By all accounts (from people who actually attended or performed), last month’s huge Bunbury Music Festival was one of the best-run fests of its kind this area has ever seen. Organizer Bill Donabedian no doubt scored some tips from the operators of the big annual Blues celebration, the volunteer-driven Cincy Blues Fest, which has been doing the “well-run music festival” thing at Sawyer Point Park along the riverfront for many years now.
This weekend, the Cincy Blues Fest — one of the finest Blues events in the Midwest — returns to Sawyer Point to celebrate its 20th anniversary. That's a remarkable two decades of providing Greater Cincinnati live music lovers with some of the finest Blues being made locally, regionally and nationally, a rare and impressive achievement for any music festival.
This year’s main stage national headliners are especially strong — Webb Wilder on Friday and Duke Robillard on Saturday — but the Cincy Blues Fest always has a ton of interesting and engaging artists performing throughout the fest’s multiple stages.
Aside from the lineup featuring a few higher quality headliners than the past couple of years (like Robillard, Wilder, Trampled Under Foot, Super Chikan, Sista Monica, etc.), this year’s 20th anniversary celebration isn’t really being overblown, likely because the Cincy Blues Society and the army of volunteers that work the fest always do such an amazing job running the event; it’s already quite special, no matter what birthday the fest is celebrating.
One of my favorite elements of the Blues Fest is its undying support for our local players and singers. This year, Cincy Blues Challenge winners Chris Yakopcic and the Noah Wotherspoon Band have main-stage slots (they’ll also go to Memphis this winter to compete for Cincinnati in the International Blues Challenge). Yakopcic performs at 5:45 p.m. Friday, while Wotherspoon and Co. play at the same time Saturday (following a band of students associated with the Blues in the Schools program, for which the fest raises money).
The three side stages — always creatively programmed — have a heavy local presence. Friday, visit the “Blues: The Next Generation” stage for sets by younger area acts like the Wade Baker Trio, Brian Keith Wallen Band, Scotty Bratcher and (again!) Noah Wotherspoon and his band. The “Next Gen” stage starts at 5:15 p.m. Saturday.
Friday "The Next Generation of Blues" stage lineup
5:15 p.m. Wade Baker Trio
6:20 p.m. Jellico Motel
7:05 p.m. Brian Keith Wallen Band
8:10 p.m. Carson Diersing Band
9:25 p.m. Scotty Bratcher
10:40 p.m. Noah Wotherspoon Band
As the name suggests, the St. Vincent DePaul Local Stage is chock full of local talent. Friday, the stage features Bad Men on a Mission, Them Bones, the Doug Hart Band, Leroy Ellington’s Blues Band and Blue Sacrifice.
Saturday, catch the Blue Birds Big Band, the Gradual Taylor Band, the Leo Clarke Band, The Juice, Chuck Brisbin & the Tuna Project and Balderdash.
Friday St. Vincent De Paul Local Stage lineup
5:45-6:45 p.m. Bad Men on a Mission
7:00-8:00 p.m. Them Bones
8:15-9:15 p.m. Doug Hart Band
9:30-10:30 p.m. Leroy Ellington’s Blues Band
10:45pm-12:00 a.m. Blue Sacrifice
Saturday St. Vincent De Paul Local Stage lineup
4:30-5:30 p.m. Blue Birds Big Band
5:45-6:45 p.m. The Gradual Taylor Band
7:00-8:00 p.m. The Leo Clarke Band
8:15-9:15 p.m. The Juice
9:30-10:30 p.m. Chuck Brisbin & the Tuna Project
10:45-11:45 p.m. Balderdash
And perhaps the fest’s most notable and renowned side stage, the unique Boogie Woogie Piano Hall of Fame Stage, on Saturday will feature appearances by Jimmy Rogers, Todd Hepburn, Liz Pennock & Dr. Blues and Ricky Nye, plus players from across the planet. The Boogie Woogie stage closes out with a “grand finale jam” just before midnight.
Saturday Boogie Woogie Piano Hall of Fame Stage lineup
4:30 p.m. Jimmy Rogers
5:10 p.m. Todd Hepburn
5:50 p.m. Liz Pennock & Dr. Blues
6:50 p.m. Ricky Nye
7:40 p.m. Mark Braun
8:30 p.m. Rob Rio
9:20 p.m. Cynthia Girtley
10:10 p.m. Bob Seeley
11:00 p.m. Fabrice Eulry
11:50 p.m. Grand Finale Jam
Here are the lineups for the Budweiser Main Stage this weekend:
Friday Budweiser Main Stage lineup
5:45-6:45 p.m. Chris Yakopcic
7:00-8:15 p.m. Super Chikan
8:30-10:00 p.m. Sista Monica
10:15-11:45 p.m. Webb Wilder
Saturday Budweiser Main Stage lineup
5:00-5:30 p.m. Blues in the School (BITS) Band
5:45-6:45 p.m. Noah Wotherspoon Band
7:00-8:15 p.m. Southern Hospitality
8:30-10:00 p.m. Trampled Under Foot
10:15-11:45 p.m. Duke Robillard
Tickets are $20 each day (two-day passes are available Friday at the gates for $30), or grab yours early through brownpapertickets.com for a $5 discount. Or you can join the Cincy Blues Society (cincyblues.org), the creators and managers of Cincy Blues Fest, to receive an even deeper discount.
Be sure to pick up a copy of this week's CityBeat, which includes a pull-out guide for the Cincy Blues Fest, with artist bios, schedules and more. For further ticket info, updates, details on the new Cincy Blues Fest mobile app and much more, visit cincybluesfest.org.