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The King of Cool: Mr. B.B. is playing this year's Blues Festival, May 23-24.

Blue Bloods

The Blues Festival announces another monster lineup--including B.B. King--for its May 23-24 date with Santa Cruz.

By Curtis Cartier

You can stop holding your breath. The lineup for Santa Cruz's biggest music event of the year--the 2009 Santa Cruz Blues Festival--has finally been announced, and this year is another doozie. Back again is the king of blues, B.B. King, who headlines day one of the festival Saturday, May 23, with opening performances from Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Ruthie Foster. The next day, after Keb' Mo' and Leon Russell tear up the main stage, the sandpaper-throated superstar Joe Cocker closes down the weekend with his brand of rock-heavy blues.

For 17 years now, the reggae, rock and blues nuts at Moe's Alley have brought the SCBF to the redwood-encircled Aptos Village Park with legendary performances from Ray Charles, Bonnie Raitt, the Neville Brothers and Boz Scaggs, among many others. Organizer Bill Welch has no problem calling the event "one of the premier blues festivals in the country and the world."

"Each year, since we had Ray Charles in 2003, we try to make it better and better," says Welch. "We've got a great talent and we're really proud to have it in Santa Cruz on the busiest weekend of the year."

B.B. King is a walking history book of the blues. And at 83 years old, it would have been perfectly reasonable for him to hang up his cummerbund and guitar, take his spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and sign up for bingo night. But instead, the legendary picker has kept touring, kept recording and only five weeks ago collected his 15th career Grammy for his latest album, One Kind Favor.

Though a full 20 years younger than King, English vocal legend Joe Cocker still sits at the big boy blues table with the rest of the genre's elder statesmen. A product of the '60s, his music has often blurred the line between psychedelic rock and old-school blues and he's expected to deliver a sizzling performance to end the Memorial Day Weekend party.

The supporting acts at this year's festival are industry moguls in their own right. Kenny Wayne Shepherd is one of the genre's fastest rising young stars, while Ruthie Foster is a commanding female presence in the folk scene. Los Angeles' Keb' Mo' has been a solid Delta-blues standard bearer for 30 years, and Leon Russell has worked with more music greats than perhaps anyone at the festival.

All told, it should be a weekend to remember and possibly the last chance to see one of blues' most iconic stars onstage. Tickets are available at, and more artists will be announced in the coming weeks.

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