Festival brings the blues to the beach

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Published: Thursday, August 14, 2014 at 04:43 PM.

The Great American Blues Festival & Barbecue Challenge

When: 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 16-17

Where: Aaron Bessant Park, 600 Pier Park Drive, Panama City Beach

Tickets: $30 for one-day pass; $10 for children age 7-14; $50 for two-day pass; $100 for VIP two-day pass

Details: AmericanBluesFest.com

 

PANAMA CITY BEACH — The first of two big music festivals to hit Panama City Beach this month arrives Friday when The Great American Blues Festival & BBQ Challenge lights up Aaron Bessant Park Amphitheater for its inaugural year.

The festival features top blues entertainers Biscuit Miller, Selwyn Birchwood, T.C. Carr, Big Llou’s Bluesville Review, The Betty Fox Band and Jimmy Thackery & the Drivers on Saturday, Aug. 16; the next day will spotlight Biscuit Miller, Canned Heat, Honey Island Swamp Band, Joe Louis Walker, Homemade Jamz Band and the Royal Southern Brotherhood. The festival is open 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. both days.

The BBQ Challenge will take place during the festival with a cook off between some of the greatest names in barbecue. Twenty teams will compete for a $10,000 prize. The challenge is sanctioned by the Florida Barbecue Association. (For details on the Great American BBQ Challenge, see pages 10-11.)

“The entire festival event is a not-for-profit, charity benefit festival,” said Richard Sanders of the Panama City Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Get ready, it’s time for some blues, beer and barbecue!”

Free shuttle service will be provided, with parking available at Dick’s Sporting Goods in Pier Park North.

Here’s a look at the musical schedule:

 

SATURDAY

Noon to 1 p.m.: Biscuit Miller has been playing the blues since he spotted a four-string electric bass sitting in the corner of a friend’s house at the age of 11: “It was easy to play and I fell in love with it immediately,” he said.

He already had his nickname by then, christened by the grandmother who raised him on the south side of Chicago after he snuck into her kitchen and devoured a plate of fresh biscuits. Miller formed his own band as a youth, later working in Minneapolis with Sonny Rogers and recording “They Call Me the Cat Daddy,” which won Rogers a Handy Award for Best New Artist. Chicago bluesman Lonnie Brooks recruited Miller into his band for a one-night gig that lasted more than 10 years.

“The years I spent with Lonnie were invaluable to me as a musician,” Miller said on his website, BiscuitMiller.com. “I learned so much about the music business and being on the road — we played some incredible gigs such as President Clinton’s inauguration, and I met and performed with many of my own idols while traveling with Lonnie and the band.

Today, a heavy touring schedule of more than 250 gigs a year in the U.S. and abroad have led to a dedicated fan base, and Miller’s fun and funky style earned him the Blues Music Award for Bassist of the Year in 2012.

1-2:15 p.m.: Selwyn Birchwood, Florida’s rising young blues star, won the 2013 International Blues Challenge (beating 125 competitors). He’ll celebrate the release of his debut album, “Don’t Call No Ambulance,” at today’s show. Birchwood is a guitar and lap-steel-playing bundle of pure energy who delivers his original songs with a revival tent preacher’s fervor and a natural storyteller’s charisma.

“There’s nothing I’d rather be doing than playing the blues,” he said. “And I try to convey that with every song and with every performance.”

With his band feeding off his drive and exuberance, the striking 6-foot-3, 29-year-old with his trademark Afro roams the stage (often barefoot), ripping out memorable guitar licks. Birchwood is as down-to-earth as his music is fun, thought-provoking and vital. Details: Alligator.com

2:15-3:30 p.m.: T.C. Carr, one of Florida’s top musical artists, earned a reputation as one of the premier harmonica players in the western world. Strong lead vocals and unique harp work demand an audience's attention, and he is a fan favorite wherever he plays. He has shared the stage with such artists as Bo Diddley, Bruce Hornsby, Charlie Daniels, Gregg Allman, Jimmy Buffett, Marshall Tucker Band, Orleans, Vince Gill and many others. Details: TCCarr.com

