NEW BLUES REVUE: Ben Harper and the Relentless7 play the Blues Festival on May 29. Blues legend Buddy Guy headlines Sunday.
Old-Time and the New Line
The Santa Cruz Blues Festival heads into its 18th season with tribute to yesterday and tomorrow
By Paul Davis
SANTA CRUZ'S most venerable music institution, the Santa Cruz Blues Festival, returns to town Memorial Day with a stellar lineup worthy of an 18th birthday party. Under the guiding hand of festival organizer Bill Welch, the festival pays tribute to the both the foundation and the future of the genre with Saturday headliners Ben Harper and the Relentless7 and on Sunday Buddy Guy, who stands as a one-man institution in his own right.
The lineup Welch has in place is already promising. The 18th installment in the annual festival will follow a structure similar to years past, in which Saturday highlights up-and-coming talent within the constellation of blues, soul and rock while Sunday is reserved for legacy acts and practitioners of meat-and-potatoes traditional blues.
Many of Saturday's players should be familiar to attendees of Moe's Alley, the club Welch runs. Southern-fried blues-funk player Eric Lindell opens the day, followed by Dumpstaphunk, the New Orleans funk outfit comprised of the next generation of Neville brothers. Singer/songwriter Joseph Arthur appears, followed by blues chameleon Taj Mahal, who will be making his first appearance at the festival.
And last but certainly not least that day is headliner Ben Harper, who comes to Aptos with his latest band, the Relentless7, which Welch describes as "a whole new twist on Ben Harper's sound." The singer/songwriter, who has consigned himself to lilting acoustic blues in recent years, this time opts for a muscular blues-rock approach. Harper's appearance is something of a coup for Welch, who notes that the singer is very selective about shows and has played few blues festivals in the past.
While Welch has yet to finalize the Sunday lineup (he plans on having it finished by Wednesday, but did not have it prepared by presstime), the two artists he can confirm suggest an impressive day. Festival favorite Coco Montoya, a former member of John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, will return for a midday set. Welch describes Montoya's music as "the essence of what we do."
Sunday will be closed by headliner Buddy Guy, who makes his third appearance at the Blues Festival. Guy needs no introduction to anyone with even a passing interest in the blues, and Welch is charged over having the dean of the electric Chicago blues returning to the stage.
"He's one of the few first-generation guys still out on the road," Welch says. "He's getting close to being in his mid-70s, but he's still doing that straight Chicago blues. I've been watching him for nearly 30 years."
The diversity of sounds reflects what Welch considers the Santa Cruz Blues Festival's charter: as he describes it, "to show where the music came from and where it's going. We've got a lot of new, crossover stuff and a lot of old stuff. It's where we think the genre of music is headed."
THE 18TH ANNUAL SANTA CRUZ BLUES FESTIVAL is Memorial Day weekend, May 29–30, at Aptos Village Park, 100 Aptos Creek Road, Aptos. Tickets go on sale March 31 at www.santacruzbluesfestival.com.
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