Resounding Notes

shane.nyman and shane.nyman

With an impressive collection of local, national and even internationally recognized blues artists, endless amounts of food and anticipated crowds of nearly 2,000 people, the fourth annual Marquette Area Blues Fest has all the makings of an exciting Labor Day weekend.
The festival, held in downtown Marquette’s Mattson Lower Harbor Park, begins Saturday afternoon and concludes after sunset on Sunday. The festival is put on by the Marquette Area Blues Society.
“It’s a two-day festival featuring a variety of blues artists . from acoustic blues, local artists and regional blues all the way up to national and international touring acts,” said Mark Stonerock, festival director. “People always come out and they have a great time.”
Headliners include guitar virtuoso Tinsley Ellis on Saturday night and blues singer Bettye LaVette on Sunday.
“(Ellis) has been playing for many, many years internationally — fantastic guitar, great vocals,” Stonerock said. “(LaVette) is a solo blues singer and was named Living Blues Magazine’s number one blues singer. She’s going to knock ’em dead.”
Also booked for the weekend is the Rusty Wright Band, featuring last year’s International Blues Challenge runner-up, Rusty Wright.
Also on tap are Big James and the Chicago Playboys, a funky blues horn band that boasts the slogan of “There ain’t no party like a Playboy party.”
On the local front, Fast Eddie’s Blues Band will make their return to the Blues Fest stage, as well as a cast of other familiar artists, including The Flat Broke Blues Review. The Review, which is The Flat Broke Blues Band with an extended lineup, features organ player Doc Woodward and a group called The Million Dollar Horns. Also joining in is Voodoo Brew, a band featuring two Marquette Senior High School musicians and NMU student Jon Letts.
Letts, an undeclared freshman, is the son of Flat Broke guitarist Mike Letts. He’s been to Blues Fest every year since its birth and said he is looking forward to hitting the stage with his father.
“I’m excited,” said the younger Letts, who plays bass. “It’s the biggest stage I’ve played on.”
The stage is so large, in fact, that it might be the largest stage used in the Upper Peninsula, said Stonerock.
“It’s a very professional stage rig,” he said. “It’s not something like you’d see at the Seafood Fest. This is a professional stage with lighting and backdrops and a top-notch sound system.”
During last year’s festival, Letts helped his father run a guitar clinic on the first day, where free lessons were given out to all willing participants. On the following day, they were able to play on stage alongside Flat Broke, Jon Letts and others.
This year’s guitar clinic and a harmonica clinic will be put on Saturday by Grammy-winner Madcat Ruth, who will also perform later in the evening.
The Marquette Area Blues Society was able to enlist artists of such stature thanks to the success of past festivals, said Stonerock.
“The artist budget for this year is bigger than ever. We’ve actually spent over $20,000 just on the costs of the talent,” he said. Each year, the money that is made at the event goes directly into a pool for next year’s talent.
Of course, Stonerock said, there is a lot more going on over the weekend than just great live musical acts.
“We’ve got a whole bunch of food vendors — from Cajun food to the Up North Lodge making their ribs,” he said. “There’s burgers, brats and all kinds of stuff to eat, different vendors with different products. It’s really a festival atmosphere.”
Blues fans can look to arrive in the morning and spend the whole day at the park, with everything they need right in front of them, Stonerock said.
“It’s a great way to kick back and have a great time before things really get going for the school year,” he said.
Tickets for the Marquette Area Blues Fest are available for purchase at the Superior Dome and NMU students can receive tickets at a discounted price.
For more information on the Marquette Area Blues Fest, visit www.marquetteareabluessociety.org.