Fest-Life: 27th annual Springing the Blues Festival April 7-9 at the SeaWalk Pavilion

EVENT: 27th annual Springing the Blues Festival
VENUE: SeaWalk Pavilion
DATE: April 7-9
TICKETS: Free; VIP $20-60
CONTACT: www.springingtheblues.com

Each spring in Jacksonville Beach the days grow longer, the weather gets warmer, and the spirit of the blues blankets the oceanfront with three days of blistering live performances. The 27th annual Springing the Blues Festival is held April 7-9 at the SeaWalk Pavilion (www.springingtheblues.com). Touted as one of the industry’s most sought after festivals, Springing the Blues has evolved from a single day event with six hours of music to a three-day extravaganza spotlighting the best in the blues.

This year, the lineup features everything from up and coming artists to Grammy nominated artists, including Coco Montoya, Albert Cummings, Matt Schofield, Toronzo Cannon, Chubby carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band, Eric Gales Band, Ben Racine Band with Dawn Tyler Watson (and vice versa), Spice and the Po Boys, Hat and the Matching Suitcase, James Armstrong, Cat McWilliams Band, Brandon Santini, Betty Fox Band, Jennifer B and the Groove, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, Packrat’s Smokehouse and local favorites Brady Clampitt, Smokestack, Mama Blue, the Corbitt Brothers, Bryce Alastair Band and Woody and the Peckers.

“We have an exciting group this year. We have Dawn Tyler Watson and the winner of the International Blues Challenge [Ben Racine Band], and Coco Montoya has always been a stupendous performer,” says festival founder Sam Veal, hinting at the possibility of a special guest appearance. “I wouldn’t be at all surprised if someone just walks out on stage.” Racine won the Albert King Award for best guitar performance at this year’s International Blues Challenge in Memphis. Inspired by artists such as Junior Walker, Bill Withers, Stevie Wonder and Clarence Carter, Racine’s voice is reminiscent of the greatest rhythm and blues vocalists of the ‘50s and ‘60s with a hybrid guitar style of blues and funk flavors.

Montoya earned his status as a master guitarist paying his dues as a sideman with “Master of the Telecaster” Albert Collins. He later played with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers for a decade before launching his solo career in 1993. Montoya has released eight solo albums, including three for Alligator between 2000 and 2007, and has played at clubs, concert halls and major festivals all over the world including several turns on the Springing the Blues stage.

Big changes are also underway for Springing the Blues. This is also the first time since the festival’s early days that Springing the Blues has been without a title sponsor. In 2015, Belk signed on to a $100,000 per year title sponsorship deal with the festival, but the sale of Belk forced the end of the deal, leaving Springing the Blues “on the cutting room floor,” says Veal.

“We have enjoyed a remarkable and very rewarding relationship with the various elected officials and staff that have always been wonderful to us. I can’t emphasize that enough. I’ve always felt we were all on the same team. There are ebbs and flows just like everything else.”

The deal also included plans to incorporate Springing the Blues into a multi-million dollar The Road South southern music showcase. As part of the agreement, the winners of the showcase earned a spot on the STB stage.

Jennifer B and the Groove is among the winners of the 2016 Belk Southern Musician Showcase competition, earning a coveted spot on the Springing the Blues stage. The high energy, four-piece band hails from Austin, Texas and performs original Americana/country music that reflects Jennifer’s musical roots. She counts such greats as Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin, Allman Brothers, Eric Clapton, and B.B. King among her influences.

Proposed changes to the city’s special events policy would also limit special events to a single day in the spring and summer and two days for winter and fall events, with the exception of Springing the Blues and the Sea & Sky Spectacular. “If things are approved as is being recommended to the City Council, Springing the Blues will be a two-day event. There will be no more three day events,” says Veal.

The contract between Springing the Blues and the Jacksonville Beach with the city as the prime sponsor ends this year as well. The terms of the contract include an $8,000 contribution to produce the event and use of the SeaWalk Pavilion, Latham Plaza, and parking lot. City officials say they hope to work with Veal and the community to continue Springing the Blues as the city’s signature event. “We have enjoyed a remarkable and very rewarding relationship with the various elected officials and staff that have always been wonderful to us. I can’t emphasize that enough. I’ve always felt we were all on the same team. There are ebbs and flows just like everything else,” says Veal.

“We’ve seen the trajectory, how it went from a one day event to a two day and then to a three day event recognized by Downbeat as one of the top 20 festivals. Springing the Blues has tried to stay relevant and stay true to its mission to bring the community together through America’s indigenous art form. Not on main artists but on the music itself. That’s why we pride ourselves on being able to present emerging artists along with traditional and contemporary blues artists.” No matter what the future holds, Veal says he remains committed to preserving the homegrown festival vibe that has always defined STB. “We are who we are.”

For VIP tickets and more information, head to www.springingtheblues.com.

About Will Henley

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