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Billtown Blues Association touts 2021 festival’s lineup

PHOTO PROVIDED Noah Wotherspoon will be among the acts scheduled to play the 2021 Billtown Blues Festival.

The Billtown Blues Association recently announced plans for its 2nd year of the expanded three-day music festival, planned for June 11, 12 and 13, at the Lycoming County Fairgrounds in Hughesville.

Seventeen bands are on board to deliver their individual style and interpretation covering the diverse palette of blues music. The association will also continue its onsite camping program for RVs and tent campers. New this year is the expansion of camping to a Thursday arrival.

Tickets for the event are available online through Brown Paper Tickets and by mail order. All BBA festival information including ticketing and camping information is available at www.billtownblues.org. The association suggests checking into the website often, as important updates will be posted.

“Friday, June 11th will be a very special day for the Festival,” a news release from the association said. “Unable to get the BBA’s signature audition concert in as usually planned, and after two cancellations, the BBA organizers have decided to roll the audition concert into the festival on Friday. The annual audition concert will begin at 3 p.m., with gates opening at 2 p.m. for those wanting to attend the audition concert and the Friday festival. Free admission to the audition concert will be granted to everyone holding a Friday Festival ticket, or a 3-day bundle ticket.”

At 6 p.m., the official festival activities will begin with The Uptown Music Collective Blues Performance Group. The Friday festival tradition continues with the UMC students proving that the blues art form is very much an important part of the school’s curriculum.

Nate Myers, a local favorite, will come in from Harrisburg.

Myers “is an extraordinary entertainer, harmonica player, vocalist, and songwriter,” the news release said. “Nate creatively blends traditional blues, r&b, and hip-hop into a style all his own.”

“Kat Riggins from Florida is undeniably a rising star in the blues,” the news release said. “Kat is on a mission to keep the blues art form front and center with her ‘Revival Blues’ themed performances. Kat is honored with a 2021 Blues Music Award nomination for her Gulf Coast Records release ‘Cry Out.’ “

“Noah Wotherspoon hails from Cincinnati, Ohio, but travels the world delivering his tasteful high-energy and passionate blues performances,” the news release said. “Noah is a 2015 Albert King Award (now Gibson Guitar Award) recipient.”

The June 12 lineup begins with the association’s audition concert solo/duo and band winners. These musicians selected from Friday’s audition concert will deliver a full set of blues and move on to eligibility to compete in the Memphis-based International Blues Challenge.

Philadelphia-based Mikey Junior “is one of the country’s most highly regarded harmonica players, having triple charted on Living Blues,” the news release said. “Mikey is self-taught but learned from the masters by way of his vinyl collection as a teenager. Mikey is a strong vocalist and an impressive entertainer.”

Next up on Saturday is the blues-rock Lower Case Blues Band from Delaware. The three-piece power trio includes BJ Munz on bass, Paul Weik on drums and Jake Banaszak guitar and vocals.

One of two “reverends” on the Saturday bill is Reverend Billy C. Wirtz. “I Went Back To My Fourth Wife For The Third Time And Gave Her A Second Chance To Make A First Class Fool Out Of Me (By Rev. Billy C. Wirtz)” is one of Billy’s compositions that made the C&W song title humor list.

“Although Billy comes across as one of those ‘out there’ wild and crazy performers, he does take the blues art form seriously,” the news release said. “Billy is a top-notch blues piano player, singer, storyteller, and creative songwriter. And yes, he is apt to ask the audience to ‘testify’ to the blues!”

Coming in from Chicago are the award-winning Cash Box Kings. “And yes, they will be bringing traditional Chicago blues albeit, ‘jumping and hollering into the 21st century,’ as described by Dan Aykroyd,” the news release said.

Living Blues Magazine calls Cash Box Kings “one of the best blues bands in the land. Any of these musicians could have played with the great bands of the golden blues era. Together they keep a sound alive that many thought was no more. Joe Nosek feels Little Walter and Slim Harpo in the essence of his soul.”

Trudy Lynn will be coming from Houston, Texas.

“A properly named ‘stateswoman of the blues,’ Trudy will deliver soulful Texas blues with sass and class,” the news release said. “Houstonia Magazine says, ‘To put it mildly, Trudy has lived a life!’ Although a singer in church and family affairs her first public stage appearance came her way at age 17 at a local neighborhood bar when Albert Collins called her to sing a song. She chose Barrett Strong’s, ‘Money’ and killed it. That was 57 years ago and she hasn’t stopped since. Trudy has been at the top of the Billboard Blues charts and around the world singing her songs.”

