Rockland blues fest tuning up

Posted July 07, 2009, at 7:30 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — A little sunshine can burn away the blues — and a good weather forecast for this coming weekend is making organizers of the North Atlantic Blues Fest feel downright optimistic.

“It looks great right now,” said festival promoter Paul Benjamin. “Sunny skies. I’m just looking for the whole weekend to run smooth with the fans enjoying the music and the bands there for them.”

The 16th annual festival, which will be held at the Public Landing, will showcase both beloved longtime acts such as Bobby Rush and Saffire — the Uppity Blues Women and up and coming youngsters such as the sibling group the Homemade Jamz Blues Band.

Advance ticket sales for the event are running about equal with last year, when about 16,000 people came to the two-day festival, Benjamin said. A wristband from the daytime events will get people into Saturday night’s Club Crawl along Main Street in Rockland. Nearly 20 different acts will strut their stuff at different locations in downtown Rockland.

“It’s a great event. People come from all over the country,” Benjamin said. “This year, I’ve sent tickets out to 25 different states, Canada, Bermuda and Japan. Blues fans travel.”

The lineup should make it worth their while, Benjamin said.

“We feel that our opening act could close the show,” he said. “We bring in top-level blues bands.”

One of those bands, Saffire— the Uppity Blues Women, played the festival 10 years ago and is now on its farewell tour after 25 years of playing what the New York Times has called “post feminist traditional blues, sung, and played with gorgeous abandon.”

According to the band’s Web site, musicians Gaye Adegbalola, Andra Faye and Ann Rabson are splitting up to work on other projects.

“They’re a real fun group of ladies,” Benjamin said.

In contrast, no one in the Homemade Jamz Blues Band is 20 years old, much less 25 — but the brother and sister act from Tupelo, Miss., has been tearing up the festival circuit and will open the show Saturday.

“It’s real good,” Benjamin said.

Bobby Rush, famed blues legend from the Chitlin’ Circuit, will headline the show Saturday night. Rush brings out dancing girls and has a Vegas-like sense of showmanship, Benjamin said.

“We try to educate the people. There are so many different styles of blues, and people don’t realize that,” Benjamin said.

Those types include the Delta blues, Mississippi blues, Chicago blues, Texas blues and swing blues, and promoters want to make sure festival-goers get a variety of styles.

Benjamin, whose parents brought him up on jazz and blues — and who liked the Rolling Stones when everyone he knew was a Beatles fan — said he started bringing the blues to Rockland back in 1978.

Though he doesn’t want to play favorites, he said he’s particularly looking forward to hearing Kenny Neal’s Family Reunion at 4 p.m. Sunday.

The Louisiana-born Neal recently won the Blues Music Award for Song of the Year and received Grammy nominations in four categories. Rockland’s “family reunion” will feature eight members of his family.

“The whole family is multitalented,” Benjamin said. “It’ll be something special.”

And something special is exactly what he wants people to get from the North Atlantic Blues Fest.

“We want to let people get away from their own blues and come down and listen to some good blues,” Benjamin said.

The rain-or-shine festival runs Friday, July 10, through Sunday, July 12. Tickets for Saturday and Sunday cost $30 each day, and $5 at the gate for children ages 6-12. Children younger than 5 are admitted free.

For information or tickets, call 593-1189, or visit www.northatlanticbluesfestival.com.

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