The Top Blues Festivals

Blues FestivalsThere are truly great blues festivals all over the country. Particularly when spring turns to summer the festivals start popping off. If I didn’t include your cities blues festival in this list, I apologize there is only so much room on the list!

The Top Blues Festivals

Keep in mind these are in no particular order. All of these festivals are excellent events that come highly recommend.

  1. Chicago can boast that they have the largest free blues festival in the world. Generally, I think the idea of free festivals is a bit mickey mouse. Usually, the quality suffers because they can’t pay enough big acts to show up. This couldn’t be farther from the truth with the Chicago Blues Festival. This free three day event has attracted some of the biggest names in blues including BB King and Ray Charles.This is the perfect way to kick off your summer blues fest tour. It usually takes place in early-mid June which means the temperature is just heating up.The festival attracts over half a million people each year to check out the biggest names in Blues. It’s pretty incredible they never started charging gate for this festival as it’s an exceptional experience and event. Perhaps one day they’ll start charging, until then enjoy the free Blues.
  2. Byron Bay hosts a terrific five day event that is truly one of the world’s best Blues festival. Scratch that, it’s one of the best festivals period. It’s an absolute hoot and if you’re a die hard blues fan getting to the Byron Bay blues fest before you pass is a must. That’s a big bucket list item for a big blues fan.The experience is a little bit different because of the camping aspect. Bring everything you would expect to bring camping, a flashlight in case nature calls at night, a good tent, an air mattress or Thermarest, warm clothing and bug spray are also musts. Byron Bays festival is truly located in an amazing setting.
  3. Upton Blues Festival is a completely different experience. It literally happens on the streets of Upton which is located in the UK. The entire town pretty well shuts down for this event and like the Chicago Blues Festival it is entirely free. The venues are provided by local pubs and the city allows them to play in various locations around time.You can also camp at this festival if that’s your thing. Otherwise, you can book hotels around the town which are exceptionally convenient

These are just three of the many great festivals that happen all over the world. Googling “Blues Festival + Your Town/City” will bring up a few local ones if you’re just getting into the blues scene.

 

Strange and Interesting Topics in Blues Lyrics

If your lover left you, your cat died, and your truck broke down on the very same day that you lost your job, then you may just be the topic of a hit Blues or Country Music song.  Blues music often makes use of the most bizarre and unique topics for songs, and here is a list of some of the most interesting ones you might never have heard.

Bad Hair Day Blues

bad hair dayWhen you’ve gotten out of bed and you’re in too much of a hurry to fix your hair properly, you may find yourself wanting to complain about your bed head troubles. Or if you need a hair cut but your stylist is on vacation, who can you tell about the heartbreak of Bad Hair Day Blues? Put it in a song! When you run out of conditioner, your flat iron won’t heat up, or your electricity is out so you can blow your hair dry, pour out your feelings into a little ditty that will make you (and tons of other people with the same experience) feel a little bit better about their bed head or dread head styles.  Even if your friends don’t want to be seen with you and your supremely embarrassing coif, singing a song about it can make you feel a lot better–even if it can’t make your hair look better. It might just make you more popular than a good hair day ever could!

Getting Pregnant Blues

Although trying to get pregnant might sound like lots of fun, many couples have a hard time conceiving a child when they want to.  In an effort to get their hearts poured out through song, some trying-to-get-pregnant blues singers choose to put their troubles to music while they try not to get overwhelmed with tracking ovulation and fertilization. Some couples, when trying to get pregnant, tend to lose the romance and focus only on the medical and clinical side of having a baby. This can lead to a whole lot of heartache and even a little bit of blues music dedicated to the topic. A blues song writer who is composing a song on this topic might do a little research. Surely, they will find that the question that needs to be answered is this: When do I ovulate? Turns out, that could be a perfect title for a blues song. A little humor could be added and this composer just might have a hit on their hands.

