HUGHESVILLE - What comes to mind when you think of summer? Baseball, cookouts, pool parties and, of course, the Billtown Blues Festival. Many local residents see the festival as the "kickoff to the summer season," according to festival organizers.
For 23 years, the Billtown Blues Association has hosted the festival, helping to make Lycoming County the blues-loving area that it is today.
The festival will be held from noon to 10 p.m. Sunday at the Lycoming County Fairgrounds, 1 Park St., Hughesville. Gates open at 11 a.m.
The Johnny Winter Band will perform at the Billtown Blues Festival, which will be held from noon to 10 p.m. Sunday at the Lycoming County Fairgrounds, 1 Park St., Hughesville. Gates open at 11 a.m.
Bonnie Tallman, association secretary, and Goodtime Charlie Lockard, association treasurer, are the two founding members who still remain with the association today. The two of them, along with Bill Van Campen, association president, are instrumental in the planning, promotion and implementation of the festival. The three are among only 10 volunteers who work together to put the festival together each year.
Lockard is the host of the "Sunday Morning Blues Brunch" on 99.3-FM WZXR from 9 to 11 a.m. and Susquehanna University's 99.9-FM WQSU from noon to 2 p.m. every Sunday.
Tallman works hard all year trying to find the best talent to showcase at the event. She said the hunt for talent starts as early as September of the year prior to the festival.
"I have a list that kind of goes from year to year," Tallman said. "That list is comprised of people that I might have heard on Charlie's radio show or people that he has mentioned. Some of them are personal favorites of mine ... I start off with a pretty long list and then I whittle that down to what I would call a perfect lineup and then I start pursuing them."
Tallman said she likes to look for a lot of diversity when compiling the acts for the festival, not only ethnic, but sex, age and instrumental diversity as well.
The acts this year include seven performing artists or bands on the main stage and two in the acoustic tent. On the bill for main stage performances are the Young Blood Blues Band, comprised of Uptown Music Collective students, Roy G. Blues, Matt Hill and the Deep Fryed Two, Fiona Boyes and Band, JP Soars and the Red Hots, Bernard Allison Group and Johnny Winter. In the acoustic tent will be a second performance by Fiona Boyes as well as Sean Farley.
"Also in the acoustic tent we use some time in there for workshops," Tallman said. "This year we're doing what's called a 'Circle of Drums.' (Grammy award winner) Steve Mitchell is going to be educating us on drumming and a drum as an instrument and how it is important to the blues.
With the exception of Sean Farley, some of the Young Blood Blues Band and Matt Hill, who played bass for Bob Margolin at the festival two years ago, the remaining acts are all new to the festival this year.
North Carolina native and 2011 Blues Music Awards winner, Matt Hill, will return to the festival with his band Matt Hill and the Deep Fryed Two. Hill, who has been living in St. Louis, Mo. for the past year, said he started playing guitar when he was 12.
"I'm addicted and I can't do anything about it, I'm stuck now," Hill said about playing music. "I keep motivated because I want to keep spreading the word of all the great American roots music, and I don't want it to get lost and be forgotten. It really does mean a lot ... I just care about this stuff so much. The other part of it is just insanity. I don't have a choice," he said with a laugh.
Hill, known for his crazy stage antics, said he loves to entertain people when they come to his shows. He said he likes to confuse people and watch their expressions of "what did I walk into?" turn into "I want more!" as the show goes on.
"I think it's [blues] something that never will die," Hill said. "For the future to really keep going forever and ever, it's got to grab onto a younger audience ... The young kid is what saved the blues many times before. It's always gonna go on, and always has. You can't kill it."
Bernard Allison, son of the late blues great Luther Allison, shares Hill's sentiments of believing the youth are instrumental in the longevity of the blues.
"It's kind of up to the younger generation. We are losing the creators, but the blues is in good shape," Allison said. The people have to embrace that and give the kids a chance. If they combine other influences, that's what it will take instead of playing the standard blues that have been done over and over again."
Allison said he was 10 when he picked up his older brother's guitar and started to figure it out by ear, and only two short years later, he was playing on stage with his father.
Allison's style has been compared to many great artists including Johnny Winter, who also will be performing at the festival, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimmy Hendrix and, of course, his father.
"There's a lot of my dad in me," Allison said. "We were two different vocalists and guitar players, but he definitely was an influence."
Allison has a natural talent for music and performance and said he likes to be able to share that with others. He was taught to give back and share his love of music and ability to entertain and hopes that the younger generation also will dig into the roots of blues to see where the music comes from.
"I just like to see the reaction of people," Allison said about his performances. "I'm the type of player that I'm not one to sit down and watch something, I try to participate and involve the crowd to participate and have a good time ... It's all for the people. I don't write a set list, I go off the vibe of the people. I tried in the past (to have a set list) but I never follow it."
Allison is touring to promote the 2011 release of his band's album "Live at the Jazzhaus," recorded in Freiburg, Germany. He said all of the band's albums are recorded overseas and they are difficult to find in the states, but he will have CDs and DVDs available at the festival.
Last year's event brought more than 2,700 music lovers from 24 states and 44 counties in Pennsylvania to the fairgrounds, Tallman said.
"It's a nice atmosphere as far as the open grass, open air, beautiful rolling hills behind the stage," Lockard said. "Some of the artists have commented on the beauty of the area."
The festival also has become a family event - a place where people can gather to enjoy music and socialize with each other. Van Campen said it has become a meeting place for festival-goers to see one another each year.
"People may not see each other that often throughout the year, so they come together here," Van Campen said. "It's a family event, they seem to enjoy it and I think that's really what keeps them coming back - and the music is great."
Tickets for the festival are $20 in advance and $25 at the gate the day of the festival. Children under 16 are free.
Advance tickets are available through Saturday at the Genetti Hotel, Franco's Lounge, Charlie's Tobacco Shop, South Williamsport; Hull's Landing, Muncy; Lockard Agency, Hughesville; Cumberland Truck Parts, Milton; Brushstrokes, Lewisburg; Prana Juice Bar, Bloomsburg, Music One, Lock Haven; and Cox's Northern Tier Harley Davidson, Mansfield.
For more information about Matt Hill and the Deep Fried Two, visit matthilldf2.com and Bernard Allison, bernardallison.com.
For more information about the festival or the Billtown Blues Association visit billtownblues .org.