ROCKLAND, Maine – About a dozen blues bands, including big names such as Grammy Award winners James Cotton and Keb’Mo’, are lined up to entertain oceanside audiences during the North Atlantic Blues Festival this weekend.
New this year as the festival marks its 17th year is an opportunity for locals to take to the stage. Anyone who wants to can jump on stage, free, at 8 p.m. Saturday, July 10, at the Strand Theatre on Main Street.
“You head in with your instrument and you get to play,” said co-founder of the festival, Paul Benjamin. “There is a good chance that some of the acts on the main stage will jam with some of the locals.”
That event is part of the Saturday night pub crawl during which several downtown businesses will host free concerts for festival-goers. So far 21 bands have signed up to jam in local restaurants and in nooks throughout Main Street.
Friday night, 11 venues will host blues concerts throughout town, Benjamin said. Rock City Books and Coffee will host the local Blind Albert Blues Band, and down the street Maine’s Pat Pepin will sing on the lawn at the Farnsworth Art Museum. Pepin’s website displays her wit in the music video “Living at Walmart,” a song about how the economy forced her to live in her RV in a Wal-Mart parking lot.
“I’ll be living at the blues festival this weekend — the Wal-Mart is too far away,” Pepin joked in a phone interview Wednesday.
Pepin said she is looking forward to performances by Shemekia Copeland, Johnny Rawls and Bryan Lee. Pepin said she will play the saxophone with Lee for part of his set on Saturday.
Pepin, who has been attending the festival since 2001, said she also is excited about the unveiling at 3 p.m. Thursday of a Mississippi Blues Trail marker in Harbor Park.
The 6-foot-tall monument will recognize Rockland for bringing so many Mississippi blues artists to the city. Benjamin called it “an incredible honor.”
The festival usually averages about 8,000 people per day at Harbor Park on the Rockland waterfront. Tickets will be $30 per day at the gate.
The variety of acts this year is exceptional, Benjamin said. Mingled with some old favorites will be a few brilliant lesser-knowns, the organizer said.
“I think some of the surprise acts people will be blown away by – most people won’t know who they are. Like Shakura S’Aida is an amazing act and most people won’t know who she is.
“She is going to set the tone for the day [on Sunday]. People who like the hillbilly style blues, Moreland & Arbuckle are going to put on a high energy show [also on Sunday],” Benjamin said.
He said this will be a way for blues fans to educate themselves on all sorts of styles within the music genre.
“When we put this lineup together we try to appeal to many different styles of blues,” he said.
So far, early ticket sales are 24 percent higher than last year’s numbers, which Benjamin said dipped because of the economy and the soaking summer weather.
For more information, including a list of all the performers, visit northatlanticbluesfestival.com.