Winter Blues Jazz Fest return brings heat

Fighting the frostbite of January is no small task. But CultureFix is bringing the Winter Blues Jazz Fest back for a fourth year of live music and fun Jan. 11-14 to help keep the community warm.

“We try our best to try and bring in some fresh and creative musicians,” said music coordinator and blues artist Bobby “BlackHat” Walters. “We have a lot of talent in the area and we have a lot of talent outside the area, so we try to mix it up.”

The Williamsburg festival spans four days and a myriad of venues, including the Kimball Theatre and the Williamsburg Winery.

“A lot of jazz festivals are one very large day event with thousands of people. This is not that,” said CultureFix founder and president Steve Rose. “We’re looking for more intimate events.”

Performers include area staples such as Vexine, Good Shot Judy and the Jacob Vanko Band.

“They’re high-energy bands,” Walters said. “There’s musicians who play and perform and there’s musicians who entertain. We really want musicians who can entertain.”

The goal of the entire endeavor is to offer a good time during a time of year that’s often devoid of such opportunities. The festival kicks off with a party at Williamsburg Winery, headlined by the Trutone Honeys and 504 Supreme.

Other festival events include Mixology and Music, which combines samplings from area bartenders with the tunes of the North Carolina-based Mint Julep Jazz Band. Rose said the group serves as the main out-of-town act during this year’s festival.

The Art of Jazz event pairs New York’s Harris Simon Group with drinks, cheese and charcuterie at the Muscarelle Museum of Art. DoG Street Pub’s Barrelhouse Bash similarly combines libation tastings, gourmet food and live music from Vexine and others.

The Sunday Jazz Wind Down, a new event at the recently opened Amber Ox Public House on Prince George Street, offers hot chocolate, cupcakes and hours of jazz music by Hamed and Friends — all for free, with additional food and drinks available for purchase.

The Kimball Theatre’s Sax Challenge Extravaganza, which pits saxophone musicians against one another and culminates in an unscripted jam session, showcases what Walters finds so captivating about this style of music.

“I like my blues to be in the moment,” he said. “You just want to feel the music, feel the passion. I think that’s when music is at its best.”

Rose said that about 50 percent of attendees come from out of town, from places such as Virginia Beach, Richmond and Maryland.

“We built it with locals initially, and they’re inviting their friends and guests to come to town,” he said.

Last year’s festival sold about 1,800 tickets; Rose expects the number to approach 2,000 for the 2018 edition.

“Tickets are selling really well this year,” he said. “It’s definitely way ahead of last year.”

For Walters, it’s easy to see why so many people find the January festival appealing.

“These days, people just need some fun. People are just looking for an opportunity to shake their booties in fellowship with their neighbors and friends,” Walters said. “It’s been a crazy year. Folks need a little release.”

Want to go?

The 2018 Winter Blues Jazz Fest runs Jan. 11-14 at various locations in Williamsburg. Tickets start at $25; the Sunday Jazz Wind Down at Amber Ox Public House is free but ticketed.

For a complete schedule and tickets, visit

Birkenmeyer can be reached by phone at 757-790-3029.

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