Saturday, September 22, 2018

Local Entertainment

Blues back in Chippewa: Organizers excited about weekend’s lineup

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    Howard Luedtke plays a guitar solo during the first day of the Northwoods Blues Festival on June 30, 2017, in Chippewa Falls.

    Staff file photo

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    The audience cheers after Howard Luedtke and Blue Max played a set during the first day of the Northwoods Blues Festival on Friday, June 30, 2017 at the Northern Wisconsin State Fairgrounds in Chippewa Falls.

    Staff file photo

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    Blues-rock guitarist Coco Montoya will headline the Northwoods Blues Festival at 9:30 p.m. Saturday in Chippewa Falls.

    Contributed photo

Performing in a studio has its perks — perfectly pitched sound, ability to alter the final product and a quiet, safe space to record — but Northwoods Blues Festival’s Saturday night headliner thinks a live performance is much more real. 

Coco Montoya, a contemporary blues rock artist who has been performing solo since 1993, will bring his energy-filled show to Chippewa Falls for the annual blues festival that runs Friday and Saturday at the Northern Wisconsin State Fairgrounds, 225 Edward St. 

“The imperfections of live performing are the beauty of actually playing,” Montoya said. “(Recording) is kind of like airbrushing — all those little beauty marks and things like that are the character of the person and it removes the real beauty. Live music has its small flaws, but that’s the magic.” 

True to that sentiment, Montoya said he doesn’t bring a set list with him on stage. Instead, he gauges what the next song should be based on the audience’s reaction. 

“It takes you on such an emotional roller coaster for the artists as well as the audience,” he said. “That’s the most rewarding show you can go to.”

He’ll be bringing that ride to the fairgrounds at 9:30 p.m. Saturday. But he’s not the only talented musician to grace this year’s stage. 

Steve Rheaume, one of Northwoods Blues Festival’s organizers, said he is proud of the diverse and talented lineup the festival was able to draw this year, from the headliners down to the side stage acts.

As an example, Rheaume referenced Joyann Parker, an Americana blues artist from Minneapolis. She’s beginning to make a name for herself in the area, but when Rheaume booked her he had to tell her they didn’t have any room on the main stage. 

She accepted a side stage slot.

“So she takes the slot, and a month and a half later puts out a new album and it’s the number one spot in the nation — and this is our side stage act,” he said. “The quality of our entertainment is extraordinary.”

Parker’s album, “Hard to Love,” charted No. 1 on the Roots Music Report’s Blues Chart when it debuted at the end of May. She will perform during the 3, 5 and 7 p.m. slots of Saturday’s side stage. 

Local talent Howard “Guitar” Luedtke and Blue Max will kick off the festival at 1:30 p.m. Friday like they have for each of its six years Regional acts Reverend Raven and the Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys and The Jimmys are also crowd favorites, Rheaume said. Not to mention Friday night’s headliner, the talented guitarist Jimmy Thackery and guitar player Albert Castiglia, who will open for Thackery.

Rheaume, an avid blues fan himself, said they couldn’t have asked for better names — which he attributes more to luck than anything.

“It’s like my golf game, I’d rather be lucky than good,” he said. “In this one, when we were singing bands up, I think we got really lucky.” 

Rheaume said this year’s Northwoods Blues Festival also will feature a wider variety of food and beverage options and a free shuttle going to and from every hotel within a 15-mile radius of the festival grounds. 

Though it has grown in size since the festival moved to the fairgrounds last year after running from 2012 to 2015 in Spooner, Rheaume said they are aiming to keep the intimate feel of the festival. He expects a crowd of around 3,000 people over both days, up from around 2,000 people last year.

Plus, there will be an after party at Loopy’s Grill & Saloon, 10691 Highway X in Chippewa Falls, with live music from Becky Barksdale on Friday and The Mark Cameron Band on Saturday beginning at 11 p.m. The free shuttle will also run to and from Loopy’s. 

For blues fans, there’s plenty to be excited about. But even for national acts such as Montoya, the festival has something to offer. 

Though Montoya has never been to the area, he was humbled to be asked to perform at the Northwoods Blues Festival, and is excited to bring his talented band.

“It’s a great honor when you know somebody’s been listening and wants to have you at their venue,” Montoya said. “I want to come out there and play as best I can.” 

Contact reporter: 715-833-9214,, @KatherineMacek on Twitter


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