The King Bees duo, Penny “Queen Bee” Zamagni and Rob “Hound Dog” Baskerville, celebrated its 15th New River Blues Festival in Ashe County this past weekend. The lineup included Johnny Rawls, Lakota John, Ike and Val Woods, The King Bees and more.
“There was such a great turnout and all the artists were completely on their game and sounded great,” said Zamagni. “It was the celebration of the 15th anniversary of the festival and 30th for the King Bees. Old time friends from long ago and new friends, too, came out. I think all of that coalesced to make it the best we’ve had so far.”
The husband-and-wife duo met in the High Country in the ‘80s through the local bluegrass music scene. Before The King Bees started officially touring, Zamagni and Baskerville travelled down south to learn to play the blues straight from the source. It wasn’t long before they were known as the “White Kids on the Chitlin’ Circuit.”
“We started going to the Deep South and trying to find the real deal blues people who were still down in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. Some of them were getting on in age and were elderly, but they were still down there playing juke joints,” Zamagni said. “It was so cool. We started to meet these folks in our art and trade, and we got to be friends with lots of people and started getting calls to back them up as we sounded better.”
Over the years, they’ve toured and/or sat in with some of the blues greats: Bo Diddley, Tinsley Ellis, Billy Branch, Carey Bell, Nappy Brown, Mojo Buford, Big Jack Johnson, Sam Carr, Frank Frost, Lazy Lester, Ronnie Earl, Jerry McCain and Chicago Bob Nelson.
As Baskerville said during the festival preview, “I was listening to Bo Diddley records as a teenager. Carey Belle was playing with Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters. You see names on records over the years, and we – the King Bees, Penny and I, got to work with these guys … It was one of those things where you’re going from being a fan to being able to work with your mentors. It was a lot of luck and lot harder work and dedication to what you do.”
The duo has travelled the world playing world-class blues throughout the past three decades. After 30 years with grueling touring schedule, the’ve settled down a bit. However this summer, The King Bees toured Sweden in Europe, and played throughout the South, at venues such as the Oxford Blues Festival in Mississippi and the first place that the Allman Brothers ever gigged, the Library Bar in Macon, Ga.
They started the New River Blues Festival 15 years ago to showcase and honor some of the blues musicians that they learned from in a region that hasn’t experienced the diversity inherent in blues music. As Zamagni noted, Ashe County has “beautiful traditions of culture and music” but is a nearly all-white population.
“We just created the New River Blues Festival to let our friends hear this great music and [to showcase] our friends playing the blues for 50 years or more. To enjoy the beautiful scenic mountains and make new friends,” Zamagni said. “It really means a lot to us. Each year that goes by, we are more gratified that people respond so strongly to the music and the artists and the basic vibe of bringing people together through music.”
In the coming weeks, the King Bees have a few local shows in the High Country:
- Friday, Sept. 22 @ Hotel Tavern in West Jefferson at 6:30 p.m.
- Friday, Oct. 6 @ Twigs in Blowing Rock at 9 p.m.
- Saturday, Oct. 7 @ Ransom in Boone at 6 p.m.
For more information, click to https://www.newriverbluesfestival.info/ or https://www.facebook.com/NEWRIVERBLUESFESTIVAL/?ref=bookmarks
Check out more photos from the 2017 New River Blues Festival below.
Photos by Frederica Georgia
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