The 12th annual Blues on the Chippewa festival in Durand will again fill Memorial Park, and this year the event will add more vibrancy to the city’s downtown area as well.
The event, set for Friday through Sunday, Aug. 4, will feature the mix of national and regional blues stars that loyal audience members have come to expect.
As BOTC has traditionally done, the park festivities will end at 10 p.m., and the revelry will move to the local taverns. New this year, the number of bars offering live music has grown from two to five Saturday, and attendees can enjoy drinks outdoors from the festival and down Main Street to the Corral Bar, 318 W. Main St., from the start of the fest Friday to its finish on Aug 4.
“On the entire street you can have an open container, so you don’t have to worry about getting in trouble for that,” said Faith Ulwelling, BOTC treasurer, event coordinator and herself one of the performers. The bars hosting live music are the Corral, Rooster Tail, Bohdi’s, Cell Block and the Spot Bar.
Asked to name some of the acts she expects to be especially popular with the crowd, Ulwelling spoke about a few:
• CeCe Teneal & Soul Kamotion, a Florida-based blues-soul-roots band, take the stage at 8:30 p.m. Friday.
Among lead singer Teneal’s credits, her first music video, “Eleanor Rigby,” was exclusively premiered on the Huffington Post. She has been nominated for three Independent Music Awards and claimed their title for 2011 Best Gospel Song (“I Heard you Prayin’”) and Best R & B Album. Her other accolades include the 2015 Touch the Mic Muse Award and Best Female Singer at the 2009-2010 Orlando Hip-Hop Awards.
“She is just an amazing powerhouse vocalist,” Ulwelling said. “She’s somewhere between Beyonce, Tina Turner, Etta James and Aretha Franklin.”
• On Saturday, closer Walter Wolfman Washington & the Roadmasters will take the stage at 8:30 p.m. Saturday.
Washington has been a mainstay in the New Orleans music scene since the early 1960s, his website says. He has backed notable singers such as Lee Dorsey, Johnny Adams and Irma Thomas before forming the Roadmasters in the 1980s.
“They are one of the greater acts that are still touring in the world today as far as blues music goes,” Ulwelling said. “They’re just legendary.”
• Minnesota’s highly acclaimed blues band Lamont Cranston will perform at 6:15 p.m. Saturday.
Led by harmonica great Pat Hayes, the Cranstons have shared stages with Muddy Waters, Luther Allison, Albert King, Albert Collins, Jimmy Rogers, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Keb Mo, Jonny Lang, Robert Cray, Son Seals, Charlie Musselwhite, Little Feat, the Kinks, Yes and Bonnie Raitt. They also served as opening act for the Rolling Stones on a leg of their North American tour in 1981.
“It’s Lamont Cranston’s 50-year anniversary of being a band,” Ulwelling said.
• The Jimmys, a seven-piece band from the Madison area, will perform at 6:15 p.m. Friday.
They have earned praise from such greats as Marcia Ball, Tinsley Ellis and Bryan Lee.
“They’re a crowd favorite,” Ulwelling said.
• Canadian guitar wizard Gary Cain is set for 4 p.m. Saturday.
Cain describes his music as Twangadelic Bluesophunk, and Ulwelling called him simply “a virtuoso.”
• Other performers Ulwelling mentioned include Eau Claire band South Farwell, playing at 2:15 p.m. Aug. 4, and 19-year-old Jontavious Willis (recently touring with Keb Mo), who has the stage at noon Aug. 4.
“Every act is pretty amazing,” she said.
The previously mentioned artists and others on the bill showcase the wide spectrum of musical styles embraced by blues music in general and BOTC in particular.
“It’s not just all traditional blues,” Ulwelling said. “We do every kind of blues so it’s a change of pace. We’ve got zydeco coming out of San Francisco this year,” referring to Black Cat Zydeco, performing at noon Saturday.
Aug. 4 headliner Anthony Gomes, Canada born and now living in St. Louis, also represents the blues’ big tent, turning out a fusion of blues, rock and soul. The singer-guitarist’s honors include Best Musician/Live Performance Winner at the 2017 European Blues Awards and earning 3.5 million plays on Spotify for his song “Love Sweet Love.”
Blues at a bargain
An obvious question: How do the organizers attract such a high-caliber lineup with no admission charge.
Ulwelling in part credits the organizers and others for “a lot of volunteer work and a lot of caring.” “We’re a really close-knit group,” she said. “Most of us went to high school together.” She added: “We just work our butts off all year round doing fundraisers and drumming up sponsorships to get it done.”
Besides handling various duties related to the festival, Ulwelling, a singer, will perform with the band Jambalaya at 1 p.m. Saturday on the Durand Builders Local Stage. Another band she’s in, Left Wing Bourbon, won’t be performing this year after playing at all of the previous BOTCs.
Along with the work of the organizers, those attending the event also have pitched in generously, Ulwelling has found.
“People have been really good about donating when they’re at the festival,” she said. “We’ll go around with tip jars. ... They know what this festival would cost them if they paid for it anywhere else so they’re usually pretty cool about giving back to us, and then our sponsors are huge.”
This year again blues fans are welcome to offer a donation to charities the festival supports, including the Brent Titus Music for Children Program and the Pepin County Food Pantry.
Other beneficiaries of generosity, music scholarship recipients, will even be performing – at 5:30 p.m. Saturday on the local stage.
The crowd helps in other ways besides financially.
“The blues crowd — they’re pretty familial, I would say,” Ulwelling said. “They do shifts bartending with us, and they help us clean things up.”
About 6,000 people come to Memorial Park during the weekend, Ulwelling said, “and most of them are really pretty cool.”
Ulwelling also shared the following reminders blues fans are advised to keep in mind:
• Pets are not allowed in the park.
• There is free overflow camping at the Rolling Greens Golf Course, but lodging is difficult to come by in the area.
“You can’t come in and just find someplace unless you’re willing to sleep in your car or a tent,” she said.
• No large umbrellas are allowed in the concert area.
Despite the substantial effort that goes into the festival, Ulwelling said she and fellow organizers do typically get to enjoy a taste of the music they’re presenting.
“I usually get to hear a little bit of not everything but usually the headliners,” she said. “By then we’re pretty good so we can relax.”