By Wendy Lemlin
The fight against hunger in our community has been waged on many fronts, but perhaps the most pleasant battlefield happens each year at Embacadero Park with a soundtrack that includes the hottest national and local blues artists around.
Since 2011, the AmiLoan.com San Diego Blues Fest has partnered with the Jacobs and Cushman San Diego Food Bank with a two-fold mission: present top name blues artists at an affordable price while raising much needed funds—-and awareness—-to benefit the Food Bank. It’s been a rousing success; to date,sponsors and festival goers have helped contribute 20 tons of food and more than $435,000 to help the Food Bank fight hunger in San Diego County. And no one’s crying the blues about that!
With the help of more than 28,000 volunteers the Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank feeds nearly 400,000 people per in month in San Diego County through direct food distributions to those in need and through a network of 400 nonprofit partners, including: food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, low-income daycare centers, senior centers, churches, schools and day centers for the elderly and disabled. Last year, the Food Bank distributed more than 22 million pounds of food – the equivalent of 18.3 million meals – to neighborhoods and communities throughout San Diego County.
This year, the AmiLoan.com San Diego Blues Fest takes place for one day only, Saturday, September 10, from noon to 8pm. Oh, but what a day it promises to be! Headlining the festival are Grammy winners Los Lobos, who will be joined in the lineup by Blues Hall of Fame member Bobby Rush, Nikki Hill, Watermelon Slim and such favorites as Big Jon Atkinson, The Holla Pointe, Billy Watson and Junior Watson, Chris Cain, and Bey Paule Band with Wee Wille Walker.
Here’s the lineup:
Los Lobos (6:30 pm BCS Stage)
The band that once billed itself as “Just Another Band from East L.A.” has spent nearly four decades disproving that. With an impassioned love of roots rock and an inherent desire to connect to the Latino heritage, Los Lobos slices and dices music styles to create the eclectic identity of a band grounded in norteno, blues, country, Tex-Mex, folk, soul and rock ‘n’ roll. They’ve amassed four Grammys and been nominated for more than a dozen others, and played alongside an assortment of musicians as a varied as Elvis Costello, Paul Simon, Ry Cooder and others. In 2015 Los Lobos was nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and induction seems imminent!
Nikki Hill (5:30 pm Baker Electric Solar Stage)
Over the past five years, Nikki Hill and her band have gone from relatively unknowns to one of the hottest tickets on the festival circuit. In fact, this year she was nominated as Best Female Artist in The Blue Foundation’s Blues Music Awards, alongside such heavy hitters as Shemekia Copeland and Beth Hart. A fireball of a performer who grew up in North Carolina singing in church choirs, Nikki has developed a striking stage presence, filled with attitude. Targeting the soul of any song, her shows feature the raw power and soul dynamics from the early days of the intersection of blues and rock’n’roll. Teamed up with guitarist/husband Matt Hill they have created a hard-edged band that wows audiences with a dynamic mix of blues, R&B, rockabilly, soul, and straight-up rock. Matt Hill has established himself as a potent bandleader, wielding his guitar like a saber and stabbing deep into the heart of every song he tackles.
Bobby Rush (4:30 pm BCS Stage)
Blues Hall of Famer Bobby Rush may be 82 years old, but he’s nobody’s fool, and never has been. Hailing from Houma, La, he works the road religiously to keep the blues moving ahead. He’s known as the King of the Chitlin’ Circuit, and his shows are known for the joy and passion that he brings to them. Rush’s blues are informed by his life experiences, and he’s spent 60 years performing and adapting to his audiences. He’s been on a 100 recordings and played thousands of club and concert dates, whether for three people in a broken-down roadhouse or a concert for 20,000. He’s a 10-time nominee for the B.B. King Entertainer of the Year Award, which he finally won in 2015. Rush’s music is blues, but he adds soul and funk at every turn and isn’t shy about trying to create blues that people can relate to in 2016, either. It’s all part of a deep philosophical stance Rush has taken, showing that the blues don’t have to make you feel blue, but can be a source of joy and delight.
Watermelon Slim (3:30 pm Baker Electric Solar Stage)
Musician/political activist/raconteur Bill Homans. aka Watermelon Slim, just might be one of the most colorful and intriguing bluesman roaming the planet these days. Known for his wild guitar playing, often leaning on the raw slide, playing songs he learned from a Mississippi Fred McDowell record when he was laid up in a hospital while serving in Vietnam, he’s also an impassioned harmonica player and singer whose voice rings with the authenticity of a life filled with gravel roads and struggles. He was born into a blueblood Boston family, and his father was a celebrated civil rights attorney, but Slim’s childhood was spent mainly in North Carolina where he discovered the blues through a housekeeper who sang John Lee Hooker as she did her job. In 1973 he recorded an anti-war album reflecting lessons he’d learned in the Army in Vietnam, and he still protests war and pushes for veteran’s rights. Now living in Clarksdale, Miss., his music captures his life experiences, sometimes pulling songs directly from newspaper headlines. And, he still uses part of the gearshift lever from his truck for a slide on his guitar. All of this has resulted in 18 Blues Music Award nominations, including two for B.B. King Entertainer of the Year and has won BMAs for Band of the Year and Album of the Year.
