Keeping the blues alive at Hot Springs Blues Festival

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For 21 years, the Hot Springs Blues Festival has been a beacon for the blues in Hot Springs. This year’s family friendly festival will be September 2-3 in Hill Wheatley Plaza downtown.

“The first thing that sets this festival apart is that it’s in Hot Springs,”said David Hughes, President of the Spa City Blues Society, which puts on the event. “We couldn’t have a better area to host a festival. People love coming here, fans and musicians alike, and they want to come back. We have people who return here every year for this event. We have families who plan their annual family reunion or family vacation around this. We once had a couple from England who were touring the states and came to town as part of their trip because of our blues festival. We try to bring in artists that people have not heard before. There are festivals out there that bring back the same acts year after year. That’s ok, but to me that takes away from the purpose of putting on a blues festival. We like to keep it fresh and new.”

“Hot Springs is a great place for music,” Hughes added. “I think blues is woven into the fabric of most of the music here in town. I credit the performers in Hot Springs who play blues in some form or fashion for keeping it viable. I also put a lot of credit on the Spa City Blues Society for putting on events and being involved in the community. That presence has raised awareness of the blues and of live music in general. We try to bring in new acts for people to hear and we do things in the community to raise awareness. Things like Blues In The Schools and helping with fundraisers has helped the blues society maintain a presence in the area, around the state and even across the nation. As far as listening to blues, or any music in Hot Springs, what better place to listen than on a deck overlooking a lake or in a historic venue downtown or on the patio of a restaurant. There is so much great music in this town, not just blues music. But the blues music around here is pretty tasty. Maybe it’s in the water.”

So what attracts Hughes to the blues genre of music? “What pulls me in is the way the music makes me feel,” he said. “Most people think of blues as some sad, twangy tune about your dog getting run over or your mate leaving you behind. It’s that and so much more. The blues makes you move, makes you happy, sad, just like any other music genre. But, there’s something about the blues, it’s groove and soul, that strikes a chord in almost everyone. It’s not sad music. It’s feel good music. There’s also a family vibe to the people who play blues music and the people who listen to it. I’ve been around a lot of music and musicians and the blues community is one of the most friendly, caring groups of people I’ve interacted with.”

The festival is produced by the Spa City Blues Society as part of their overall mission of ‘keepin’ the blues alive’. The festival is held outdoors and includes two days of blues music from local, regional and national acts. Also in the festival schedule is the Spa City Blues Society’s local International Blues Challenge (IBC), an event that selects acts in the categories of solo/duo and band to represent the society at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee.

As for the lineup, on Wednesday August 30, there will be the bi-weekly Hump Night Blues Jam. “The jam will feature some special guests. It’s a surprise so we are keeping a lid on it for now,” Hughes said. On Thursday, August 31, and Friday, September 1, there will be the blues society’s local ICB competition. Solo/duo acts will compete on Thursday evening and bands will compete on Friday evening.  The winners of the local competition will represent the blues society in Memphis and will also perform on the festival stage on Saturday. The jam and both nights of competition will be held at The Big Chill.

The festival will begin Saturday afternoon, September 2, with workshops that are free to the public. The festival lineup will feature the local IBC solo, duo and band winners, IBC solo/duo winner Al Hill from Nashville, the John Weeks Band from Denver, the Akeem Kemp Band, Leo ‘Bud’ Welch and multiple Blues Music Award winner John Nemeth and The Blue Dreamers. Sunday’s lineup will feature the SCBS solo/duo IBC representatives Steve ‘Jelly’ Brown and Kathy Kidd, SCBS band IBC representative Hoodoo Blues Revue, the Blues In The Schools performance band The Spa City Youngbloods, Hump Nigh Blues Jam host the John Calvin Brewer Band, Max Arigo and Nandha Blues from Italy, Nikki Hill and Billboard’s number one selling blues artist, Anthony Gomes.

Admission to the Hot Springs Blues Festival is $20 each day. Kids under 12 get in free. Further details and information can be found at spacityblues.org.

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