Back to the Blues in Wheeling
By Kyle Knox
The blues is a genre that has endured, evolved and has always been on the move. Out of the juke joints of the southern delta and up to Memphis. Traveling further north into the electric clubs of Chicago. It would find newfound popularity across the Atlantic Ocean in England and beyond internationally – changing popular music forever.
In Wheeling, WV, from August 12-14, the blues will be alive and well at Heritage Music BluesFest for the twenty-first year. The lineup is comprised of award-winning blues musicians including festival favorites, as well as those making their debut in Wheeling.
Every August, fans travel to the banks of the Ohio River to see favorite blues musicians. It has become a tradition for many loyal blues fans across the country. The lineup itself is comprised of artists from across the country, as well as regional favorites. These fans and artists turn Heritage Port into a unique melting pot of American music culture for three days.
Back to Wheeling
In his biography The World Don’t Owe Me Nothing, the late David “Honeyboy” Edwards, one of the last bluesmen from the Robert Johnson-era, said, “The blues is something that leads you, that lays on your mind. You got to go where it leads you.” Once again, the blues will lead fans back to Heritage Port.
Dedicated blues music fans from across the county will make the annual pilgrimage to Wheeling. Making the trip to the festival, that began with humble beginnings and high hopes, is a tradition for many fans.
A dedicated group of blues fans from Atlanta, GA are among those fans that make the trip to Wheeling, WV. Jan and Allen Lazzara, blues fans and supporters, make the trip annually.
“We started coming to Wheeling in 2008,” said Lazzara. That Heritage Music BluesFest 2008 lineup would feature a legendary set with Johnny Winter & James Cotton.
Lazzara continued, “…every time we went to see a band at Darwin’s [Burgers and Blues – Marietta, Ga], [another blues fan would say] ‘…you gotta go to Wheeling.’”
The idea of a blues festival in West Virginia seemed unusual for some blues fans, as the festival was still in its early days and popularity was growing. Like many, Lazzara was skeptical but decided to give the festival a chance. “I’d say to myself, ‘Sure I’m going to drive to West Virginia for a blues festival.’ We did and life has never been the same.”
Like many other music festivals, those who come to Heritage Music BluesFest every year look forward to seeing fellow fans that they’ve grown accustomed to seeing every year. With fans having been reported as traveling from twenty-five states and four countries to the festival, Heritage Music BluesFest is a great time to reconnect with fellow fans.
“It really is the blues family reunion,” said Jan Lazzara.
Nothing But the Blues in Wheeling
Musicians are traveling from across the country to Wheeling, in addition to fans. For some artists, the summer “festival season” is a chance to reconnect with other artists that they may not see throughout the year. Likewise, it is also a chance for them to reconnect with the fans that support them from across the country. Many blues artists are independent and rely on fans support of their albums, merchandise, and ticket sales in some venues to support their income.
Austin, Texas native Ruthie Foster will return to the festival for the first time since 2013. The vocal powerhouse has shared the stage with The Allman Brothers, Bonnie Raitt and been featured as performer on the legendary Austin City Limits series in recent years. Foster’s latest album Live at the Paramount was recorded live with the Ruthie Foster Big Band at the 105-year-old Paramount Theatre.
Blues Hall of Fame inductee Joe Louis Walker will also make his return to the festival. Born in San Francisco, California, Joe Louis Walker grew up in the Bay Area music scene and was introduced to Mike Bloomfield and the Grateful Dead early in life. However, Walker would combine his own music with gospel, jazz, and more to push the boundaries of the blues. Walker was recently featured as a guest artist on the Dion album Blues with Friends on I Got Nothin’ with Dion & Van Morrison.
King Solomon Hicks is making his debut at Heritage Music BluesFest. The young guitarist, from the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, has been making an impact in the blues scene with his appropriately named album, Harlem. The culture of the city impacted Hicks music, who began playing the Cotton Club as early as thirteen years old.
Festival favorites will also return to the twenty-first annual festival. Victor Wainwright & the Train, a Savannah, GA native by way of Memphis, TN, will make his return. Other fan favorites such as JP Soars and the Red Hots, Damon Fowler, Nighthawks, and more will also make their return.
Making their debut at the festival this year will be Kat Riggins, the Katie Henry Band.
While many musicians travel from across the country to Heritage Music BluesFest, it is the regional talent on the second stage that is often most impressive to many fans. This year’s Second Stage lineup includes the Catch Blues Band, Lil’ Red & the Rooster, Patrick McLaughlin, the Sarah Hays Band. Western Pennsylvania native Pierce Dipner, who impressed many on the second stage in 2020, will also be back on the second stage.
A History of Great Blues
Over twenty-one years, the lineups of Heritage Music BluesFest have grown to be an astounding list. Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, Blues Hall of Famers, GRAMMY award winners, Blues Music Award winners and those who have recorded on some of the most important albums in music history. Yet defining the best performances at Heritage Music BluesFest are different for everyone.
For some fans, it is performances by rock and roll and blues icons such as Levon Helm of The Band, Buddy Guy, Dr. John, Taj Mahal, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and more.
It may be the moments that you never expect. Such as a young Joe Bonamassa in 2003 proving that you never know what will become of a young artist that step across the stage. Surprise jams such as Elvin Bishop with Pat Harrington of Victor Wainwright and the Train. An unforgettable jam occurred in 2015 between Walter Trout, who had recovered from a life-threatening illness and former bandmate Coco Montoya
To many blues fans, it may be legends such as Hubert Sumlin (the famed Howlin’ Wolf Band guitarist), Pinetop Perkins, Willie Big Eyes Smith, Lonnie Brooks, Robert Lockwood Jr., James Cotton and more have also appeared at the festival.
Regardless of what fans favorite moments may be, they all occurred at Heritage Music BluesFest. The real question is what the next great moment will be at the twenty-first annual Heritage Music BluesFest.
Get you Heritage Music BluesFest Tickets Here
Friday, August 12, 2022
Katie Henry Band
Saturday, August 13, 2022
Billy the Kid & the Regulators
The Nighthawks 50th Anniversary
Brandon Santini Band
King Solomon Hicks
Blood Bros Jam
Sunday, August 14, 2022
Micah Kesselring, Pat Harrington & Owen Fichensehr
Gracie Curran & the High Falutin’ Band
JP Soars and the Red Hots
Joe Louis Walker
Victor Wainwright & the Train