Bey Paule Band with Wee Willie Walker (2:30 pm BCS Stage)
In recent years, two soul singers have become beacons in the blues business. Frank Bey has hit his stride as the featured act of the Bey Paule Band, a San Francisco-based R&B outfit with some powerful horns, and Wee Willie Walker has re-emerged from the shadows, with as vibrant and stunning a voice as he had in the 1960s. As a youngster, Bey appeared on showbills with the Five Blind Boys of Alabama, the Soul Stirrers and Sister Rosetta Tharpe among others. But life interfered and his singing took a back seat to doing what he had to to make a living. Things changed, however, when Bey started combining his talents with Bay Area guitarist and bandleader Anthony Paule a few years ago, with Paule’s skillful producing featuring Bey’s voice. The result has been Blues Music Award nominations each of the past two years for Soul Blues Album of the Year and Soul Blues Male Artist of the Year. Meanwhile, Walker, who had recorded for Goldwax and Chess Records, had been out of the limelight for decades when harmonica player Rick Estrin found him and decided he need to revive his career. Estrin and Kid Andersen got Walker into the Greaseland recording studio and produced the CD “If Nothing Ever Changes,” a stunning comeback that resulted in BMA nominations as Album of the Year, Soul Blues Album of the Year and Soul Blues Male Artists of the Year.
Chris Cain (1:30 pm Baker Electric Solar Stage)
When blues musicians gather to discuss the artists whose talents are often underappreciated, the name of singer-guitarist Chris Cain invariably comes up. Among those in the know, however, Cain is recognized for his searing guitar runs and a sweeping vocal style that makes you think B.B. King is actually hidden somewhere inside him. Born in San Jose, Cain taught himself guitar at the age of 8 and his parents encouraged his musical interest by taking him to see such artists as Ray Charles, B.B. King, Johnny Otis, Fats Domino and other. Based in the Bay Area, Cain has produced 11 CDs under his name and established himself for his encyclopedic understanding of blues. He also has a strong affinity for jazz and isn’t afraid to mix some of that into his blues as well. And, as if being a songwriter, bandleader, singer and guitarist isn’t enough, Cain also is proficient on keyboards, alto and tenor saxophone, clarinet and bass guitar.
Billy Watson and Junior Watson (12:45 pm BCS Stage)
No, they’re not related, excepted by music! Billy Watson is living proof that the blues doesn’t have to be dreary. In his hands, the blues is a vibrant expression of life and the good times to be had. The singer-harmonica player has led his revolving-cast International Silver String Submarine band for nearly two decades, playing every conceivable venue in San Diego, amassing a legion of followers. Junior Watson has been a guiding light for West Coast guitar players since the 1980s. He was a founding member of Rod Piazza’s Mighty Flyers and has worked with Canned Heat, Charlie Musselwhite, Kim Wilson and James Harman among others.
The Holla Pointe (noon Baker Electric Solar Stage)
Founded in San Diego in the fall of 2015, The Holla Pointe formed to pool their talent and love of the blues and create something rooted in history, but very much full of everyday life. Long-time collaborators, guitarist Jimmy Zollo and singer-harmonica player Karl Cabbage fully intended to pour themselves into a project that leveraged their talents and inspirations. They surprised themselves with the results. Only weeks after the band was started, it entered the regional International Blues Challenge, where it took top honors and represented San Diego in January at the world’s largest battle of the blues bands in Memphis, Tenn.
Big Jon Atkinson (10:30 am Front Gate)
In just a few short years, it has become clear that Big Jon Atkinson is that special kind of musician who defies conventional wisdom. He plays guitar and sings. But he’ll deftly move over and play bass guitar, or drums or harmonica with equal skill and aplomb. At 27 he seems too young to understand the blues, yet he knows the intricacies and nuances of the art form far better than those two or three times his age. The legendary Kim Wilson has called him the future of the blues.
General admission tickets are just $25 .Children 12 and under are admitted FREE (General Admission only) when accompanied by a parent or guardian.
VIP tickets are $150 and include
- Early admission
- Preferred viewing area with tables,chairs and some shade
- Catered lunch and snacks
- Private bar service
- Private restrooms
- Two complimentary adult beverages
- Unlimited complimentary water and soft drinks
Super VIP tickets, at $250, include all the above plus The Exclusive House of Blues Pre-Party on September 9:
- Special performance by Watermelon Slim
- Complimentary drinks
- Festival t-shirt
- All VIP benefits on Saturday
All festival attendees are requested to bring 2 cans of food to donate to the Jacobs Cushman San Diego Food Bank