Raising the blues in Rockland

By Dagney C. Ernest | Jun 30, 2010
Keb' Mo'

Rockland — Maine is known for blueberries and Rockland is known for the blues, particularly the brand that traveled from Mississippi to Chicago and re-invented itself along the way. On Thursday, July 8 at 3 p.m., Rockland, and Maine, will receive a rare out-of-state honor: a Mississippi Blues Trail marker commemorating the Mississippi to Maine connection.

The unveiling will take place at 2 Park Drive, along the edge of the Trade Winds Motor Inn parking lot -- appropriate as that parking lot was host to a years-ago afternoon of blues music that evolved into the two-day North Atlantic Blues Festival.

Local bluesman Vince "Blind Albert" Gabriel will play around the public event, and that evening, the Time Out Pub and the Trade Winds Lower Deck Sports Bar will offer live blues — which means the blues festival, which has been pushing the weekend festival envelope for some time, is spreading to four days this year. Friday night, some 11 downtown clubs will host many of the same bands that will play the Saturday night festival club crawl. Included is Gabriel, whose Blind Albert Band will host its annual blues jam at Rock City Books & Coffee. And earlier in the evening, the Farnsworth Art Museum will jump on the blues bandwagon by hosting Lydia Warren in the library and a Pat Pepin lawn party from 6 to 8 p.m.

Raising The Blues partnership

The 17th annual North Atlantic Blues Festival in Rockland Harbor Park officially gets under way at 11 a.m. Saturday, July 10. This year marks a new partnership between the NABF and Raising The Blues, Ltd., which has been designated the fest's official charitable partner. The 501(c)3 nonprofit charitable organization, founded by Maine native Ruth Atherton, is dedicated to bringing interactive blues music, instruments and lessons to children undergoing medical treatment and those with physical, emotional or educational challenges.

The partnership was announced June 28 by NABF co-founders and co-producers Paul E. Benjamin and Jamie Isaacson. Benjamin has served as a volunteer advisory board member for the organization since its inception.

"I went with Ruth to the Shriners hospital in Boston," said Benjamin. "An act goes in and plays. For the kids who are burned too badly to leave their beds, the artists will go right in the room and visit."

He said the children, many of whom are quite young, really respond to the blues and it helps them get through what they have to get through -- which for burn victims can mean daily, extremely painful changing of bandages and dressings.

"If the kids know the bands are coming, they'll say they want to get it done early so they can go to the concert," Benjamin said.

"The blues has always been music of hope and healing. It reflects our power to overcome adversity and empathize with others," said Atherton, who will attend the festival and make a presentation Saturday from the stage.

During the weekend, NABF's partnership with Raising The Blues will be evident via a donation and information table. Benjamin said the partnership will be a permanent part of the festival going forward.

"It's absolutely a no brainer," he said.

In addition to expanding across the weekly calendar, this year's festival will offer the biggest club crawl yet. Twenty-one regional and local blues bands and performers will start cranking out the tunes around 9 p.m. and into the wee hours.

"There are some new spots, with The Pearl opening and Café Miranda taking a band, and we added a fifth band on the street," said Benjamin.

Indeed, Main Street will be closed to vehicular traffic for the evening. Cover charges are waived for those with Saturday or weekend festival bracelets. With five bands and food vendors on Main Street, everyone can take in the blues and people usually do — expect a crowd.

Blues fest basics

Blues festival gates will open at 9 a.m. both Saturday and Sunday, July 10 and 11. For those who did not get their bracelet-format tickets ahead of time, admission will be $30 at the gate each day for adults. At the gate, children age 6 to 12 will get in for $5 and those younger will be admitted free.

No pets, coolers, sun umbrellas, alcoholic beverages or video recordings are allowed on the grounds. Blues lovers are encouraged to bring lawn chairs, blankets, sunscreen and sunglasses. The festival is a go, rain or shine.

For more information, call the festival hot line at 593-1189 or visit northatlanticbluesfestival.com.

The official festival program, produced by VillageSoup and filled with profiles of each performer, will be available on the grounds and in some city hotels and restaurants. Following is a preview of this year's lineup. The schedule always is subject to change. In between acts, the side stage will host acoustic blues by Lydia Warren and Cole Downing.