Alien Abduction Blues

Just your luck! On the day you have been planning a relaxing beach vacation, or an exciting ski trip with the cute guy you like, you get abducted by aliens.  What a bummer! Never fear. This is the kind of stuff that great Blues Music is made of: stories of heartache, frustration, and extra-terrestrial interruptions of your life. Don’t pout about it or feel sorry for yourself while you’re inside the UFO missing the ski trip. Take the opportunity to do something about it and write a song! Test it out on your new alien friends and maybe they’ll love it so much that they’ll let you go. Then you can head back to your home planet, write the Top 40 Hit “Alien Abduction Blues” song and that cute guy will ask you out on a date to hear your story first hand. You’ll probably have fans and groupies and your life will never be the same. And then you can write a blues song about that too.

Vegetarian Loves Bacon Blues

No matter how much a vegetarian might try to deny it, bacon is one of the best foods on the planet. Crispy, warm, and salty, this superfood may not be the healthiest of foods, but it is totally worth every cheating calorie and there are many vegetarians out there who know it. Bacon isn’t just for eating with eggs or in omelets. On sandwiches, on pizza, in chocolate, The frustration created by knowing how good something is and not being able to eat is can certainly be reduced by singing a song to the pigs about how much it means to save their lives. The Vegetarian Loves Bacon Blues brings to the forefront the grief and loss of having loved something so sweet but no longer being able to enjoy it. Don’t worry, though. There are many bacon-flavored sundries such as room spray, soap, perfume and more. Heck, you may even be able to by bacon-flavored tofu! Just sing the Bacon Blues while participating in these products and you’ll find yourself feeling like you have been eating bacon all along.

While these strange and bizarre topics may or may not be actual blues songs, it’s likely that they should. If you were going to write a blues song, what would you write about?

Image Credit: Matthias Weinberger via Flickr

Live Blues Venues in Dallas-Fort Worth

Looking for venues in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that specifically cater to live Blues? Look no further because this is going to be your top authoritative go-to list! For blues fans anywhere in the Dallas, Texas area, this list will get you to the right places to hear the best live music available in the metropolitan area. Some comes free with the price of a meal or drink, while others are tickets which need to be booked in advance. Take a chance and head on out to hear some of the best Blues music in the city of Dallas.

House of Blues, Dallas

No matter where you go in the nation, if there is a House of Blues then you’ll find that this is an excellent venue for live music presentations from some of the top musicians in the genre. Located at 2200 North Lamar Street, which is the historic White Swan Building, the House of Blues offers private shows as well as open dining and concerts. Live Music Showcases, Gospel Brunches on Sundays and various other bookings, this venue can’t be beat for blues and various other types of entertainment. Outdoor seating, group reservations, dinner, drinks, and valet service are all offered. Opened in 2007, House of Blues has gained some top reviews, as well as being voted Best Live Music Venue of 2011 by the Dallas Observer.

Stumpy’s Blues Bar, Arlington

Always a good place to come upon live blues on the weekend nights. Stumpy’s hosts a casual crowd and the cover charge is never more than $5 so it’s certainly affordable. Outdoor seating, pool tables, darts, flat screen televisions and a full bar, Stumpy’s Blues Bar is located at 2811 W Division Street in Arlington. Group seating is available for live shows for the blues music as well as other styles from the musical spectrum.

Keys Lounge, Fort Worth

Not just a piano bar, Keys Lounge is located at 5677 Westcreek in Forth Worth and is a live music neighborhood bar. Owned by Danny Ross, a veteran bluesman, Keys Lounge hosts a variety of live music including the Juke Jumpers, Tejas Brothers, Bobby Counts and various other Blues and Southern Rock bands. Keys is a non-smoking establishment with an outdoor patio for smoking, complete with smoke-suckers to avoid some of the haze.

