CRUISING ALONG: The Cape Fear Blues Festival enters its 20th year

How the time flies. It’s not been one, but two decades since the inception of the Cape Fear Blues Festival. Port City blues fans have a lot to look forward to this Friday, July 24, through Sunday, July 26, as new acts and old favorites head into town.

Bluesing on the River: Dave Fields headlines Cape Fear Blues Festival. Courtesy photo.
Bluesing on the River: Dave Fields headlines Cape Fear Blues Festival. Courtesy photo.

Twenty years of festivities and blues cruising, put on by the Cape Fear Blues Society, has brought countless artists to the area who would rarely (or never) make it to our town otherwise. “That does everyone a solid, including the local musicians who share the billing,” CFBF director Lan Nichols says.

Nichols attributes the festival’s continued success mostly to the volunteers—who get it done, so to speak—and the sponsors. “There’s been critical support from some amazing human beings, and they’ve been instrumental in our mission: Joe Carney, Jay Kapner, Karl Davis, Anne Finkelstein, George Scheibner, Bill and Dusty Long, Mary Vallejos, Wayne Bradley, Helen Ward, Bill Rhodes, Scott Prestage, Lee Oskar,” he lists. “They’ve helped us harness every possible opportunity to hear, play and enjoy the blues. It’s humbling, exhilarating, and it’s never been better.”

The Blues Cruise on the Henrietta III Riverboat (101 S. Water St.), scheduled for Friday, July 24, at 7:30 p.m., continues by popular demand. Though not the easiest to execute, Nichols says the festival practically revolves around the cruise. “Putting hundreds of people on a comfortable, air-conditioned boat with three decks, three bands, three bars, and a caterer can be a lot harder than it looks,” he admits. “Having different locations adds variety.”

This year’s cruise features the much anticipated return of Elliott and the Untouchables, along with the “bad boy blues and rockabilly” of E-Train and The Rusted Rails, and local favorite Randy McQuay. Guests will dine on Angie’s Catering while cruising the river.

“The Blues Cruise is all about the music, food and gathering of folks for a good time,” Nichols continues. A Post-Cruise Party with Rickey Godfrey will take place at The Rusty Nail (1310 S. 5th Ave.) at 9:30 p.m., too.

The rest of the festivities continue on Saturday, July 25, at noon, with a free Acoustic Blues Workshop at Ted’s Fun on The River (2 Castle St.). Tad Walters (guitar, blues harp, and vocals), who has performed with the likes of Hubert Sumlin, Pinetop Perkins, and Billy Boy Arnold, will lead the class. “He’s a righteous, talented blues man,” Nichols says.

The Blues Concert and Beer Tent opens at 4 p.m. at The Rusty Nail (1310 S. 5th Ave.) and features the R&B ensemble Nelson and the Rock-A-Fellas, along with Rose Lucas opening the show. But the buzz surrounds headliner Dave Fields. “Dave Fields is an incomparable live performer,” Nichols explains. “See him now, ‘cause he’s going places.”

An NYC native, Dave Fields has a healthy mix of influences in his brand of blues: New York diversity, a bit of the South and whatever life throws his way. “I loved and listened to everything from ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll to Stevie Wonder to hip-hop to swing and blues,” Fields says. “I try to mix it all up in my music, combined with writing about personal experiences in my life, things that we have gone through as humans and want to share with others.”

Lately, Fields says he’s revisited favorite guitarists like Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton, while discovering new ones for himself like the late Shawn Lane. “I’ve been working on some cool things on my guitar, and I plan to bring them out for the first time at the festival. I’m very excited about it,” he divulges.

With his most recent album, “All In,” funk creeps up in songs like “Let’s Go Downtown,” with clear lines of blues in “Lover’s Holiday” and rock in “Crossroads.” The album’s namesake is transparent as can be, with an image of Fields’ guitar on a poker table, with poker chips and cards saying it all. “It’s called ‘All In’  because I am truly all in with this CD,” he quips of the gambling nature of the industry. The artist has a new live CD in the works as well, set for release in January 2015. It will feature new and classic Dave Fields songs.

Coming in as the headliner for the festival, Fields is looking forward to its distinct energy. “There’s always that extra electricity in the air at a festival that makes it different than a show in a club,” he says. “Festival season is one of my favorite times of the year.”

Saturday and Sunday will wrap up at The Rusty Nail (1310 S. 5th Ave.) with The Marcus King Band at 9 p.m. The festival closes with a free All-Day Blues Jam starting at noon. Local artists who wish to play can sign up the day of the jam.

Cape Fear Blues Festival
Fri.-Sun., July 24-26
July 24, 7 p.m.: Cape Fear Blues Cruise
Henrietta III Riverboat • 101 S. Water St.
July 25, noon: Acoustic Blues Workshop
Ted’s Fun on the River • 2 Castle St.
July 25, 4 p.m.: Blues Concert
The Rusty Nail • 1310 S. 5th Ave.
July 26, noon: All Day Blues Jam
The Rusty Nail • 1310 S. 5th Ave.
Tickets: $5-$55

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