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20th Annual New River Blues Fest Coming Up Sept. 4 — A Labor of Love For The King Bees

By Sherrie Norris

New River Blues Festival with the King Bees, grassy creek, NC (the River House)

The Annual New River Blues Fest has been described by Our State Magazine as one of the Top 10 ways to spend Labor Day Weekend in North Carolina. That’s quite an honor, but it comes as no surprise to the thousands from all over the country and beyond who have made their way to the Ashe County event for the last 20 years.

In just a few days, on September 4, the increasingly popular outdoor music festival —or what it’s hosts, the King Bees, call “our labor of love and our main musical mission” — is happening once again in the same setting in which it’s been held for the last decade.

That’s quite a milestone for the dynamic duo to celebrate, but that’s just the beginning. Rob (Hound Dog) Baskerville  and Penny Zamagni are  celebrating their our 35th anniversary as The King Bees

“My hubby and I got together in 1986 to form the band with our intention of simply evolving — from learning the blues from records,  traveling the south and being mentored by the authentic blues masters,” Zamagni told High Country Press earlier this week. “After a couple of years of our quest, we found ourselves, luckily, performing and touring with many of our teachers.” 

As their level of confidence and skill as blues musicians flourished, so did their opportunities. Signing with an international record label helped pave the way for many European tours to follow for The King Bees, not to mention a rapidly growing fan base in the states, closer to home.

Celebrating 35 years as The King Bees, Rob (Hound Dog) Baskerville and Penny Zamagni prepare to host their 20th Annual New River Blues Festival, Sunday, Sept. 4 in Ashe County.

As the 2000s rolled in, Zamagni said, the couple wanted to show their gratitude to their mentors by showcasing and promoting them to an audience that they never had encountered before. 

“To our knowledge, there had never been a blues festival in rural Appalachia, especially one presenting exclusively black blues musicians. Our goal was to benefit both performers and audiences through cultural cross-pollination, thus, we created New River Blues Festival.” 
And here they are now, after much success, preparing to celebrate the festival’s 20th anniversary. 

The couple agree they couldn’t be more grateful to the folks who have joined them through the decades —”people who may not have initially been blues lovers, but were open to the music, the performers and the day celebrating both.”

The King Bees can attest to the fact that New River Blues Festival has converted many attendees to being fans of this most quintessential American music. 

“We are also thrilled that our festival brings in people from all over the south and other regions,” Zamagni said.  And sadly, she added,  many of the blues artists they have presented through the decades have passed on. “It’s vitally important for folks to experience and appreciate these performers now, before it’s too late.”
In addition to the incomparable music offered at the festival, the couple say they absolutely love the home for it that they discovered 10 years ago in the meadow by River House Inn. 

“It’s an exquisite setting where the natural beauty of mountains and river creates the perfect environment for a joyful gathering,” Zamagni described. “With the recent awareness of health issues, our wish is to provide an intimate event, not too large, with plenty of room for dancing and conviviality.”

And, something tells us their wish is about to come true.

Featured Performers

Featured performers at this year’s New River Blues Festival include event hosts, The King Bees, who call Ashe County home, but have performed on festival stages in  Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, and London — just to name a few of the many places across numerous countries where they are known and loved.

Their own love of American roots music has taken them from Mississippi  juke joints to several performances at the Lincoln Center. They collaborated with  Rock n’ Roll Hall-of-Fame member, Bo Diddley, and were featured on The B.B. King  Birthday Tour. Baskerville and Zamagni are also recognized as Blues historians, representing and booking blues artists of note, and producing blues festivals across the south.  Veteran drummer extraordinaire, Jim “Jimmy The Groove” Gillon will be laying down the big blues beat with them.

“Queen Bee Zamagni belts it out with the best,  backed by a superb band highlighted by the burning riffs of Hound Dog  Baskerville.” The Charlotte Observer.  

 Read more about the King Bees and highlights of their career at


Bringing world-class blues to Western North Carolina, The King Bees welcome some of the genre’s greatest musicians to their milestone celebration on Labor Day weekend. 


As a young teenager in rural Kentucky, Roy  Roberts picked up the guitar and hasn’t put it down yet. A move to North  Carolina when he was 18 brought Roberts’ immense guitar prowess to the  attention of preeminent touring musicians. Soon Roberts was on the road with  Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding, and King Solomon Burke. By the mid-1960’s,  his rich, expressive baritone and masterful guitar propelled him into  his own recording and performing career. His distinctive, soulful blues has taken him over this country and many others. Roberts has won innumerable awards  for producing stellar albums of blues greats on his label Rock House  records, as well as awards for performance and for Keeping The Blues  Alive. Roberts has been inducted into the Beach Music Hall of Fame.  Most importantly, as a peerless entertainer for over 60 years, Roberts enthralls international audiences with a show that brims with dynamism and soulful zest.

