In early January, Blues fans from around the world got a dose of what Ohio has to offer at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tenn., which annually brings together artists from around the world. This weekend, local fans will get a chance to check out those musicians and many more (from Greater Cincinnati and beyond) when the 2018 Cincy Winter Blues and Heritage Fest comes to the Duke Energy Convention Center (525 Elm St., Downtown, duke-energycenter.com).
The Cincy Blues Society has been presenting a winter festival for the past several years (a companion to its long-running summertime festival at Sawyer Point) on a few stages at downtown’s The Phoenix, but this year’s event steps things up with some higher profile national headliners, necessitating the move to the larger Convention Center, where more than 30 acts will perform on five stages Friday through Saturday.
Modern Blues guitar hero Tinsley Ellis headlines Friday, joined on the bill by Cincinnati native Noah Hunt, the former frontman for Cincy band Uncle Six who has been singing lead vocals in the Kenny Wayne Shepherd band for more than a decade and a half now. Saturday’s national headliners are New York City band Jane Lee Hooker, which has been drawing acclaim for its punkish brand of Blues Rock, and rising Blues/Americana sensation Samantha Fish.
The lineup is largely rounded out by a great representation of the current state of the Cincinnati Blues scene, as well as some regional acts, but this year’s festival also extends beyond the Blues (thus the “and Heritage” addition to the name). Friday and Saturday, for example, the DHR Guitar Heritage Stage spotlights Jazz musicians, including local players like Mike Wade, Eugene Goss, The Faux Frenchmen, Steve Schmidt, Pat Kelly and Brandon Coleman, as well as renowned non-Cincinnati guitarists Jack Wilkins and Rhett Butler.
Blues still makes up the bulk of the festival though. Artists appearing at the Cincy Winter Blues and Heritage Fest who are fresh off of performing at the International Blues Challenge include Cincy Blues Society representatives the Doug Hart Band and Brian Keith Wallen (who made it to the finals in Memphis), Ben Levin (playing with The Heaters), Ricky Nye (playing with Chris Douglas), The SoulFixers, Chris Yakopcic and The BITS Band, featuring students from the Society’s Blues in the Schools program.
Other Greater Cincinnati artists performing over the weekend include Dudley Taft, Jay Jesse Johnson Band, Cheryl & Shorty (Cheryl Renée and Shorty Pullie Starr), Jimmy D. Rogers, Ralph & the Rhythm Hounds, The Whiskey Shambles, The Sonny Moorman Group, Greg Schaber, The Medicine Men, Strum n’ Honey, The Tempted Souls Band, G. Miles and the Band of Helping Hands, Johnny Fink & the Intrusion, Leroy Ellington Band, The Beaumonts, John Ford, Marcos Sastre, Noah Wotherspoon, Joe Wannabe and Lyn Payne Holland.