Hot Springs Blues Festival
Zoie Clift, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
The blues are one of the most influential forms of American music. Arkansas has deep ties to this music art form, and blues legends like Robert Lockwood, Jr. and Sister Rosetta Tharpe are from here.
Hot Springs showcases the genre during the 16th annual Hot Springs Blues Festival August 30 through September 1. The family friendly event is held each Labor Day Weekend (Friday and Saturday) in Hill Wheatley Plaza in downtown Hot Springs.
“The atmosphere is laid back with lawn chairs scattered about, kids dancing to the music and blues lovers enjoying some down time,” said David Hughes, president of the Spa City Blues Society, which hosts the festival. “It’s an almost carnival style atmosphere. It’s definitely a good time.”
According to Hughes, the event is a solid mid-size festival that will run between 3000 and 4000 people through the gates over two days.
“It’s comparable to the Eureka Springs Blues Weekend or the Fort Smith Riverfront Blues Festival,” he said.
Hughes said some performers to watch out include headliners The Fabulous Thunderbirds. “These guys are the real thing with original member Kim Wilson still fronting the band,” he said. “These guys are a piece of living music history.”
Also of note is the Bart Walker Band. “Walker won the prestigious Outstanding Guitar Player honor at the 2012 International Blues Challenge in Memphis,” he said. “His band includes Reese Wynans, Stevie Ray Vaughn’s former B3 player, and they have 13 Grammy’s among all the members.”
Also on the bill is a young man named Marquis Knox. Named Best New Artist by Living Blues Magazine a couple of years ago, Knox is 22 and writes his own songs, much in the vein of Muddy Waters. This may be the one artist who steals the show this year. All of these acts can be seen on Saturday evening.
Hughes said Friday evening is one of the strongest opening night line-ups the festival has hosted. “Beale Street fixtures Eric Hughes and Brandon Santini will bring their bands to town to kick off the festival,” he said. 2012 International Blues Challenge Solo/Duo winner Ray Bonneville will also perform.
“Bonneville has received a JUNO award, a highly coveted Canadian music award, for his efforts over the years,” he said.
“Friday night’s headliner will be Zac Harmon. Harmon has played the festival before and makes a stop or two in Hot Springs every year. He has a great presence and is a former International Blues Challenge winner.” Harmon will also play the kick off party on Thursday evening at the Ohio Club.
Along with the music lineup, there will be workshops on Friday and Saturday afternoon at Star Gallery, directly across the street from the festival. Workshops include sessions on slide guitar, harmonica, lap steel guitar, recording music using an i-Pad, blues history and the Blues Foundation’s efforts to build the Blues Hall of Fame. There will also be after parties for fans to access before and after the shows and an Artists Alley featuring local crafters selling their wares.
For those interested in the history of the blues in Arkansas, be sure to check out the Delta Cultural Center in Helena-West Helena sometime. The city is also home to the popular King Biscuit Blues Festival each October.
More details on the Hot Springs Blues Festival can be found at www.spacityblues.org or by calling 501-815-2939. Admission is $10 per day or $15 for a weekend pass. Tickets can be purchases on-line through the website. Of note, weekend passes are not available at the gate and are pre-purchase only.