 SANDRA HALL: Atlanta’s “Empress of the  Blues,” Sandra Hall started singing in church at age 4. Still in her teens, Hall formed the Exotics, and her sizzling singing and dancing were  regularly featured at the Royal Peacock Club, one of the premier  nightspots in the South. She shared the bill with such luminaries as Joe Tex, Otis Redding, and The Temptations. After being signed to  legendary Ichiban Records, Hall took her career to new heights as she  toured to acclaim over this country and throughout Europe. Her  incendiary performances at Switzerland’s Montreux Festival secured her reputation as one of the top female blues singers touring the  continent. From sultry to bawdy to unbridled, Hall’s passionate performances are as powerful as the blues itself!

“Sandra’s power on the stage is something to behold!” Music Maker Foundation.

LYNN FODDRELL with DOUGLAS TURNER~ The Last of the Mountain Blues Dynasty

Lynn Foddrell is the last member of the Foddrells, a musical family dating back to the 1800’s. Foddrell and his cousin, Douglas Turner (who is also carrying on the family’s musical legacy), will  open the festival. Fodrell is the son of Turner Foddrell (1928 – 1995), and  the grandson of Posey Foddrell (1898 –1985), from the musical Stuart, Va. family spanning back to the 1800’s. Grandfather Posey, who learned  from his father, was a multi-instrumentalist who trained all his five sons, (Lynn’s father and uncles) to play music, from Piedmont-style blues to bluegrass to gospel. In the early 1980s, Lynn performed with his  father Turner and Uncle Marvin at Ferrum College’s Folk Life Festival,  but soon their musical world widened. The Foddrells performed at the  World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tn., in Washington D.C. for the Festival of  American Folklife sponsored by the Smithsonian Institute, and both  Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center in New York City. They also toured  through Europe. When Marvin  died, Turner and Foddrell continued as a performing and recording duo until Turner’s death. Although two elderly Foddrell uncles are still living  and play guitars, banjo, and piano, they don’t do public shows. “I’m the  last of the Mohicans,” says Lynn Foddrell. 

Philip NITRO Bozeman: He rambled from  Montgomery, Ala. to Chicago where he came of age watching, learning from, then joining, the Windy City’s best Blues performers such  as Koko Taylor, Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters and a legion of others. Before  long, Phillip Bozeman was picking up tips from Junior Wells and becoming a fireball of  a harp player. Along his winding journey, the strong and sturdy Nitro had a career in boxing, but never gave up his music. Eventually, Nitro landed in Florida where his musical calling led him to popularity and  success in the state’s vigorous Blues scene. Thirty-five years ago, he  met a young, hot guitarist, Gene “Sarasota Slim” Hardage, who was making  waves of his own in the Sunshine State and also internationally.  Don’t miss these seasoned bluesmen, combining their forces to create a  robust, unvarnished sound that gets to the heart and soul of what  authentic blues is all about!

“.. a pair of consummate, Florida-based  bluesman who work together like the best of the great Blues  partnerships.” Tampa Bay This Week 

DONALD  “BLUES EMPEROR” CEASAR: A favorite at the festival and part of the New River Blues Festival family, Ceasar is an artist of exceptional versatility, performing on drums, harmonica and keyboards, while singing with gusto and laying down  high-spirited dance steps. Ceasar hales from the bayous of Louisiana, in  the heart of Creole and Cajun country, where his grandfather, Alphonse “Bois Sec” Ardoin and other family members were pioneers and founding fathers of Cajun Zydeco music. Ceasar has been entertaining audiences since childhood with his Cajun family band, and opening for and sharing the stage with legendary artists such as Rocking Sidney, Fats Domino,  Dr. John, The Nevilles, B.B. King, Allen Toussaint, and James Brown.  

Ceasar delivers a sizzling musical-gumbo full of the succulent flavors  of Louisiana.  “… possibly the hippest entertainer in the Carolinas.” Jim Otis, The State, Columbia, SC.

More About Blues Festival 2022

As New River Blues Festival 2021 sold out quickly, it is advised that  advance tickets be purchased as soon as possible before they disappear. 

Limited advanced tickets are $35 and will be held at the gate.

The event will be held rain or shine with gates opening at noon; music is from 1p.m. -6 p.m. Location is at the River House Inn in Grassy Creek community near West Jefferson.

No coolers or pets, please. Food and beverages will be available for purchase on site.

Guests should bring lawn chairs, blankets and/or canopies and relax in the pastoral setting for an afternoon of the best that the blues has to offer.

For more information and/or to order tickets, visit  New River Blues Festival on Facebook or at  https://newriverbluesfestival.info/