By Harley Nefe
Music fans from all across the region are invited to the small community of Grassy Creek in Ashe County during Labor Day weekend to enjoy the North Carolina Mountain’s only celebration of authentic Blues hits from legendary artists with the return of the New River Blues Festival.
Claimed as “one of the top 10 ways to spend Labor Day” by Our State Magazine, the annual New River Blues Festival will be celebrating its 19th year on Sunday, September 5 at the River House Inn, which is just a short, scenic ride away from nearby Jefferson and West Jefferson.
“It’s a relaxing drive and an adventure to get there, and that’s what we like about it,” said Rob Baskerville, who is a member of the band The King Bees and is happy to be back again this year presenting the New River Blues Festival.
The venue is located in a beautiful mountain meadow where attendees can dance by a sparkling river to the sounds of great music with vast acreage available for social distancing.
“We feel with the interest that we have and the distancing for the area that we are in, it’s an all go,” Baskerville said.
Attendees are encouraged to bring lawn chairs, blankets, canopies and umbrellas as the festival will take place come rain or shine. However, organizers kindly ask that no pet or coolers be brought. Food and beverages are available for purchase at the venue.
Gates open at noon, and the event will take place from 1-6 p.m. for a full day of world-class Blues as The King Bees bring the best internationally acclaimed Blues legends and luminaries as the festival’s line up to keep the music alive in the High Country.
Along with some classic tunes from The King Bees, this year’s list of musical guests is as strong as ever with appearances from Daryl Davis, Donald Ceasar the Blues Emperor, Lynn Foddrell, Bobby Blackhat and Wanda Johnson.
“It’s hard to pick who’s a headliner because all of these people are very important in the scheme of Blues and to me, but one of our headliners is Daryl Davis,” Baskerville said. “He is a great piano player, guitarist, singer, songwriter, but these days he’s extremely well known for being a lecturer, and he’s on NPR and CNN a lot. It’s pretty fascinating. He uses music as a tool to bring people together.”
There will be returning guests who will be performing, such as Wanda Johnson who is the Queen of South Carolina Blues and is a crowd favorite, along with new acts like Bobby Blackhat.
“He’s a retired U.S. Coast Guard Commander, and he served the country for a couple of decades,” Baskerville said. “Now he’s unleashed. He’s a really great harmonica player and singer.”
There will be a little something for everyone to enjoy at the festival, and it’s not everyday people can get the chance to see legendary Blues artists in the High Country.
For more information about the upcoming New River Blues Festival and ticket sales, please visit https://newriverbluesfestival.info/. There is a limited number of advance tickets available, so prepare to purchase them soon. Also, feel free to keep up with the New River Blues Festival by following it on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/NEWRIVERBLUESFESTIVAL.info/.
Taken from the event webpage, the full artists roster for the event with each of the artists’ bios is listed below:
The King Bees
The King Bees, Rob “Hound Dog” Baskerville and Penny “Queen Bee” Zamagni created and produced the New River Blues Festival. They call Ashe County home, but travel the world with their Blues and American Roots music. This year marks the 34th anniversary of the band.
In the mid-1980s Baskerville and Zamagni began traveling the deep-South looking for and mentoring under Blues artists of historical, cultural, and musical significance. Many Blues greats took them under their wing and nurtured and guided The King Bees toward the sound of authenticity. With Baskerville on guitar and keys and Zamagni on vocals, bass, and as song smith, The King Bees honed their art with many Blues masters. By 1990 they had been touring and recording with some of the most culturally important Blues artists. In the early 1990s they were signed to a European label and began touring internationally.
The King Bees have performed on festival stages in Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, and London as well as taking their show across numerous countries. Their love of American Roots music has taken them from Mississippi juke joints to several performances at 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, represent and book Blues artists of note, and produce Blues festivals across the South. Veteran drummer extraordinaire, Jim “Jimmy Groove” Gillon will be laying down the big blues beat.
Chicago native Daryl Davis was mentored by legendary Blues, Boogie Woogie, and Rock n’ Roll pianists Pinetop Perkins and Johnnie Johnson, who praised his extraordinary command of those vintage piano styles. The rollicking and rambunctious master of the 88s tours nationwide and internationally, and has worked with Elvis Presley’s Jordanaires, Chuck Berry, The Legendary Blues Band, Percy Sledge, Sam Moore, Nappy Brown and many other greats. Daryl reaches across immense cultural gaps with his Roots Music to create dialogue with members of the Ku Klux Klan. Daryl is the first black author to travel the country interviewing KKK leaders and members. His experiences are detailed in his critically acclaimed book, Klan-Destine Relationships, and the award-winning documentary, Accidental Courtesy. The recipient of numerous awards for his music and work in race relations, Mr. Davis appears often on television, radio, and in print media as a race relations expert.
Donald Ceasar Blues Emperor
Here comes the blues fans’ best-loved Zydeco train! Ceasar is a New River Blues Festival favorite and dear friend! Donald Ceasar is an artist of exceptional versatility, performing on drums, harmonica, and keyboards while singing lead vocals 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.
Lynn Foddrell enchanted the blues lovers at New River Blues Festival 2019 with his set of lively folk-blues and left them yearning for more. Lynn is the son of Turner Foddrell (1928 – 1995), and the grandson of Posey Foddrell (1898 –1985). This musical Stuart, Virginia family spans back to the 1800s. Grandfather Posey was a multi-instrumentalist who trained all his five sons, Lynn’s father and uncles, to play music, from Blues to Bluegrass to Gospel. In the early 1980s Lynn performed with his father Turner and Uncle Marvin at Ferrum College’s FolkLife 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 Lynn 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,” said Lynn Foddrell.
Bobby “BlackHat”, Coastal Virginia Bluesman, award-winning recording artist, harmonica player, vocalist, songwriter, comedian, producer, and actor hails from Cleveland, Ohio and currently resides in Newport News, VA. He has been playing harp for over 45 years. Bobby is a retired U.S. Coast Guard Commander with 27 years of distinguished service, which included serving as Military Aide to the President and being awarded the Coast Guard Medal for Heroism. Bobby BlackHat blends the influences of Chicago, Memphis, Piedmont, and Delta style Blues along with a little Gospel into a toe tappin’, finger poppin’, hip shakin’ blues experience.
Wanda Johnson: South Carolina’s First Lady of R&B and Soul-Moving Music is known for her soaring voice and clever songwriting, Wanda has performed at numerous premier festivals, including the Chicago Blues Festival, Poconos Blues Festival, Cognac Blues Festival (France) and the Eutin Blues Fest (Germany). Johnson’s many fans have regularly compared her voice to the likes of Mahalia Jackson, Sarah Vaughn, Nina Simone and Etta James.