TCannon3575259Drenched by rain and pushed around by the rising river, organizers of the Mississippi Valley Blues Fest have had ample reason to sing down-on-their-luck dirges over the past few years, even having to cancel last year’s event, but festival organizers are singing a happy tune going into the 31st annual fest this weekend. (For more info, see their site at http://mvbs.org/fest/.)

“We feel good and optimistic about this year’s Festival,” said Stan Furlong, a member of the Mississippi Valley Blues Society and an organizer of the event. “The river is about six feet below the sidewalk in LeClaire Park.”

LeClaire will once more be the spot for the bluestravaganza, which begins at 5 p.m. Friday and stretches through that evening and all day Saturday and into the indigo of that night. And as with all of the previous 30 blues fests, it’s a labor of love featuring a rich and diverse array of artists.

“People like our Festival because it’s produced by volunteers who aren’t trying to get rich,” Furlong said. “We’re just trying to bring the music to as many people as possible. A lot of people from Chicago come to our Festival. There may be more famous performers at the Chicago Blues Festival, but there are 300,000 people between you and those musicians.

“The highlights are Shawn Holt & the Teardrops, The Cash Box Kings and Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat,” Furlong continued. “There will be local and regional talent playing near the beer tent between sets on the bandshell. The music will never stop while the Festival is happening.”

It’s appropriate to have it on the weekend leading into the birthday of the United States, Furlong said.
“Blues music is the source of most American music and heavily influences the rest of American music,” he said. “This includes classical and country. It’s been said that anyone can sing the blues and that it’s the simplest music. That just makes it better when it’s performed with excellence.”

And much like the lyrics of their favorite tunes, the organizers have just kept on pushing forward through all of the adversity that’s engulfed them like so much river water over the years.

“We want everyone to know that the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival is back!” Furlong said.

Tickets can be purchased at the festival gate (Ripley Street & Beiderbecke Drive) for $15 on Friday and $20 on Saturday, July 2. Kids 14 and under are free with a paid adult.

Here’s the lineup for the 2016 Mississippi Valley Blues Fest:

Friday, July 1

5:00 pm Frankie Fontagne and the Ramblers : Ms. Fontagne and the Ramblers pay homage to their many influences and offer original songs in a high energy, funky package featuring Frankie Fontagne fronting vocals, Shawn “Skoy” Harris on guitar, Andrew Durham on harmonica and tenor sax, Bob Rosenstiel laying down the bass, and Bryan West rocking the drums.

7:00 pm Toronzo Cannon : Toronzo Cannon has been playing the Chicago  Blues music circuit for over 15 years, building up a name for himself from sideman to bandleader. With recent performances from the Grolsch Blues Festival in Germany to the Chicago Blues Festival, Toronzo is making his name known all over the globe, charming audiences with his stories, guitar licks, and a laugh that will guarantee to make you smile.

9:00 pm  Tweed Funk : Formed in late 2010, Tweed Funk’s national ascent has been driven by their horn-fueled, Memphis-flavored  Blues, roots, and soul. This Milwaukee based six-piece soul- Blues revue is fronted by Joseph “Smokey” Holman, who recorded under Curtis Mayfield in the early ‘70s. New band members Dave Schoepke on drums and percussion, and Andrew Spadafora on tenor and baritone sax, are key components of Tweed Funk’s sound, along with Travis Drow on trumpet, Eric Madunic playing bass and keys, JD Optekar on guitar, and Smokey singing lead vocals.

11:00 pm Shawn Holt & the Teardrops : Shawn Holt started playing the  Blues at the age of 17, when he went on the road with this father (Morris Holt, the great Magic Slim) and Slim’s brother, Uncle Nick Holt and The Teardrops. After his father’s death in 2013, Shawn Holt put together a new generation of the Teardrops to continue the tradition. The Teardrops consist of Levi William on guitar and vocals, Vern Taylor playing drums and singing vocals, and Russell Jackson playing the bass.

