There is no better place to be in winter…in January…than Sarasota, Florida, home of some of the world’s most beautiful beaches and weather. Add into the mix, and every year we have the immense pleasure of having a first-class blues festival right in our own backyard held at the centrally located Sarasota Fairgrounds. This will be the third year of the festival, and each year GPS Festival Productions, partners Paul Benjamin and Greg Herndon, have created a stellar festival experience with an unbelievable lineup of blues artists.
But first, let’s take a look at the inaugural festival in 2015 that started it all and featured the unbelievable and high-energy bluesman, Bobby Rush! This year alone he has been nominated for three 2017 Blues Music Awards for Album-‘Porcupine Meat’, Historical Album-‘Chicken Heads: A 50-Year History of Bobby Rush’ and Soul Blues Album-‘Porcupine Meat’. Bobby is ageless! Also on the bill was Smokin’ Joe & Bnois King; Smokin’ Joe’s too early passing in October of the same year, was known as one of the most talented guitar tandems in any genre, and has left a hole in the blues world. We are fortunate that we had the opportunity to experience first-hand his electrifying performance. Next up was Eden Brent, the only blueswoman on the lineup, celebrated pianist, vocalist and songwriter and winner of numerous awards; Mr. Sipp, vocalist, songwriter, musician, composer, producer and entertainer who has also won numerous awards; Zac Harmon, guitarist, singer, songwriter and ward-winning artist; and last, but certainly not least, Vasti Jackson, a soulful world renown guitarist, vocalist and award-winning artist.
Every year, the festival has chosen a local, community organization to serve. The first year, a canned food drive was very successful for Caring for Children Charities and the second year, Mothers Helping Mothers was the chosen recipient.
The second year the festival became a two day affair and featured the following exciting, multi-talented, award-winning artists: JP Soars & The Red Hots; Andy T-Nick Nixon Band; Anthony Gomes; local favorite, Kettle of Fish; Markey Blue, the only blueswoman on the bill; Sean Chambers Band; Brandon Santini; Howard and The White Boys; and Albert Castiglia, who is also up for two 2017 Blues Music Awards for Contemporary Blues Male Artist and Rock Blues Album-‘Big Dog’! The weather was a little on the cooler side that year, but our fantastic blues artists heated things up with some hot blues!
Sometimes, a guest artist or two will stop by to perform with our artists at the grand finale of each evening when the bands jam together. Friday night, Johnny Rawls stopped by to join in. By the way, Johnny is also nominated in the 2017 Blues Music Awards for Soul Blues Album-‘Tiger in a Cage’ and Soul Blues Male Artist. On Saturday, Bryan Lee came by and performed with the bands. Photo courtesy of Jim Hartzell – CAPx
This year will be no exception. Fans have come to expect a lineup that has something for everyone!
Friday, January 27, gates open at 5pm with music running from 6pm – 10pm. Kicking it off right from the start is the Balkun Brothers at 6pm; the Balkun Brothers is a band built on the soul of the blues and revamped with the power of funk-rock with our festival being the only Florida date on their calendar this winter. This high-energy funk infused blues/rock band that has been influenced by such musical greats as Jack White, Motorhead, Buddy Guy, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Lucky Peterson, Primus, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Muddy Waters, Gary Clark Jr., The Doors, Led Zeppelin and Eric Sardinas. Next up: the Kat Riggins Band! Kat is a bluesy songstress with rockstar flair and a hip-hop heartbeat. Music is her passion and her purpose! Closing the first night is the Chris Duarte Group, playing passionate, intense blues-psychedelia/jam jazz guitar that is upfront and in your face. The all-star jam will follow! And that is only the first night…come back the next day for more hot blues!
Saturday, January 28, gates open at 11am with music running from noon – 9pm. Taking the stage first up is the King of Zydeco, Dwayne Dopsie & The Zydeco Hellraisers at 12pm; not only has the band mastered zydeco music, they also add a bit of rhythm and blues, funk, rock and roll, reggae and pop to their performances, making them a very versatile choice for any audience. This Indie artist was named “The Hottest Accordionist” in America for his ability to both work the crowd and pump out musical harmony in grandiose fashion. Next up is Charles Wilson known as the ‘Crown Prince of Soul” at 1:15pm – blessed with his unique soul voice, Charles has become a fixture on the soul circuit performing original songs, covering 70’s music and Motown Soul classics. His most recent project “Sweet and Sour Blues” is available now. Next is Tommy Z at 2:30pm; Tommy’s award-winning and acclaimed guitar playing, singing and songwriting combines the best in classic and contemporary blues with jazz, rock and funk influences. Billboard top ten blues album “Blizzard of Blues” debuted at #8 on the charts. Next up on the stage will be Studebaker John & the Hawks at 4pm; ‘His raw amplified canonical work recalls past masters like Little Walter and Big Walter Horton, while his slide guitar style is descended from the styles of Elmore James and Hound Dog Taylor. On top of that Studebaker John is a powerful vocalist and talented songwriter.’ — Chicago Tribune. Next up the beautiful and very talented Annika Chambers at 5:30pm; Anikka has just been nominated for the 2017 Blues Music Awards for the Koko Taylor Award (Traditional Blues Female Artist)! Congratulations! Closing out the festival is our own Selwyn Birchwood Band at 7:00pm; the band just returned from Chicago where they recorded a new album (Alligator Records) and we are excited to hear his new music performed at the festival! Selwyn is a multiple award-winning American blues guitarist, vocalist and songwriter and plays both electric guitar and electric lap steel guitar. The all-star jam will follow and you do not want to miss the finale!
Family Promise of Sarasota, a 501(c)3, is the charity recipient this year who help families with minor children who have lost their housing; they provide shelter, meals, basic needs (clothing, toiletries, and personal items), case management, referrals and resources. A portion of the proceeds from ticket and sponsorships will go to Family Promise Sarasota to help fund this amazing organization. Not only will you enjoy a phenomenal festival but helping those in need at the same time, a win-win for all!
An outstanding group of local businesses have joined together to sponsor this amazing festival. Please be sure you thank them and use their services whenever possible. The host hotel, Comfort Suites Sarasota, are offering festival goers a 25% discount on your room. Call 941-554-4475 for reservations.
After-parties: The Five O’Clock Club at 1930 Hillview, Sarasota and Ace’s Live at 4343 Palma Sola Blvd. in Bradenton.
Things to know when you come! The festival is dog friendly but be considerate of others around you; free parking; plenty of food, beverage and merchandise vendors on site; no outside coolers, food or beverage; bring your chairs and/or blankets; event is rain or shine and all sales final.
Ticket Prices (no fees added) when purchased online or when calling 941-758-7585 to order:
Friday only: $15 Advance/$20 Gate
Saturday only: $25 Advance/$30 Gate
Two Day Pass (both days): $35 Advance/$45 Gate
Reserved Seating (both days only): $60
RV Camping: $40 includes water and electric
Tent Camping: $25 dry camping with no water and electric; no facilities on site
For more information, please be sure to call 941-758-7585 or email: info @ suncoastblues.com
See you at the festival. You only get to experience the thrill of this type of festival once a year!
photos supplied by The Suncoast Blues Festival