Alligator Cafe, Dallas

Whether you want to enjoy Cajun or Creole food with your live music, you can choose Alligator Cafe Casa Linda at 9540 Garland Road. Blues and Country Grunge are the name of the game, with Texas Style Acoustic Blues each week Wednesday through Saturday. Favorite acts include Miss Marcy, Texas Johnny Boy, Aaron Burton, and Cheryl Arena. Local ownership makes everyone feel like a special guest.

Jack Mac’s Swill & Grill, Dallas

Another restaurant with live Blues music featured on Friday and Saturday nights, Swill & Grill offers famous pizza, Texas craft beers, Hill Country wines, and top shelf Texas spirits. Fresh food made in house with live music to top it all off. What could be better than a Texas meal with deep southern Blues music? Get to 19009 Preston Road to find out!

Granada Theater, Dallas

Featuring various types of music, with Blues in the mix, Granada Theater is located at 3524 Greenville Avenue near Southern Methodist University. Special private events and parties may be booked, as well as film shoots based upon the history of this incredible building. John Mayall from Macclesfield, England, Lucky Peterson from Dallas, Macy Gray from Conton, Ohio, and Leon Russell from Lawton, Oklahoma are all upcoming shows for the historic Granada Theater.

Sundown at Granada, Dallas

Right next door at Sundown at Granada, free local live music is offered seven nights a week from 11pm-2am. Stratoblasters and Jason Elmore & Hoodoo Witch are upcoming featured blues bands, as well as Shane Smith & The Saints doing Country/Americana are free shows at the Sundown.

These and other live venues in Dallas bring out the best in blues, jazz, country, rock, and other styles of music. Ranging from free to $60 tickets, these shows are worth making plans to catch when you are in the Dallas or Forth Worth area.

Annual Blues Festival in Dallas, Texas

Each year lovers of blues music gather in the city of Dallas in the deep south in order to pay tribute to their love of all things blues related. The year 2014 marks the 10th year in a row of this tribute to blues music. Involving blues and jazz musical talent from around the United States, the Annual Blues Festival in Dallas offers the opportunity to witness a spectacular show of live blues music.

Located at the Dallas Convention Center, the 2014 event features names such as Willie Clayton, The Manhattans, Mel Waiters, Denise LaSalle, and TK Soul. This event, typically held in the month of March, has included in the past such acts as Bobby Womack, Floyd Taylor, Shirley Brown, Bobby Rush, and Theodis Ealy.

Here are some of the bios of the most recently featured artists:

The Manhattans

A popular R&B group, The Manhattans were formed in 1962 by members George “Smitty” Smith, Edward “Sonny” Bivins, Winfred “Blue” Lovett, Kenny “Wally” Kelly, and Richard “Ricky” Taylor. Even while the boys were still in high school, the group began but was quickly interrupted by service in the armed forces. They reunited after their respective terms and began releasing recordings throughout the late 1960s until their most recent album in 2013. Throughout a variety of changes in members, The Manhattans have continues to develop as a group and has been featured in two PBS specials as well as some high albums on the charts.

Theodis Ealy

One of the finest blues guitarists and bandleaders of his time, Theodis Ealy hails from Mississippi where he learned to play guitar at age four, taught by his older brother Y.Z. Ealy. Early in his career, Theodis performed in bands with two brothers until he moved on to play in other groups. He was signed to record in the 1990s, touring Europe and the United States extensively. Stand Up in It from 2004 was his most popular album peaking at No. 5 on the Top Blues Albums Chart.

 Mel Waiters

Mel Waiters began his performance career in 1974 in his hometown of San Antonio, Texas by singing at nearby teen clubs. He began to entertain at military bases in the southwest in the 1990s, and continues to perform at festivals and clubs all over the United States. He has recorded several albums in his career including Woman in Need and Poor Side of Town.

