The 26th annual Chenango Blues Festival takes place Friday and Saturday, Aug. 17 and 18 at the Chenango County Fairgrounds in Norwich.
As always, admission to Friday’s performances is free. Artists featured on Friday’s bill include Chicago newcomer Toronzo Cannon, New Orleans keyboardist John “Papa” Gros and another artist to be announced.
Cannon, released his debut album, The Chicago Way on Alligator Records in 2016, earning him immediate acclaim as a top next generation Chicago bluesman.
John “Papa” Gros is a New Orleans keyboardist in the tradition of Professor Longhair and Allen Toussaint. Gros blends funk, Americana, Mardi Gras Indian and blues into a Southern Louisiana gumbo that honors the Crescent City’s past while carrying it into the future. Gros has served as a sideman, singer, instrumentalist and bandleader for the long-running Maple Leaf house band, Papa Grows Funk. He released his latest album, River’s on Fire, a solo effort, last August. The album was inspired by Allen Toussaint, as Gros explains, “That was the plan, though: to follow Allen’s footsteps with this record. Every song has his stamp on it, whether it’s an obvious line or a subtle trick. I was paying homage to my mentor all along the way.”
Saturday’s artists will perform on two stages. Samantha Fish returns to Norwich for the first time since 2014, headlining the tent stage. Fish lit up the Westcott Theater stage in Syracuse in February. You can read the NYS Music account of that show here.
A lap steel player who forgoes the lap, AJ Ghent [j-ent] exhibits spiritual and musical energy that is infectious. His bio states that he “constructs a musical sound that can be heard howling from the church to the streets to the clubs.” Ghent counts James Brown, Prince and his church upbringing as some of his biggest influences. Ghent also served time as guitarist in Col. Bruce Hampton’s band. His latest work, The Neo Blues Project, available now through Ropeadope Records, is a fusion of funk, blues, rock and pop takes the blues into areas populated by bands such as Alabama Shakes and the Record Company.
Rounding out the talent on the tent stage are the Prestage Brothers and Hubby Jenkins. Ben and Johnny “Debt” Prestage grew up in a musical family in the swamps of Florida and their sound is indicative of this. Ben has made a name for himself as a one-man band while busking around Memphis. The brothers combine Delta, Juke Joint and Piedmont blues to provide a unique performance.
Hubby Jenkins is a multi-instrumentalist from Brooklyn. His style of play incorporates a veritable history of American music. Jenkins works ragtime, jazz, country blues, fiddle and banjo into his performances. Jenkins has also worked with the Grammy-winning roots group, the Carolina Chocolate Drops.
Elvin Bishop‘s Big Fun Trio headlines Chenango’s infield stage Saturday night. Bishop’s name is familiar to blues rock fans from his days in the legendary Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Butterfield’s band introduced blues rock to the masses in the mid-60s. Bishop also was a fixture at the legendary Fillmore jam sessions, playing alongside Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and B.B. King, among others. His 1976 single, “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” peaked at number three on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart and recently received an uptick in popularity as part of the Guardians of the Galaxy Awesome Mix, Vol. 1.
Midwest blues masters, the Cash Box Kings make their first appearance at Chenango on the main stage Saturday night. This Chicago-based quartet specializes in classic Chicago blues while dipping into rockabilly and the Delta blues. Cash Box Kings provide a raucous party wherever they play with Joe Nosek’s harmonica and Oscar Wilson’s gritty vocals providing the blueprint for humorous and sometimes political originals and covers from the Chess and Sun catalogs.
Houston-based Keeshea Pratt Band comes to Chenango with a seven-piece powerhouse band, fronted by the engaging and wide-ranging Pratt.
Memphis-based harpist Brandon Santini will provide his Piedmont via the Delta and Mississippi Hill Country blues to the Chenango faithful Saturday as well. Santini’s style has been compared to that of James Cotton and Paul Butterfield and has been mentioned in the same conversations as 2017 Chenango harmonica favorite Jason Ricci.
Tickets for this year’s festival are available June 1 through several outlets, including Chenango County Tourism. Advanced sale tickets are $25 and $35 at the gate. More information on ticketing can be found through the festival’s website.
Check here for NYS Music’s recap of the 25th anniversary edition of the Chenango Blues Festival.