Paul Benjamin is a past president of The Blues Foundation out of Memphis, and has produced blues festivals for decades.
Now, he’s teaming up with a former Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce chief to bring one to Gloucester.
Music lovers are gearing up for the inaugural, oceanfront Gloucester Blues Festival, which will feature six world-class blues musicians spanning the genre from New Orleans blues to Chicago-fused blues on Saturday, Aug. 11, at Stage Fort Park.
One of these award-winning blues musicians is Shemekia Copeland, who performed at the White House last February alongside Mick Jagger.
Others will include Louisiana’s Kenny Neal, the son of blues harmonica master Raful Neal; Gloucester’s own Henri Smith, the Louisiana native who moved to Cape Ann in the wake of Hurricane Katrina; and Eddie Shaw & The Wolfgang, which served as original backup band for the legendary Howlin’ Wolf until his death in 1975.
Benjamin, the festival’s promoter, said he wanted to give the audience the full experience of what blues has to offer at the outdoor Stage Fort venue, which will be built in the Cressey’s beach area.
“There is a sampling of blues for everybody,” Benjamin said. “We have six different styles of blues, and four of the six are all blues music award winners. Depending on the blues you like, any one of them could be the headliner.”
Festival goers can come throughout the day — whether they want to take a swim, take a walk, or grab a bite to eat, Benjamin said — because ticket holders will receive wrist bands for entry and re-entry. The music will play that Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and concert goers can bring chairs and blankets, with food and craft vendors on hand and beer and wine available at a one-day beer garden.
Benjamin is working with Bob Hastings, former executive director of the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce to bring this festival to the area. Hastings noted that $28 tickets can be purchased if bought by Monday night. After that, tickets are available at the gate for $40.
Benjamin said the festival isn’t just for blues aficionados.
“People who don’t think they like the blues don’t realize they have been brought up with the blues,” he said. “Most TV commercials have blues music. Many people don’t realize they have been listening to blues their whole life.
“The blues had a baby and they called it rock-n’-roll,” he quipped, noting that the first albums of the Rolling Stones were blues albums, and the band has long continued on in a rock-blues fashion.
“We have a really solid lineup,” said Benjamin, who has co-produced the North Atlantic Blues Festival in Maine for nearly 20 years. “We want fans to experience a variety of styles.
“That’s the fun part of putting a line up together for this festival,” he added. “It’s a perfect area for the event with plenty of space and this will be a great day of blues.”
Closing the show will be the Harlem-born Copeland, the daughter of blues guitarist and singer Johnny “Clyde” Copeland. Last summer at the Chicago Blues Festival, she was crowned “Queen of the Blues” by Koko Taylor’s daughter, Cookie Taylor.
Louisiana’s Neal is known as a modern swamp blues master and multi-instrumentalist, while Smith has already built a Cape Ann audience for his Louisiana-style blues – playing, among other gigs, with Charles Neville at the 2010 Celebrate Gloucester concert festival at the city’s then newly-acquired I-4 C-2 site.
While the Wolfgang is best known for its Howlin’ Wolf ties, Eddie Shaw also plays tenor and alto saxophones and harmonica and is a noted singer/songwriter as well as bandleader.
“His hard-hitting horn work won him Instrumentalist of the Year honors in the 2006 and 2007 Blues Music Awards,” notes the Mississippi Blues Trail website. “Eddie Shaw earned international acclaim as one of the few saxophonists to ever build an enduring career leading a blues band. The most well-known saxophonists have often been jazz musicians.”
Among the other performers, Lucky Peterson was a child prodigy, the son of blues singer James Peterson who ran a nightclub frequented by the A-list of blues musicians and where Muddy Waters and Koko Taylor played regularly. A guitar and keyboard player, he cut his first record at the age of six and performed it on Johnny Carson’s Tonight show.
Rounding out the show is Dikki Du & The Zydeco Krewe, known as an innovative zydeco group. Zydeco is defined as “popular music of southern Louisiana that combines tunes of French origin with elements of Caribbean music and the blues.”
Benjamin said he and Hastings’ mission is to create an entertaining event that always contains some surprises — and one that can grow and become a Gloucester summer tradition.
“Gloucester has never seen this kind of blues entertainment before,” Benjamin said. “This is the first and we hope to make it an annual, but you can’t do that until you have the first.
“It will be a relaxing atmosphere, and it can be a family outing,” he said. “The young people are the audience of the future.”
Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-283-7000, ext. 3445, or at email@example.com.
GLOUCESTER BLUES FESTIVAL Saturday, Aug. 11 at Stage Fort Park, Henri Smith Band from 11 to 11:45 a.m. Dikki Du & The Zydeco Krewe from noon to 1 p.m. Eddie Shaw & The Wolfgang from 1:15 to 2:25 p.m. Lucky Peterson from 2:40 to 3:55 p.m Kenny Neal from 4:10 to 5:20 p.m. Shemekia Copeland from 5:45 to 7 p.m. For more information and to buy discount tickets by Monday night deadline, go to: gloucesterbluesfestival.com.