Denise LaSalle

A singer, songwriter, and record producer, Denise Lasalle comes from a small town in Mississippi. Beginning by singing in church choirs, she moved on to Chicago and began with a small recording in 1967. Her first national hit was the song “Trapped By A Thing Called Love” in 1971 and she has continued recording critically acclaimed albums for over 20 years. Recently she was nominated for the Blues Music Award for the ‘Soul Blues Female Artist’ category, and she currently runs a restaurant called Blues Legend Cafe.

Bobby Womack

Bobby Womack recently passed away, but deserves a mention as one of the top blues artists featured at the Dallas Blues Festival on more than one occasion. The third of five brothers, Womack’s first musical influence was his mother’s gospel music organ playing at church and his father played the guitar. With many hits in his solo career during the 1970s and 1980s, Womack was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009 prior to his death in June 2014.

Getting to witness some of the very best Blues Music perform live is an incredible privilege and this can be done right in the heart of Dallas. The Annual Blues Festival in Dallas at the Dallas Convention Center each Spring is one of the most convenient ways for those living in the south to get to be part of such a show. From seasoned veterans to newer acts, the performances found at this blues festival are sure to be some of the very highest ranking in the genre.

 

Blues on the Mall – Grand Rapids, Michigan

Looking for an amazing cultural experience that is free, musical, and fun for the whole family? Grand Rapids has it all! Each year, for 23 years running, the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan puts on a free live concert lineup throughout the summer months for residents and visitors to enjoy. Even though blues music hails from the deep south, those up north can also appreciate and enjoy live music in the summer time. Ten free concerts are lined up for Wednesday evenings each summer, and most of them take place at the Rosa Parks Circle, located at Monroe Center and Monroe Avenue near the Grand Rapids Art Museum.

grandrapids

For years, the Blues on the Mall concerts have incorporated some of the greatest current blues musicians from local areas as well as from other places around the United States. For this annual event, some of the past musical blues and jazz acts have included names such as Samantha Fish, Curtis Salgado, Walter Trout, Big James & the Chicago Playboys, Popa Chubby, Vasti Jackson, and Larry McCray.  The most recent concert schedules of the year have featured the likes of Big James, Ana Popovic, Kelly Richey, and Selwyn Birchwood, all performing on the famed Purple East Stage.

One of the 2014 concerts in the Blues on the Mall, Grand Rapids series has incorporated a unique and special tribute to Walter Trout who has been a well-loved blues musician over the many years of his musical career. In the past, Walter Trout has been involved in the music scene since the late 1960s and has been with several bands in that time including John Lee Hooker and Joe Tex. In 2013, Trout’s most recently recorded album, Luther’s Blues, gained notoriety as it was nominated for a Blues Music Award.  Because Mr. Trout has been seriously ill with liver disease, his protégé, Danny Bryant, has been part of a benefit tour which is proud to be scheduled to stop in at the August 6th concert in Grand Rapids for 2014 for a special, heartfelt tribute to this blues musician who has spent his life providing entertainment and enjoyment for others.

Residents of Grand Rapids, as well as visitors who are planning to attend the blues festival, often try to make it a fun and delicious tradition to stop by at one of the many nearby bars or restaurants for a meal and a drink, or enjoy time to rest on the grassy park areas. Local business owner Bob Johnson (appliancerepairgr.com) has been attending Blues on the Mall for many years, and is “continuously amazed at the new and quality bars and restaurants that keep popping up all over downtown Grand Rapids.”

Food trucks and other vendors are located around the area of Rosa Parks Circle, and dancing is always encouraged and welcomed in the location as the stars come out at night. In fact, a World Record was recently set on the same site in 2012, as over 750 people were reported to be swing dancing at the same time. So the Blues on the Mall events are sure to be promising some incredible dancing fun as well musical entertainment and enjoyment.

Even though there is said to be limited seating possibly available at the Rosa Parks Circle, it is often best to bring a picnic blanket or lawn chairs and maybe even include a cooler full of beverages just for fun. Tailgate partying and enjoying the festivities with friends is all part of the charm of the Blues on the Mall experience in Grand Rapids. After parties often go on in the local Grand Rapids area which include a free Blues Open Stage at The Intersection, fun at The B.O.B., and events before and after at River City Slims.

