Moving from an outdoor event downtown to an indoor festival at Wings Event Center, the July celebration will also boast sets by Joe Louis Walker, Dana Fuchs and more. See the full lineup.
The festival, which has long been held downtown, enters its 23rd year and, along with the new climate-controlled location, boasts one of its most high profile lineups to date.
With 11 artists on the July 14-16 bill up for Blues Music Awards in May, along with a pair of recent Grammy nominees — including Sunday headliner Bobby Rush, who took home the 2017 Grammy for best traditional blues album for his latest release, “Porcupine Meat” — attendees will have the opportunity to see more top touring talent than ever before, said longtime festival coordinator Dennis Massingill.
Joining Rush at the top of the bill will be fellow Grammy Award nominee Joe Louis Walker, Chicago bluesman Toronzo Cannon, the Alexis P Suter Band, Sugaray Rayford, the Dana Fuchs Band, Robben Ford and the Supersonic Blues Machine, and The Fabulous Thunderbirds featuring Kim Wilson on harmonica.
“It’s kind of a who’s who for blues nominations this year,” Massingill said, pointing out that Rayford has been nominated for the B.B. King Entertainer of the Year Award, Suter for contemporary blues female artist and Wilson for harmonica player of the year.
The act that has Massingill most intrigued, however, is Robben Ford and the Supersonic Blues Machine, a group of top-tier session musicians who have played with everyone from Eric Clapton to B.B. King, John Fogerty, the Smashing Pumpkins, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Joe Cocker and Phil Lesh.
“Part of what we do is work to get acts in here that aren’t normally in the Midwest area, and we want people to get out and hear them and become familiar with them,” he said. “Robben Ford is what you would call a true guitar player’s guitar player, he’s something else. That’s going to be an interesting set for sure.”
A NEW LOCATION AND OTHER CHANGES
Since its inception, the festival, put on by the Kalamazoo Valley Blues Association, has built itself by catering to walk-up traffic downtown. But as the majority of attendees the past couple years have purchased tickets in advance, organizers started feeling it was time for a change.
“There’s a lot of stuff going on in downtown Kalamazoo and we kind of got lost in the blur of everything else,” Massingill said. “We knew we needed to pick up some major sponsors if we wanted to continue to grow, and Wings Event Center stood out as a leader and willing partner.
“They are trying to change their image of a winter venue to a year-round venue that can do concerts and festivals and more in the summer. And they have invested to make this happen. They’ve put in air-conditioning and upgraded their sound system quite a bit.”
The move has translated into more than just a weather-proof venue with real “honest-to-goodness restrooms,” Massingill said, but also resulted in the doubling of the entertainment budget — hence the stacked lineup.
For the first time, festival-goers will have the opportunity to partake in a VIP option, which features premiere seating, access to a private lounge, private bar and restrooms, complimentary food, a festival poster and more.
No seats will be placed on the main floor and a general admission ticket (ranging between $17 and $32, depending on the day, or $57 for all three days) will allow folks the opportunity to go anywhere they want on the floor or grab a seat in the stands.
In addition to the location change, the festival is also making the move from a Thursday-Saturday affair to a Friday-Sunday event, kicking off at 4:15 p.m. Friday, and after a long day Saturday, closing at 6:30 p.m. Sunday.
Despite the move inside, attendees can still expect to find arts and crafts workshops for children, music workshops and an array of good festival food and drink. New events, such as a possible corn hole tournament, are in the works. Massingill said organizers are looking into fencing off an outdoor area so people can get some fresh air between acts.
Get tickets and more information online here.
VIDEO: Bobby Rush, “Porcupine Meat”
VIDEO: Dana Fuchs, “Don’t Let Me Down”
VIDEO: Robben Ford, “Freedom”
VIDEO: Alexis P Suter, “Big Mama”
VIDEO: The Fabulous Thunderbirds, “Tuff Enuff”
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