You can’t always get what you want … but if you attend the Heritage Music BluesFest, you will get “Chicago Plays the Stones,” five Grammy-nominated acts, International Blues Challenge winners and several returning fan-favorites — all in one award-winning weekend.
The 19th annual Heritage Music BluesFest is set for Friday, Aug. 9, through Sunday, Aug. 11, at Heritage Port in downtown Wheeling. Two stages — a main stage with national acts and a second stage with regional talent — food and merchandise vendors, after jams at River City Restaurant and much more are on tap at the festival produced by Bruce Wheeler of Wheeling.
“One of the things I get excited about is people coming up to me every year and saying ‘this is the best lineup ever’ … so that challenges me for the next year to try to make it better than the year before. Early on, I saw when the Grammy nominations came out that of the 10 people nominated in the blues category, seven had appeared at the festival. So I decided I’d open it up with an all-Grammy Friday,” Wheeler said.
Friday kicks off at 5 p.m. with the classic Delta blues of Cedric Burnside, who Wheeler noted is a relative of the famous R.L. Burnside. Next up is Teresa James & the Rhythm Tramps.
“Following Teresa is one of my buddies and favorite blues people, Victor Wainwright and the Train. Victor was thoroughly excited he was nominated for a Grammy. He’s bringing the same band that recorded the Grammy-nominated album to the festival,” Wheeler said.
“Following that up is Rock and Roll Hall-of-Famer and Grammy nominee Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio. Elvin really likes to have fun on stage, and this act that he’s put together epitomizes that.”
Bishop has been to the festival a couple of times, including as the Friday closer of year one, 2001. “So Elvin’s a good way to close out the first day of the weekend,” Wheeler added.
A fifth Grammy nominee, who Wheeler didn’t have room for on Friday, will perform on Saturday. “The Danielle Nicole Band — she’s out of Kansas City, and is one of three siblings that were the IBC winning band Trampled Under Foot that performed at the festival several years ago. Danielle is an incredible bass player and, in my opinion, probably one of the best blues voices going today.”
Bishop and Burnside were nominated for Best Traditional Blues Album, while James, Nicole and Wainwright were nominated in the Best Contemporary Blues Album category.
This year’s IBC winning band, Ms. Hy-C & Fresh Start, opens Saturday’s lineup. Next up is a “little bit of Cajun influence with an act from New Orleans, Sean Ardoin. He plays accordion in a blues style, blues and zydeco with a little bit of funk.”
Festival-goers will be happy to welcome back Albert Castiglia from Florida. “He’s a blues fan-favorite,” Wheeler said. “A lot of our people come up from Florida, and they’re very familiar with Albert. Every year I hear, ‘when’s Albert coming back?’ Well, he’s coming back this year.”
Ronnie Baker Brooks — the subject of a quintessential BluesFest photograph — returns this year, and will grace the stage two times. “I believe the last time he was here was when that shot was taken, 2009. He and his band will give us a great set of Chicago blues.”
Brooks will return later to close Saturday night with “an act that I’m looking forward to,” Wheeler said. “Ronnie Baker Brooks … will be joined by Billy Branch and some other blues players … they’ll do a show called ‘Chicago Plays the Stones.’ The Rolling Stones always said they were inspired to do what they do by classic Chicago blues, and so this is a little twist on that. This is contemporary blues players that are doing Rolling Stones hits … Let It Bleed, Heartbreaker, Sympathy for the Devil, You Can’t Always Get What You Want, Gimme Shelter, Dead Flowers … all the big hits … We’ll probably hear some other Chicago standards mixed in with the Stones hits,” Wheeler explained.
More in the Chicago blues style will come Saturday from the Nick Moss Band featuring Dennis Gruenling. “As a special treat this year, Nick’s wife Kate, who is a great blues guitar player in her own right, will be joining them on stage as a special guest,” Wheeler said.
Sunday kicks off with the IBC solo-duo winner Jon Shain followed by Vanessa Collier, a Berklee College of Music-trained saxophone player, who is coming up in the blues world, Wheeler said.
“And a blues fest that doesn’t do any Muddy Waters isn’t worth its salt … the next act is the old tried and true Nighthawks out of Baltimore. They’ll be joined by Bob Margolin, who was Muddy Waters’ guitar player. They will be adding keyboard work by Rev. Billy Wirtz doing their tribute to Muddy Waters,” Wheeler said.
“Then we follow that up with Mike Zito, Texas blues guitar slinger, and he’s bringing along with him B.B. King Horns, which will make for a very good, very fun show.
Then closing out the event will be Tommy Castro and the Painkillers on Sunday evening,” he added.
Wheeler noted that he’s “kicked up” the after jams, held directly after the festival ends each evening, at River City. Admission is free to River City for musicians who bring their instruments to the jam, Wheeler noted.
Friday’s jam will be hosted by Columbus bluesman Sean Carney, an IBC band winner and winner of the Albert King Award. On Saturday, Castiglia — fresh off the main stage — will host the jam. Sunday night’s jam host is local favorite Ezra Hamilton.
Hamilton’s band, Ezra and the Reletivs, will be one of the second stage acts on Sunday, Wheeler said. “It’s exciting to have Ezra here because he has a new album coming out next week, and I’ve been told by Ezra that people may be able to get that album early at the festival.”
Also on the second stage on Sunday will be Glen Dale native Craig Coffield, bringing his Delaware-based band, Bad Avenue. Coffield has attended the festival, but this will be his first time on stage, Wheeler said.
On Friday, Aug. 9, gates open at 3 p.m. Second stage music starts at 4 p.m., with the main stage opening act at 5 p.m. For a complete schedule of the main stage and second stage and for ticket information, visit https://www.heritagemusicfest.com.