Live Review: 19th Annual Cincy Blues Fest

WHEN: August 5-6

WHERE: Cincinnati, OH

HIGHLIGHT: Great mix of local and established acts in an often-overlooked genre

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One of the top blues draws in the region, this year’s festival, sponsored by the Cincy Blues Society, offered three stages worth of prime entertainment at Sawyer Point Park on the Ohio River.  The society also sponsors a Blues in the Schools program. Its young members perform annually at the Blues Fest, too. The proceeds fund their educational curriculum.

Bringing their portable canvas chairs with them and settling in for the night, people spread out on the lawn in front of each stage area.  Others walked from stage to stage, following the rotating acts.  Friday night, the smaller Arches stage near the admission gate was the Rockabilly Stage and hosted artists of that genre.  This same stage became the Boogie Woogie Piano Hall of Fame Stage on Saturday, and featured a number of tasty keyboard-oriented groups.

The Main white sail-like Stage was situated in the middle of the park, and the larger-drawing acts performed there both nights. Local artists were showcased on the St. Vincent DePaul Local Stage, at the far end of the grassy layout.  Food and beverage trucks were parked throughout the paths between the stages. A warm and relaxed summer evening atmosphere enveloped the area, as barges, motorboats, and an occasional paddlewheeler passed by on the river backdrop.

A few highlights from Friday:

Award-winning Tad Robinson and his big band on the Main Stage, his soulful voice getting the crowd grooving to a variety of R&B and Chicago-style blues numbers.

Under the trees at the Local stage, Johnny Fink and the Intrusion ripped into some cover material, including a stinging rendition of “Spoonful,” and a great guitar-god interpretation of “Dazed and Confused,” among many other familiar blues/rock tunes.

Later at the Local stage the four-piece father and son group Blue Sacrifice offered a smoking version of “Shakin’ All Over.”

Saturday’s treats:

Experiencing Ben Prestage, an amazing one-man band who played his hand-assembled assortment of instruments and actually managed to sound like a several member group.  His homey banter held everyone in the palm of his hand, and he received vigorous applause when he finished his early Main Stage set.

On the Main Stage later, Eden Brent wowed them with her full-throated, husky voice and rollicking piano playing.  She was clearly enjoying herself, and the crowd really ate it up.

Hometown big man Chuck Brisbin & The Tuna Project, with a lineup of local all-star musicians, got the audience going on the Local stage with their version of Rock-n-Blues during his band’s rendition of “Working Real Hard To Be Lazy.”  The harp playing was particularly tasty.

This year’s edition of Cincinnati’s mid-summer Blues Fest served up another great sampling of this often-sidelined genre of uniquely American music.  The Blues Society does great work to keep it alive and vital.

photos by Rick Carroll

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