The Big Bluesy blows into town

Contact Reporterhbridges@vagazette.com

Think of The Big Bluesy as a family reunion.

Among the 16 bands performing at Williamsburg's inaugural two-day blues festival, many of the musicians already know each other, support each other and play together.

"We call it the blues family," said bluesman Bobby "BlackHat" Walters. "The 757 blues family, and I include the 804 in that too."

On Sept. 17 and 18, The Big Bluesy brings that family together across two stages at Jamestown Beach Event Park. It's the first stand-alone event from CultureFix, the cultural events nonprofit launched in May by Williamsburg Event Rentals owner Steve Rose and Quirks of Art owner Jennifer Raines.

With rousing response to the Saturday blues event at January's Winter Blues Jazz Festival, started by Rose and Raines, The Big Bluesy seemed a good idea. It also filled a gap left by the cancellation of the Blues at the Beach festival.

But the event's relevance resonates most in considering the region's density of blues talent. Walters said that, from Hampton Roads to Richmond, seven bands have made it to the semi-finals or finals of the International Blues Challenge, a yearly competition in Memphis, Tenn.

"It's pretty remarkable," Walters said.

Five of those seven will take to the Big Bluesy stages, including Walters' own band, the Bobby BlackHat Band, finalists at the 2016 International Blues Challenge.

A driving force in the Hampton Roads blues community, Walters curated the lineup, and he'll emcee the festival.

Performers include Anthony Rosano and The Conqueroos, Seth Stainback and Roosterfoot, Forrest McDonald Band, Slam Allen, Bobby BlackHat Band with Dirty Red, Herbie D and the Dangermen, The Bush League, Billy Joe Trio, The Groove Cats, In Layman Terms, The Doc Robin Band, On The Verge, Atiba Taylor, Andrew Ballantyne, Dikon and Vallet and Amy Ferebee.

"We're going to try to cover the broad brush of blues," Walters said. From full bands to solo acts, rising musicians to veteran performers.

The only musician coming from outside of Virginia is Slam Allen, who played for several years with blues great James Cotton.

"Being able to listen to 16 different bands over a two-day period is so unique for our area," Rose said.

And even more, listening to those bands back-to-back. Rose said music will continue almost non-stop, alternating from a main stage to an adjacent smaller stage.

"Whenever I do a new event, I'm just excited to see how the public reacts to it," Rose said.

An element of excitement ties into the venue at Jamestown Beach Event Park.

The property has undergone development by James City County over the past year to include clearing the grounds and installing power, according to Jody Puckett, the county's communications director. Puckett said future developments might include bringing in water and sewers.

"Every year, we're just going to look at new opportunities to keep increasing it, so that we can provide something not only for the community, but also be part of our Williamsburg destination and draw visitors into the county as well," Puckett said.

Local musician Billy Joe Daniels remembers camping at Jamestown Beach while growing up. Next weekend, his blues rock band Billy Joe Trio will perform close to where he Daniels once camped.

But Daniels, who's played music in the area since he was a kid, also remembers something else: "When I came back to Williamsburg (from Los Angeles), there wasn't much of a music scene at that time, around 2009."

Billy Joe Trio will represent the Natchel' Blues Network at the 2017 International Blues Challenge. For the Big Bluesy, Daniels said the band plans to perform originals, as well as some unusual covers, including a medley of Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love" and Blind Melon's "No Rain."

That's what Walters loves about the local music scene: "We have folks here creating fresh, original music in the blues genre," he said. "I always appreciate when folks take a part of themselves and bring it out and share it with everyone, because as musicians we're in the unique position to create something fresh and new."

Walters said collaborations among musicians during the festival will be encouraged. They're family, after all.

As Walters often says: "You never know what's going to happen at a Bobby BlackHat show."

Bridges can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342.

Want to go?

When: 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m., Sept. 17; 12-7 p.m., Sept. 18

Where: Jamestown Beach Event Park, 2205 Jamestown Road

Tickets: $100/VIP pass (includes parking), $50/general admission pass, $35/Saturday, $30/Sunday, $5/parking pass

Tickets available at culture-fix.org.

Copyright © 2017, The Virginia Gazette