Saturday, July 2

The  Blues will continue on the Bandshell starting with the National Anthem at 1:25pm and rolling into these 6 acts:

1:30 pm Juliana & a Soul Purpose : Juliana Logan began her melodic journey participating in The RME Rock Camp, Winter Blues Program, open mic nights, and songwriters in the round for the past 7 years. Matthew Dilulio plays drums and percussion for Juliana & a Soul Purpose. Tommy Davies has been playing the piano for 11 years. The guitar player is 15-year-old Austin Michael Wanfalt, from Wappello, Iowa, who has been playing guitar for 5 years. Rounding out the band are Haley (18) on vocals and Cloey Schultheis (15) on bass.

3:00 pm Shane Johnson’s Blue Train : Formed in late 1997, Blue Train is Shane Johnson on guitars, Tony Carton on drums, “Detroit” Larry Davison on harmonica, and John Resch on vocals and electric bass. Shane Johnson’s Blue Train first came on the local scene by winning the Quad Cities segment of the Iowa Blues Challenge.  After several years apart, the original lineup will reunite when Shane Johnson, now based in Austin TX, will return to the Quad Cities for a set you won’t want to miss!

5:00 pm Ellis Kell Band : Bandleader Ellis Kell has spearheaded many music education programs throughout the year, including a week-long program dedicated to the Blues each winter. Bandmates Terry Hanson, Tony Hoeppner, “Detroit” Larry Davison, Rick Stoneking and John Burchett have also been ambassadors for the  Blues and music education, assisting with programs both at the RME and through the Mississippi Valley Blues Society’s Blues in the Schools programs. Their music continues to be infectious for dancing and appeals to ears young and old, as they present a timeless sound of  Blues, rock, and roots influences.

7:00 pm Laura Rain & the Caesars : Laura Rain & the Caesars are a powerhouse soul,  Blues, and R&B quartet. Laura Rain has been performing on the Detroit and Los Angeles music scenes for well over a decade. The Caesars are veterans of the Motor City’s R&B, Jazz, Rock, and Blues scenes. Producer, co-writer, and guitarist George Friend, another Detroit native, returned home from L.A., and has made his mark in multiple genres—Rockabilly (Robert Gordon), R&B (The Sun Messengers), and  Blues (Janiva Magness). Phil Hale has played keyboards for everyone from Martha Reeves to George Clinton, Stanley Jordan, Bettye Lavette, and James Carter. Drummer Ron Pangborn, an original member of Was (Not Was), lays down beats that are perfectly fitted to the Caesars’ retro-modern Soul and  Blues.

jimsuhlerplane9:00 pm  Jim Suhler and Monkey Beat : A lot of people might know Jim Suhler as the lead/rhythm guitarist for George Thorogood and The Destroyers, playing at all of their shows and on all of their albums since 1999. The Dallas, Texas based group is known for their no-holds-barred approach to  Blues-inspired Rock & Roll and Blues music. The band’s current line-up has included Shawn Phares on keyboards since 2000, Beau Chadwell on drums since 2011, and Chris Alexander on bass and backing vocals since 2014.

11:00 pm Cash Box Kings : Blind Pig recording artists the Cash Box Kings are keeping real-deal, old-school Chicago Blues alive and thriving! The Cash Box Kings are fronted by Joe Nosek, who writes and arranges songs, sings, and channels the spirits of Little Walter and Slim Harpo on harmonica, and singer and songwriter Oscar Wilson, a 6’3” 300-pound Muddy Waters-type throwback to the heyday of the Chicago Blues scene. The group is rounded out by Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith hitting the drums, and Joel Paterson bring the guitar and vocals in the mix, augmented by a rotating cast of honorary Kings.

Sean Leary is an author, director, artist, musician, producer and entrepreneur who has been writing professionally since debuting at age 11 in the pages of the Comics Buyers Guide. An honors graduate of the University of Southern California masters program, he has written almost 30 books including the best-sellers The Arimathean, Every Number is Lucky to Someone and We Are All Characters.