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March 21-28, 2007

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Etta James

Photograph by Anthony Montes De Oca
Etta James: The Queen of the Blues will take over for last year's B.B. King when the Santa Cruz Blues Festival celebrates its 15th anniversary.

Heirs to the Throne

The Santa Cruz Blues Festival follows B.B. King with blues queen Etta James, Los Lonely Boys and more

By Paul Davis

Few acts in show business are tougher to follow that B.B. King, last year's headliner of the Santa Cruz Blues Festival.

Yet that was the challenge that faced Moe's Alley's Bill Welch as he began to work on a lineup for this year's Santa Cruz Blues Festival. And it wasn't only last year's impressive headliner that Welch had to top or at least match, but also the likes of previous top billings like Robert Cray, Ray Charles and Buddy Guy.

Blues Festival faithful should therefore be elated by Welch's announcement that the unim-peachable Etta James will be among the headliners at this year's festival, topping off a weekend that continues on last year's effort to bridge blues traditionalists with an up-and-coming generation of musicians who take their cues from blues while expanding the form's boundaries.

Now in its 15th year, the Santa Cruz Blues Festival continues a legacy that, thanks to Welch's good fortune and hard work, creates its own quandary: Faced with the task of surpassing people's expectations from the previous year, the promoter quickly realized how few artists in this day and age have attained James' stature as a credible successor to King's regal headlining slot from last year.

"Etta is one of the last legendary blues people who haven't played the festival," observes Welch, pointing out this will be a unique opportunity for locals to see an incomparable artist who has not performed in the area for over a decade.

As for the rest of the year's lineup, they're no small potatoes either. Slated to headline Saturday is the Tejano-tinged folk blues act Los Lonely Boys, who broke out into international success in 2005 with the single "Heaven."

The Texan three-piece is joined on Saturday by slide guitar master Roy Rogers and the Delta Rhythm Kings, Sonny Landreth, preternatural Sacramento phenomenon Jackie Greene and Indigenous, a group out of South Dakota that Welch characterizes as "the future of the rockin' blues," comparing lead guitarist Mato Nanji to the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan before noting that Nanji "has that magic of the great guitar gods."

Welch was still working on confirming two of the Sunday acts as Metro Santa Cruz went to press.

This year's Sunday lineup will follow the tradition started last year, in which the second day focuses on more venerable and traditional blues acts. Joining James will be the young traditionalist singer/songwriter Nina Storey, festival favorite Tommy Castro and two additional national blues acts that will be announced on the festival's website within the week.

The Santa Cruz Blues Festival happens on Memorial Day Weekend, May 26-27, at Aptos Village Park. Tickets will be available online a week early this year, on March 23 at the festival's website, On March 30, paper tickets will go on sale at Moe's Alley and Streetlight Records in Santa Cruz and San Jose.

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