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North Atlantic Blues Festival set for Rockland’s Harbor Park this weekend

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ROCKLAND – It will feel like homecoming at Harbor Park in Rockland on July 10 and 11 when blues fans and musicians alike will gather together for the 28th annual North Atlantic Blues Festival. The two-day festival featuring nationally known blues performers has become one of the genre’s most prestigious on the east coast.

North Atlantic Blues Festival founder Paul Benjamin says he and his staff are especially excited about this year’s event after being forced to abandon plans to hold the festival in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

During an interview with The Maine Edge, Benjamin says it wasn’t until late May when he felt “a thousand percent comfortable” that everything would take place as scheduled without restrictions. As of May 24, all capacity limits for indoor and outdoor gatherings were lifted and all physical distancing requirements were eliminated by the governor.

Advance tickets for the festival have been available solely online which Benjamin says was due to the fact that social tracing was still a priority in March when the decision was made to move forward with the event. Benjamin says sales are outpacing previous years.

“Online sales have been way above what we’ve done in the past, but I need to take into consideration what we sold in the outlets in the past,” Benjamin said. “We’ve sold more tickets than we have for any festival in the past at this point, sales have been phenomenal.”

Nearly every blues band and artist scheduled to appear at the abandoned 2020 edition of the North Atlantic Blues Festival was able to adjust their schedule to appear on this year’s bill, Benjamin says, with one exception.

European-based trio Blues Caravan discovered last week that their flights to Maine had been cancelled. As the members were to arrive from different areas, rescheduling flights for the musicians to arrive on time was unworkable, according to Benjamin.

In place of Blues Caravan will be Memphis Lightning, a band originally from Maine, currently based in Florida, featuring 23-year-old guitarist Darren “Lightnin’” Thiboutot Jr.

Guitar legend Jimmie Vaughan, brother of late blues legend Stevie Ray Vaughan said of Thiboutot, “He’s one of the greatest guitar players around today.” The young musician has recorded or performed with Buddy Guy, Eddie Kirkland, and Tab Benoit, among others. Memphis Lightning is scheduled to open the 2021 North Atlantic Blues Festival on Saturday at 11:15 a.m.

Gumbo, Grits & Gravy, an all-star trio comprised of Guy Davis, Anne Harris and Marcella Simien, will make their festival debut on Saturday at 12:30 p.m.

The five-piece band Tennessee Redemption will make their NABF debut on Saturday at 1:45 p.m.

Blues harmonica great Jason Ricci will bring his band to the festival for the first time on Saturday at 3:15 p.m. Ricci has performed at the festival in prior years as part of the all-star Blues Harmonica Blowout.

The Johnny Rawls Soul Revue, featuring Dave Keller and Lady D, will close the first day of the North Atlantic Blues Festival on Saturday at 4:45 p.m.

A variety of blues bands will perform in the area on Friday night before the festival begins, and also on Saturday evening after the first day of performances is complete, during the official NABF “club crawl,” when Main St. will be closed to traffic. Benjamin said his involvement in helping plan the event and book the bands for the club crawl is an example of the festival giving back to the city.

“Some people can’t afford to go to the blues festival, so we pay for the city to shut down Main St. and have the bands play on the street, it’s free to everybody,” Benjamin said, adding “We actually shut down U.S. Rte. 1 on a Saturday night in July which is kind of cool when you think about it.”

As the Saturday night club crawl is taking place, Benjamin says the Maine CDC will conduct a pop-up Covid-19 vaccination clinic from 6:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. at Winslow Holbrook Park on the corner of Park and Main St.

“We feel it’s a good thing to do and it helps keep everyone safe,” Benjamin said. Everyone who receives a vaccine at the site on Saturday evening will receive free copies of Benjamin’s book “Heart of Blues: 25 Years of the North Atlantic Blues Festival” and a three-DVD set showcasing nearly four hours of performance highlights from past editions of the festival.

The festival’s second day on Sunday, July 11, will begin with an opening performance from the Midcoast Music Academy’s “Blues Camp Kids,” beginning at 10:30 a.m.

“It gives the kids a chance to see what it’s like to perform on the big stage,” Benjamin said.

Beginning at 11:15 a.m. on Sunday, Thornetta Davis will make her first NABF appearance. Known as “Detroit’s Queen of the Blues,” Davis has performed with Bonnie Raitt, Etta James and Gladys Knight, and has recorded with Bob Seger.

Louisiana-born Singer and multi-instrumentalist Tullie Brae will make her first appearance at the North Atlantic Blues Festival on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. She has headlined several festivals, and has performed with B.B. King, Taj Mahal, and Ruthie Foster, among others.

Singer and guitarist Ana Popovic, originally from Serbia, and currently residing in the U.S., is scheduled to take the stage on Sunday at 1:15 p.m. She has released 11 albums to date, including a triple album set. Her latest release is the double live album “Live for Life” released last year.

Guitarist Coco Montoya is scheduled to perform at 3:15 p.m. on Sunday. The left-handed guitarist, a former member of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, learned under the guidance of late blues legend Albert Collins. His latest album is 2019’s “Coming in Hot.”

Chicago blues great Ronnie Baker Brooks is scheduled to take the stage at the North Atlantic Blues Festival Sunday at 4:30 p.m., followed by an encore set of music featuring both Brooks and Montoya performing a tribute to Albert Collins. Brooks has previously appeared at NABF with his family as Brooks Family Blues Dynasty, and with his band back in 2005.

Nashville-based musician RB Stone is scheduled to perform between acts both Saturday and Sunday. His latest album is “Out of the Box,” a cigar-box guitar project recorded with Ben Rice.

Benjamin said he’s most looking forward to seeing the bands have a great time on stage and putting smiles on faces in the audience.

“That’s my reward and it’s what I look forward to every year,” Benjamin said. “Not having that last year was a big gap. We are ready for a huge weekend with the blues.”

(Tickets for the 28th annual North Atlantic Blues Festival are available at www.NorthAtlanticBluesFestival.com . Tickets will be available at the gate. A special children’s ticket for kids ages 6 to 12 will be available for $5.00. Children under 5 admitted free.)

Last modified on Tuesday, 06 July 2021 18:01

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