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03.26.08

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Raitt, Raitt, Don't Tell Me: The surprise is out. The guest artists at this year's Santa Cruz Blues Festival, held in Aptos over Memorial Day weekend, are Bonnie Raitt and Al Green.

Old School Party

The Santa Cruz Blues Festival lineup features Bonnie Raitt, a trio of last century's original bluesmen and the king of R&B, Al Green. Not a bad way to spend Memorial Day weekend.

By Garrett Wheeler


Al Green's potent brand of sexed-up soul music unquestionably stands as the defining voice of R&B, unchanged from its first appearance on the airwaves in 1971: fresh, clean and ready for love. Though his career as a preacher of love quickly transitioned into a career as a preacher of faith (he became a Pentecostal preacher in 1976 and today leads a Memphis congregation), Green's silky-smooth voice and unbridled charm stand unwavering as each new generation becomes entranced by his melodies. From the classic lines of "Let's Stay Together" to his revisit to Memphis soul in 2005's "Everything's OK," Green has solidified his position as the iconic figure of the genre called rhythm and blues. And now, ladies and gentlemen, let us welcome Mr. Green to the 16th Annual Santa Cruz Blues Festival.

Green will headline the second day of the festival, which runs May 24 and 25 at Aptos Village Park. He'll be preceded onstage by a handful of lesser known but equally talented soul maestros. And that's not even the half of it. Saturday the festival kicks off with a half-dozen blues acts before a performance by the legendary Bonnie Raitt. The Southern California songstress is practically an institution in the world of blues-based rock & roll, with countless No. 1 singles and nine Grammy Awards to her credit. Together with Green, Raitt's presence at this year's festival makes the event one of the most remarkable live concerts to unfold in the Monterey Bay area.

"We feel really lucky to have Bonnie and Al coming," says festival organizer Bill Welch. "This is definitely one of the strongest lineups we've ever had."

Big words, considering the stars that have graced the event in the past: B.B. King, Ray Charles and Albert Collins have all headlined the Santa Cruz Blues Festival.

Though not world-renowned superstars, the supporting acts at this year's show will indeed provide concertgoers with plenty of world-class entertainment in advance of the big guns. Saturday will feature three members of the first generation of blues--men who have seen the evolution of rock & roll materialize from Muddy Waters onward. "These three people are the reason we have a blues fest," says Welch. Pinetop Perkins, a 95-year old bluesman who first recorded in the early '20s alongside Muddy and Howlin' Wolf, will play his piano-based tunes. Guitarist Hubert Sumlin lends his original takes on blues guitar, while legendary harmonica player Willie "Big Eyes" Smith will show the crowd what blowin' the blues harp is all about. All three will be backed by local blues outfit the Mike Schermer Allstars.

In addition to the old-school bluesmen, Saturday's show will also see three younger students of the blues perform. Florida's JJ Grey and Mofro will open in their Santa Cruz debut, followed by ex-Nighthawks guitarist Jimmy Thackery. Coco Montoya, regarded as one of the hottest blues guitarists on the West Coast, will also play.

Sunday's supporting cast for Green includes New Orleans band Trombone Shorty, followed by the throwback vocals of soul singer Ryan Shaw. The Boneshakers, led by guitarist Randy Jacobs, will bring their eclectic mix of blues and funk to the party, followed by Louisiana rockers, the Subdudes. "Sunday is going to be more of an R&B and soul day," Welch says. "These guys will really fit with Al Green's style."

Nestled at the foot of the Aptos hills, two miles from the ocean, the Aptos Village Park is a uniquely picturesque setting for a concert of any kind, and this year's Blues Festival will certainly benefit from the pristine location. "The sound is going to be great, the backdrop is beautiful," says Welch. "A lot of us forget that you couldn't have a show like this in any town--Santa Cruz is an amazing community."


THE 16TH ANNUAL SANTA CRUZ BLUES FESTIVAL happens May 24-25 (Memorial Day Weekend) at Aptos Village Park, Aptos Creek Road and Soquel Drive, Aptos. Tickets available March 24 at Moe's Alley and Streetlight Records and online at santacruzbluesfestival.com; 831.479.9814.


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