With a lineup of hardcore blues lovers ready to hit the stage, this year’s Col. Bill Williams Heritage Blues Festival promises to be a celebration of man’s triumph over hard times.
“These are not sad, slow funeral songs,” said Anne Stephens, one of the event organizers. “This music is fun and up and lively and danceable!” Stephens said blues fans may have required a bit of life experience to appreciate the genre, although most have realized it is a musical form “which is a way for people to cope with” life’s challenges.
“The blues is all about getting out of a low place,” she said.
This year’s festival, Sept. 7 at the Greenbo Lake State Resort Park Amphitheater, is the sixth official celebration of Williams, an influential blues guitarist and singer who grew up in Greenup County. The festival gets under way with an opening ceremony at 4:30 p.m., including recognition of Williams’ surviving family members and presentation of the Cultural Heritage Award to Paul Hitchcock of Morehead Public Radio, who was the first to suggest a music festival honoring Williams. Hitchcock is also the host of a blues show that airs on Morehead’s public radio station.
Music will begin after the opening ceremony with a performance by the band Downtown King, the winners of a battle of the bands contest at Greenbo, which was also sponsored by the Greenup County Extension Arts Council.
“We said, ‘Hey, they played some killer blues. We need to book them for Colonel Bill,’” Stephens recalled of the band’s winning performance earlier this summer.
Downtown King is made up of Jeremy Short on guitar and vocals; Mike Parker, guitar and vocals; bassist Chris Justice; drummer Steve Barker; and the Urban Def Squad Hornline.
Up next will be the VanSickle Brothers, a band from South Shore formed around the talents of twins Brandon and Justin VanSickle. “They absolutely rock. They’re really good. They’ve got that family harmony thing going on,” Stephens said.
After the brothers, Stephens said she and other members of her family, including husband Tom and sons Isaac and Aaron, as well as uncle Brooks Callihan on trombone, will perform as part of the Greenup Arts Band, featuring Chris Kitchen on guitar. The band will also feature drummer Dave McWhorter, a Greenup native who lives in Lexington and hopes the festival will also serve as a sort of homecoming event. Festival veteran Tracy Walker will also be joining the Greenup Arts Band, Stephens said.
Next up will be singer and guitarist Larry Whitt, another returning act for the festival, who will perform with his band Larry Whitt & Blue Eyed Soul.
“We’re very pleased to have him coming back,” Stephens said, praising Whitt’s and his band’s recent contributions to, and impact upon, the local blues scene.
“And then, our headliner is Jay Flippin — the man himself,” she said, noting the highly recognized musician will be joined by his cousin, pianist Cecil Akers, who comes from Flippin’s home community of Stuart, Va., as well as drummer McWhorter, Dr. Gordon Powell from Morehead State University on saxophone, and a full complement of musicians. Flippin will be playing a Hammond S-2, Stephens said, explaining that model is the modern rendition of the classic Hammond B-3 organs that continue to be revered by jazz, blues and rock bands.
There is no admission fee for the festival, although organizers will accept donations. The festival will also include raffles and prize drawings, she said, with prizes including accommodations at the Greenbo lodge and family passes to the Highlands Museum and Discovery Center, as well as an acoustic guitar from Music Box Express.
Stephens said rooms at the lodge remain available, along with camping sites, although she cautions participants to reserve rooms as early as possible by calling (606) 473-7324.
For more information, call (606) 836-0201.
TIM PRESTON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.