NABF Saturday lineup

  • Preston Shannon, known as Memphis' King of Beale Street, is a powerful guitarist who offers up Southern "deep soul" — hoarse, gritty vocals, brassy arrangements and an emotional way with both party tunes and aching ballads. He will kick start the festival from 11 a.m. to noon.
  • Biscuit Miller and the Mix have become favorites of the local Monday Night Blues dancers and with good reason: the Indianapolis-based band serves up irresistible blues, funk and rock. Miller will play from 12:15 to 1:15 p.m.
  • John Németh draws on classic blues, soul and R&B influences to inform his stunning vocal and harp styles. The 2010 Blues Music Awards nominee for Contemporary Blues Male Artist of the Year will play from 1:30 to 2:35 p.m.
  • Bryan Lee, a New Orleans blues institution known as the Braille Blues Daddy, has said he may not have eyesight but has been given the gift of music. The guitarist, vocalist and Blues Music Award nominee will play from 2:50 to 4 p.m.
  • Johnny Rawls will bring tunes from the Blues Music Awards' Soul Blues Album of the Year to town and a whole lot more. Mississippi born and raised, Rawls has done it all -- producing; songwriting; horn arranging; rhythm, lead and bass guitar; keyboard; vocals and background vocals. He and his band will play from 4:15 to 5:20 p.m.
  • James Cotton will turn 75 on July 1, making him the statesman of this year's festival. He and his harp were the opening act for idol Sonny Boy Williamson, he played with Howlin' Wolf, and he replaced Junior Wells as Muddy Waters' harp player before he was 20. The multiple Grammy and BMA nominee/winner will cap the day from 5:35 to 7 p.m.


NABF club crawl

The 2010 club crawl will put Bonnie Edwards, The Juke Rockets, Rattleboxx, 3 Blind Mice and local teen bluesmen Tastes Like Chicken on Main Street; a blues jam with "Poke Chop" at the Strand Theatre; Pam Baker at the Trade Winds Oceanside Seafood and Steakhouse; Blue Steel Express at the Trade Winds Lower Deck Sports Bar; Gate Street Blues at the Landings Restaurant and Lounge; The Sensations aboard the M/V Monhegan Floating Restaurant; the Blind Albert Blues Band at the Waterworks Restaurant & Pub; Brave New Blues (upstairs) and Deja Blues (downstairs) at the Time Out Pub; Chris Kleeman at the Black Bull Restaurant; Mark "Guitar" Miller at the Navigator Restaurant; the Eric Green Band at the Myrtle Street Tavern; Matt and the Barnburners at Amalfi on the Water, Undercover at Trackside Station; Zack Pomerleau at Café Miranda; the Don Brewer Blues Project at The Pearl; and Pat Pepin at McHales.

Sunday blues brunch

From 9 to 11 a.m. Sunday, there will be two blues brunches. Pat Pepin will perform at the Time Out Pub, and Brian and Friends will play at the Trade Winds Oceanside.

NABF Sunday lineup

  • Shakura S'Aida is one of the hottest names in Canada's blues scene, and her powerful, smoldering vocal style has made her an international favorite on the club and festival circuit throughout the world. The Brooklyn-born singer will perform from 11 a.m. to noon.
  • Moreland & Arbuckle merge old school Chicago and Delta blues with a garage rock sensibility. Aaron Moreland on cigar-box guitar, Dustin Arbuckle on vocals and harp, and drummer Brad Horner will play their gritty, stripped down blues/rock from 12:15 to 1:20 p.m.
  • Michael "Iron Man" Burks is one of the blues world's fastest-rising stars. The multiple Blues Music Awards-nominated guitarist/vocalist will offer electric guitar blues from 1:35 to 2:45 p.m.
  • Shemekia Copeland is well known to local blues fans and, these days, to the rest of the world. The soulful blues belter has Grammy and Blues Music Awards nominations, and a number of BMA awards, under that belt including 2010's Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year and Song of the Year awards. She will play from 3 to 4:15 p.m.
  • Keb' Mo' has been a consistent request of blues festival attendees for years and finally makes it to Rockland. The multiple Grammy and BMA winner is a singer/songwriter and guitarist whose post-modern blues, incorporating pop, rock folk and jazz, has brought new fans to the blues. His embrace of the blues' power of song to convey human experience and emotional weight will bring the festival to a close from 4:30 to 6 p.m.


Sunday night jams

As has become tradition, there will be a couple of post-festival all-star jams, open to all musicians beginning at 8 p.m. Sunday. Brian McLean will host the jam in the Time Out Pub's upstairs music room, site of Benjamin's year-round blues concert series. Blue Steel Express will host at the Trade Winds' Lower Deck Sports Bar.

VillageSoup Art/Entertainment Editor Dagney Ernest can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by e-mail to dernest@villagesoup.com.


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