T-shirts for the BOM event are sold at each of the ten summer shows for those who want to own a wearable memory and show their support for the musical event. Blues on the Mall is typically sponsored by WLAV Classic Rock radio station as well as Budweiser, and the events are safe for the kids and fun for the entire family.

 Image: Flick’r

The History of Blues in America

Although the lyrics of blues have gotten a reputation for being sad and come people would even describe them as depressing, blues music has a strong emphasis on going beyond your struggles. Relaxing and having fun, even when times are tough, is the name of the game for blues music which conveys deep and genuine emotion. This style of music has a rich history in the United States and has been an influential partner for a variety of other styles derived in the US as well.

Where Blues Began

Blues history runs very closely along with African American history, hailing from 19th century plantations in the southern parts of the United States. Singing and song composition began with slaves, their descendents, or those who had one time been slaves and were then freed. Beginning with Negro Spirituals which were often sung during slave work, the blues was developed from the chants, hollers, drums, and hymns which were prevalent in that day and age.

A northern relative of Cajun-style New Orleans jazz music, the blues has strongly been influenced by jazz culture and vice versa, with many musicians crossing over genres. It was not until the late 1930s that the blues began moving north up the Mississippi river to Midwestern urban areas eventually to Chicago. Regional styles brought differences to some of the music, including the electrified versions of Chicago which began with Muddy Waters following World War II.

Although the style began in the 1800s, sheet music of blues did not make an appearance until the early 1900s, following a great deal of ragtime style music. Recordings were made of pre-blues music were made in the 1920s and 1930s from around the southern states such as Mississippi, Texas, Georgia, and Louisiana. Urban areas which began to develop a strong blues influence included St. Louis, Memphis, New Orleans, Kansas City, and Chicago. Many of the earlier blues performing artists used only a guitar as their accompaniment and then eventually the musicians began to team up with cohorts from gospel choirs, jazz bands, drummers, and even country style jug bands.

Blues Instruments

Commonly used instruments began with what could be found cheaply and easily since the time was the Depression era. This included washboards, jugs, kazoos, harmonicas, whistles, make-shift drums, and spoons. Traditional instruments used included guitars, banjos, fiddles, mandolins, and other stringed instruments such as basses. Twelve bar blues are the most common type of chord progression used, with cyclic or repeating chords which may include a call/response. The sounds often includes notes that are flattened or bent purposefully as part of the minor key sound. There may be a shuffle style which creates a repetition known as a groove.

 

Blues Influences

As blues music began to develop, many diverse styles were created. R & B (Rhythm & Blues), Rock ‘n Roll, Boogie-Woogie, West Coast (Swing) Blues, and Jump were all spinoffs of the traditional county blues which comes from the southern and rural areas of Mississippi. Some of the stronger influences came from Count Basie, Eric Clapton, Guitar Slim, Blind Lemon Jefferson, John Lee Hooker, Louis Jordan, and Pete Johnson are just a small sampling of the folks who have been recipients as well as developers of the blues music genre.

The development of blues music, and the impact that it has made on the rest of the music world has been prominent. Often performers of jazz, rock, or folk music such as Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, and Bob Dylan, have incorporated some blues songs in their recordings, or use blues-hybrid music in their popular songs. Even George Gershwin’s orchestral movements have included blues type tones and sounds. R & B has been developed as a blend of gospel with blues and has had a strong influence on the spiritual aspects of the African American community.

As recently as the 1980s and 1990s came The Blues Brothers movies which brought to the forefront talented artists such as James Brown, Aretha Franklin, B. B. King, Bo Diddley, and other  Whether standing on its own in the classical blues sense, or blended with other styles such as jazz or rock, blues music is an American staple and will likely continue to develop and influence for many years to come.