Lynn is a 2021 Blues Music Award nominee for Traditional Female Artist.

Closing out the festivities on Saturday night is the 2nd “reverend” of the day, Reverend Peyton and his Big Damn Band.

“Hailing from Indianapolis, this unique trio brings together an entertaining blend of traditional blues, contemporary folk and rocks them both,” the news release said. “Not your typical blues trio the band creates a distinguishable sound all their own. ‘Breezy’ on washboard and background vocals, Max Senteney on drums and ‘the Rev’ on guitar with his unique fingerpicking style and vocals, deliver a memorable set each and every time. … The band’s latest recording ‘Dance Songs for Hard times,’ puts a year-long set of challenges for the band into song that most any listener can identify with.”

Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band is nominated for a 2021 Blues Music Award in the Blues Rock category.

Kicking off at 11 a.m. on Sunday is the Billtown Gospel Revue. Presented as a “test” for the first time in 2019, the Gospel Revue is making a return visit by popular demand. The “revue” will include a special group of local and regional musicians who will present gospel music from a time when gospel and blues were the same, with just different lyrics for the Sunday morning church-goers.

Clarence Spady is returning to Billtown. Spady was one of the first acts presented after the Festival moved from its original Canfield Lane private property location to the Lycoming County Fairgrounds in 1995 and is no stranger to blues fans throughout the Northeast. Born in Paterson, New Jersey, but now calling Scranton his home, Spady “is a survivor, not only musically but personally,” the news release said. “Clarence writes with deep-felt conviction, honesty, and truth. His songs are memorable and connect on many levels with those who choose to listen to his message.”

Returning from much too long ago — 2008 — is Jason Ricci.

“Jason is identified by his peers as one of the most contemporary blues harmonica players in the world,” the news release said. “Before finding his sound and style, Jason’s journey started off playing in a punk-rock band and then traveled to valuable time spent with Junior and David Kimbrough. Watching or listening to Jason Ricci you feel like he is always on the edge of ‘something’ … he plays with fearless ambition.”

Ricci is nominated for a 2021 Blues Music Award for Blues Harmonica.

It was 2009 when JP Soars placed first in the prestigious International Blues Challenge and took home the famed Albert King Guitar Award.

“Three years later in 2012, JP showed us why as he set the Billtown Blues Festival stage on fire with his stellar performance,” the news release said. “We are thrilled to have him back. JP is always taking the core of his music, traditional blues, and cleverly re-tooling it into something fresh and modern for the times. While doing so, drawing the attention of a younger blues demographic while maintaining the respect and loyalty from his accumulated years of developed blues fans. … Soars has released five albums with Southbound I-95 receiving wide acclaim. Tab Benoit produced his latest release, ‘Let Go Of The Reins,’ on Whiskey Bayou Records.”

Soars is nominated for a 2021 Blues Music Award in the Contemporary Blues Male Category.

“We are going to boogie-woogie out of the 31st Annual Billtown Blues Festival with none other than the legendary, Los Angeles-based Mitch Woods and his Rocket 88’s,” the news release said. “Mitch’s showman style is inspired from the great jump n’ boogie bands of the late 40s and early 50s; the jumpin’ n’ jivin’, shoutin’ n’ honkin’, pumpin’ n’ poundin’ bands of Louis Jordan, Wynonie Harris, Joe and Jimmy Liggins, Amos Milburn and Roy Milton. Mitch adds a healthy dose of New Orleans rhythm and blues, drivin’ piano, and some of his own contemporary playful lyrics … The hand-picked Rocket 88’s expected to join Mitch in Billtown come from some of the original Nighthawks including Pete Ragusa (drums), Jan Zuckowski (bass), Dave Chappel (guitar) and Bruce Swaim on horn.”

The organizers of the Billtown Blues Festival are working hard to provide a weekend of great music from the best in the business, according to the news release.

“For long-time attendees, you will experience some changes that we are forced to employ to bring this much-needed weekend of musical enjoyment to our area,” said Bonnie Tallman, Billtown Blues Association events producer. “Our plans will revolve around producing a great and safe event for all. We ask you to bear with us and the adjustments we need to make and focus on the great music and your opportunity to enjoy a weekend with friends and family you may not have seen in a while. We suggest you travel to the Billtown Blues website often as plans continue to develop.”

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