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VOL. 131 | NO. 146 | Friday, July 22, 2016

2nd Bona Fide Blues Festival Keeps Lineup Local

By Bill Dries

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John Gemmill, the president of the Memphis Blues Society, says there is a standard look to blues festivals – a poster with a guitar player and “fill-in-the-name-of-the-city blues festival,” and a lineup that includes performers from all over the place.

David Evans, left, and Sharde Thomas play the blues at the Wednesday, July 20, announcement of the lineup for the second annual Bona Fide Blues Festival, to be held Sept. 30  and Oct. 1 in Overton Square.

(Daily News/Bill Dries)

The society’s Bona Fide Blues Festival is a challenge to that.

“We are surrounded by the countryside that created the blues, and for decades people have been coming here and people have been coming from all around to soak in the atmosphere,” Gemmill said. “There’s a huge blues scenes. We’ve got Delta blues. We’ve got kind of the second generation of hill country. We’ve got some of the best of Southern soul. We’ve got people who played at Sid Selvidge’s festival in 1969 playing at our festival.”

The Memphis Blues Society announced the lineup for the second annual Bona Fide Blues Festival Wednesday, July 20, at the Blues Hall of Fame on South Main Street. The Daily News is a sponsor of the festival.

The lineup includes Leo “Bud” Welch, Watermelon Slim, Sons of Mudboy, Booker Brown, Southern Avenue, Marcella and Her Lovers, Ruby Wilson and Wampus Cats.

The festival, scheduled for Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 in Overton Square, features 30 performers from the Memphis region in three different settings: the square’s outdoor stage, the showcase stage at Lafayette’s Music Room and a smaller stage at the Blue Monkey that Gemmill likened to a juke joint in its atmosphere.

“The Blue Monkey gets wild,” Gemmill said. “It’s a smoky Midtown bar. It’s great at 8 o’clock. It’s really nice at 9. At midnight it just starts to cook – the Blue Monkey turns into a real juke joint.”

Wristbands that cover admission to all shows at Lafayette’s and The Blue Monkey are at bonafidebluesfest.com. Shows at the outdoor stage are free.

“They are great artists who really don’t play here a lot,” said Rattlebone Jones, a Memphis Blues Society board member, of the lineup. ”We have so much blues talent, but it’s hard to get more than $100 to play a blues gig,”

The festival was founded with the idea of highlighting blues artists from Memphis and the surrounding area in venues that offer a mix of locals and those traveling to see the blues.

The first Bona Fide Blues Festival drew an audience of 4,000, with half from outside the region and a quarter from overseas.

Before this year’s festival, performers Cedric Burnside and Sharde Thomas will teach master classes at the Stax Music Academy, with a national grant funding the classes.

Gemmill said the festival is continuing its effort at “changing the economics of the blues.”

“We will not pay less than $100 a man,” he said. “I’m almost embarrassed to say that’s a standard. To me it’s barely a living wage. But it’s double what people regularly work for in this area.”

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