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New River Blues Festival Returns for a 17th Year in Ashe County This Sunday

By Nathan Ham

Music fans from all across the region will find their way to the small community of Grassy Creek near the Virginia state line this Labor Day weekend for a day full of Blues hits from another great list of artists.

The 17th Annual New River Blues Festival will be happening on Sunday, September 1 at The River House in Grassy Creek in Ashe County. The River House is just a short, scenic ride away from nearby Jefferson and West Jefferson.

Gates open at noon and music will begin at 1 p.m.

“People will experience great music, dancing in a mountain meadow next to a beautiful, sparkling river. It’s a full day of music; we start with traditional acoustic and move to more rocking stuff throughout the day,” said King Bees frontman Rob Baskerville, who first organized the event and has been playing music himself along with “Queen Bee” Penny Zamagni for 32 years.

Along with some classic tunes from The King Bees, this year’s list of musical guests is as strong as ever with appearances from Anthony “Packrat” Thompson, Robert “Top” Thomas, The Foddrells, Git Shorty, Mojo Ike & Val Woods and Donald Ceasar the Blue Emperor.

“I’m really excited to be bringing Packrat up from Florida, which brings some swamp blues coming out of the state, offering a little something different this year,” Baskerville said. “Lynn Foddrell is a third-generation African American Virginia Piedmont Blues picker. His family is rooted in that tradition and he is the real deal.”

Git Shorty may be the best show of the day, according to Rob’s own personal playing experience with the former guitar player for James Brown.

“I can’t wait to play with Git Shorty again, he’s probably one of my favorite guitarists and artists to work with because he’s completely and totally unpredictable and he’s an incredibly exciting guitarist and a great entertainer,” said Rob. “He’s flamboyant, funky and bluesy all at the same. He’s over 80 years old and still wears us out.”

In addition to the full day of music on Sunday, there will be a special jam session at Boondocks Brewing in downtown West Jefferson on Saturday from 2-5 p.m.

As for the main event on Sunday, there will be food, mixed drinks, soft drinks, wine and beer available for purchase. Festival attendees are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and blankets for seating as well as umbrellas and canopies as the music will go on rain or shine. No coolers or pets will be allowed.

Special $18 discounted tickets for the event are available online if purchased by this Friday, August 30. Tickets will be sold at the gate on Sunday for $20. Kids 12 and under get in for free. Online tickets can be purchased here.

As Rob pointed out, it’s not every day you will get a chance to see legendary blues artists like Git Shorty and the others in the High Country.

“You’ll never get a chance to see him unless you come to the New River Blues Festival, and that’s kind of the way it is with a lot of these artists. They’re older, they’re passing away, so we like to honor them and get them while they’re still great and have lots of talent to offer,” Rob said.

For more information on the artists and the event, visit the New River Blues Festival website.

These photos were taken by Freddie Georgia at the 15th Anniversary New River Blues Festival in 2017

New River Blues Festival with the King Bees, Grassy Creek, NC (the River House)