3:30-5 p.m.: Big Llou’s Bluesville Review, fronted by Big LLou Johnson, born and raised on the rough and tumble west side of Chicago. His sultry bass voice is often compared to the likes of Barry White and Isaac Hayes. Some of his film credits include “Barbershop I & II” with Ice Cube as well as “Let’s Go to Prison.” He is a sought-after emcee, hosting some of the biggest events in blues, including The Blues Music Awards in Memphis and The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise.

5-6 p.m.: The Betty Fox Band. Betty Fox appreciated singing early in life, according to her online bio, and performed for the first time at a church play at the age of 4. Her family had a deep love for Southern country gospel and tight harmonies, which they would express at every family gathering, and that is where her affinity for music began.

“My uncle Fred would pound on the keys with his monster hands and the harmonies would resonate in my soul,” Fox said.

Together with her band, she has opened for artists such as Mavis Staples, The Legendary JC’s, Selwyn Birchwood, Roosevelt Collier, Shaun Murphy and many others. Details: BettyFox.net

6-7:30 p.m.: Jimmy Thackery unleashes an intense volley of rockin’ blues guitar guaranteed to leave crowds emotionally spent. His guitar dynamics bend a note so it will fit under a limbo bar or find space within the trembling of one stinging note.

“I put all my senses on hold and find the zone and follow what’s inside,” he said at his website, JimmyThackery.com. “There’s an electricity from your mind to your heart to your fingers. You just try and remember to breathe.”

Thackery learned first-hand from the masters of the blues, including stage time with Muddy Waters. Most associate him with his 15 years as the co-founder of the Nighthawks, but he ended his time with them in 1987 and has done nearly 300 solo shows a year since then.

8:30 p.m.-until: After Party at Pineapple Willy’s with Biscuit Miller & Big Llou

 

SUNDAY

Noon to 1 p.m.: Biscuit Miller

1-2:15 p.m.: Canned Heat is best known for its three worldwide hits, “On The Road Again” (1968), “Let’s Work Together” (1970) and “Going Up The Country” (1969), which was the unofficial theme song for the film “Woodstock.” They secured their niche in the pages of rock’n’roll history with their performances at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival (along with Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and The Who) and the headlining slot at the original Woodstock Festival in 1969.

Now, more than 45 years later and with 38 albums to their credit, Canned Heat is still going strong. Anchored throughout the past 40 years by drummer/band leader Adolfo “Fito” de la Parra, who is joined by original bassist Larry “The Mole” Taylor and New Orleans legend Dale Spalding on harmonica, guitar and lead vocals, with John “JP” Paulus on guitar. Details: CannedHeatMusic.com

2:15-3:30 p.m.: Honey Island Swamp Band, one of the most popular bands in New Orleans, described as “Bayou Americana.” Revered in the Big Easy for their solid, yet fun, performances, the band has won multiple awards. Their latest CD, “Cane Sugar,” (July 2013, Louisiana Red Hot Records) features lush instrumentation highlighted by layers of slide guitar, keyboards, strings, banjo and horns.

The band includes Aaron Wilkinson (vocals, mandolin, guitar, harmonica); Chris Mulé (vocals, guitar); Sam Price (bass, vocals); Garland Paul (drums, vocals); and Trevor Brooks (keys). Details: HoneyIslandSwampBand.com

3:30-4:45 p.m.: Joe Louis Walker, Blues Hall Of Fame member, world-class guitarist, passionate vocalist and gifted songwriter, will mark the release of his new album, “Hornet’s Nest” (Alligator Records) at the festival. Walker’s music is equal parts rock’n’roll fire and blistering blues.

“Blues is a big tent, morphing into a bigger tent,” Walker said. “Young folks like good blues when they hear it, and I’m here to make sure they want to listen.”

