Bobby BlackHat's rule #1? Have fun

For 24 years Williamsburg’s First Night celebration brought more than 40 musical acts to venues across the area on New Year’s Eve. Its cancellation last year left a musical void Bobby “BlackHat” Walters chose to fill with the blues.

The musician rang in the New Year at the Kimball Theatre for eight years straight and come this Dec. 31, you’ll still find him on the same stage.

“I tell people on New Year’s Eve, Kimball Theatre is my house,” Walters said. “I said I’d like to go ahead and put together a blues show to keep that tradition going. It sold out and we had a wonderful time.”

Walters has organized the second annual Bobby BlackHat Walters Blues Spectacular on Dec. 31 at the Kimball.

He said the celebration features uptempo, fun sounds for the holiday, contrary to many people’s doleful impression of blues. He hopes to create a space for families and people of all ages to celebrate the New Year.

“I know a lot of people like to go out on New Year’s Eve, but they don’t necessarily want to stay out when all the real madness starts,” Walters said.

This year’s lineup features four Virginia-based jazz and blues acts, including opener Parker and Gray. The group was a semifinalist at last year’s International Blues Challenge in Memphis, which welcomes musicians from around the world to compete in front of a panel of blues professionals.

Other acts will include Little Doors, Fade to Blue and Sharon Rae North, a jazz vocalist.

“Williamsburg has become quite a music mecca. (Little Doors) do blues but have a different take on old classics, which I think people will be fascinated with,” Walters said. “We’ve got Fade to Blue, they’re the veteran blues musicians in the area that have come together.”

Alewerks Brewing Company is the primary sponsor of the event, along with Triangle, Cogan’s Deli and Sports Pub and CultureFix, a local nonprofit seeking to promote cultural and creative energy in the region.

CultureFix’s director at large Shirley Vermillion remembers seeing Walters at the Kimball 14 years ago, soon after she moved to the area.

“He’s one of the ambassadors of the music scene in the 7-5-7,” Vermillion said. “When I heard Bobby onstage at the Kimball that night I thought, ‘this is what I’ve been looking for.’ He gave me hope for a music scene.”

Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Walters is a retired Coast Guard Commander. He now works as a recording artist, harp and harmonica player, singer, songwriter and actor. Most recently, Walters won the USAA/We Are The Mighty Mission: Music national competition and was a 2016 finalist in the International Blues Challenge.

“Well, first of all, everybody loves the blues they just don’t know it yet. Our rule number one is to have fun. I keep my shows loose and unpredictable,” Walters said. “I never know what’s going to happen in my show until it happens.”

Want to go?

Bobby BlackHat Walters Blues Spectacular will be at the Kimball Theatre on Merchants Square from 6-10 p.m. on Dec. 31.

Doors for general admission ticket holders open at 5:30 p.m. and those with early-entry tickets may arrive at 5 p.m. Early-entry tickets are sold out. Tickets at $25 are available through Eventbrite.com, the Kimball box office or the College of William and Mary events webpage.

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