festival due to other commitments, but hopes to make up for it with a return visit to the festival this May, seeing the just-announced lineup for 2010 (early-bird tickets go on sale Friday, Jan. 15).

In addition to headliners Buddy Guy and Chuck Berry, BluesPowR Blog is probably most excited about the inclusion of Big Bill Morganfield (son of Muddy Waters) and Jimmie Vaughan (Stevie Ray’s brother) among this year’s performers. The Mummers Parade-South Philly String Band certainly makes an interesting twist to the lineup, which also features Cedric Burnside, Bobby Parker, Tinsley Ellis, Moreland and Arbuckle, and, for at least a third time, Shemekia Copeland (daughter of Johnny Clyde Copeland). Once again, and similar to other festivals across the country, proceeds from this year’s show will benefit some worthwhile causes (Special Olympics, We Care, Camp Face, and Special Love in this case), giving even more reason to let loose and partake in the food and drink while you’re there. According to the event’s organizers, last year’s festival resulted in more than $30,000 for its designated charities.

It’s unfortunate that financial problems have forced the cancellation of even some of the largest blues festivals across the country in recent years (including last year, the San Francisco Blues Festival), and I certainly hope it’s a trend we’ll soon see start to reverse, or at least halted. Maybe it’s all the fond memories I have from my years as a regular at the CBBF (when I lived in Maryland and it was quite a bit easier to get to the event than it is now) – sitting in the pouring rain waiting (and waiting) for Bo Diddley to take the stage in 2001, after watching Sista Monica and blues legends Elvin Bishop & Smokey Smothers warm things up for him earlier in the day, only for Bo to play a few songs and then step down on account of the rain, or volunteering in the festival’s hospitality tent during the 5th annual event in 2002, which gave me my first real opportunity to meet and talk with blues musicians like Shemekia Copeland, Tab Benoit, Lil’ Ed and his band, Magic Slim, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and the guys from Double Trouble – or maybe it’s the stellar lineups they come up with year after year, or maybe it’s that I’m such a sucker for a good pulled pork sandwich (courtesy of Red Hot & Blue) and beer with my blues, but I sure do hope that the storm cloud soon passes and that the CBBF continues going strong for many years to come.

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