Walker’s boundless energy and his myriad of influences combine into a contemporary blues tour-de-force with inventive guitar playing and fervent vocals that take the songs through menacing, hard-rocking electric blues to cool Memphis funk to R&B rave-ups to Sunday morning gospel. Details: JoeLouisWalker.com

4:45-6 p.m.: Homemade Jamz Band might seem a strange collection of kids to be singing the blues. It’s made up of siblings Ryan Perry (guitar and vocals), Kyle Perry (bass) and Taya Perry (drums), all aged between 15 and 21. Ryan started playing at age 7 when he found a Stratocaster copy among the items his father brought back from military service in Korea.

“I heard B.B. King, Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughan,” Ryan Perry said, “and I would listen to them all the time and try to emulate them. ... As soon as I knew which direction to go, it really took off.”

The band won the third annual MS Delta Blues Society of Indianola’s Blues Challenge (2006), and were the youngest band ever to compete in the  International Blues Challenge (2007), taking second in a field of 157 bands. 

6-7:30 p.m.: Royal Southern Brotherhood includes Cyril Neville, Devon Allman (son of Gregg Allman), Mike Zito, bassist Charlie Wooton, and drummer Yonrico Scott. Their second studio album, “HeartSoulBlood” (Ruf Records) gives an adrenalin-shot to the band’s setlist as they scorch the tarmac this summer. Details: RoyalSouthernBrotherhood.com

 

SQUEAL LIKE A PIG

A 5K run called “Squeal Like a Pig” will weave through Pier Park Saturday morning with a start and finish at Aaron Bessant Park. Run and Squeal to win a one-of-a kind finisher medal. All runners will receive a 5K Squeal Like a Pig T-shirt and a $10 off promo code to use on a One Day General Admission ticket to the American Blues Festival.

Strollers are welcome, but please leave pets at home. Awards will go to Overall Male/Female, first, second and third place, Overall Male/Female Masters and first place in each age group, ranging from 14 and under to 65 and older in 5-year increments.

The race will start at 8 a.m. Pre-registration opens at 6:30 a.m. Cost is $30 (cash or credit card) for the 5K, or register online at Active.com. Registration fees are non-refundable.

For more information on this race, contact Amy Mann at amy.mann@roadraceconsultants.com or call (850) 890-4775.

 

NOT-FOR-PROFIT EVENT

The Great American Blues Festival was created to benefit 501c charities in Bay County aimed at helping the community and area children. Charities that will receive a portion of proceeds from the event include:

The Ark

Beach Care Services

Panama City Beach Boys And Girls Club

Panama City Beach Chamber Education Foundation

Panama City Beach Rotary

Panama City Beach Library Foundation

Logan G. Smith Foundation, Panama City Beach Ultimate Boxing

Panama City Beach Senior Services Foundation

Panama City Beach Police Department Cops & Toys

Panama City Beach Sponsors Of Hope

Panama City Beach Zoological & Botanical Conservation

William Buskell Family Foundation

Big Brothers Big Sisters

Gulf Coast Children’s Advocacy Center

Boys And Girls Clubs Of Bay County

Rotary Youth Camp Of North Florida

Girls Incorporated Of Bay County

Toys For Kids Foundation

Junior League Of Panama City

Food4kidz

Anchorage Children’s Home Of Bay County

St. Andrews Community Medical Center

Soldiers Angels

Gulf Coast State College/Kids College

Scottish Rite Foundation Of Florida

Sponsors Of Hope Charities

Children’s Home Society Of Florida Emerald Coast Division

Second Chance Of Northwest Florida

Arnold High School Band Boosters

Bay High Tornados Baseball

Gulf Coast State College/Athletics

St. Andrew Christian Care Center

Covenant Hospice

Gulf Coast State College Chef’s Club

New Horizons

Pregnancy Resource Center

Panama City Rescue Mission

Backpack Blessings

Early Learning Coalition

Megan Pettis Memorial Scholarship

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