Cornell West once described our world as being soaked in blues: “a planet where catastrophe and celebration, joy and pain sit side by side.” With every chord of desperation, there is a touch of hope and harmony mixed with jazz, gospel and rock ‘n’ roll. Thus it’s probably why blues’ influences are noted by everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan to the Stones, as well as every other performer at this weekend’s annual Cape Fear Blues Festival. Among them is the Jimi King Trio, who will play at 3 p.m. under the tent at The Rusty Nail on Saturday, June 23.
“I think I fall in line with a lot of blues guitar players of my generation,” King notes. “Every one of us, I feel, has to be influenced by the great B.B. King, and I am no exception.”
Kicking off this weekend at the Friday night Downtown Sundown concert in Riverfront Park, Slippery Jake and the Bad Brakes will open for The Core (Eric Clapton tribute) at 6:30 p.m. The Billy Walton Band and the Rhythm Bones will play down the road at The Rusty Nail.
Saturday’s events start early with a free blues workshop at Finkelstein’s before Nel Moore Nichols hosts an intimate roundtable with local acoustic blues performers at Ted’s Fun on the River at 1 p.m. (also free). Saturday afternoon performances continue at The Rusty Nail at 3 p.m. and continue with a late-night performance by Coastal Blues at 10 p.m. The Rusty Nail also will host Sunday festivities, including an all-day blues jam at noon, a guitar giveaway and more.
While it is Jimi King Trio’s first time at the festival, a version of JKT has been to the Rusty Nail before. “I love the area and the people there,” King says. “The other bands and performers are amazing. I expect the festival to be a very rewarding experience—and I’m really looking forward to listening to Justin Cody Fox perform right after us.”
The trio, currently made up of King, Ryan Masecar and Matt Kirk, will soon expand with a new member. The blues fest will see the addition of drummer Barrett Sertoma, as well as an appearance by Dillon Partin for the first time on bass.
“They are excited for the opportunity and I am honored to be joining them on stage,” King tells. “Basically, [we’re] trying our best to make [audiences] have a dynamic emotional musical experience. Oh, and some fun, feel-good rocking blues shuffles, too.”
King and company are based out of Raleigh-Durham, where blues and roots is alive and well. He credits it most to the Triangle Blues Society and a vast pool of talented veteran and up-and-coming musicians filling the demand.
“We have a great blues venue in Durham called The Blue Note Grill where you can catch great national touring acts every week,” King continues. “There are a growing fan base of blues aficionados, especially in the Durham area, and there is a blues dance club here that creates a great atmosphere for live music.”
King has been playing professional guitar for about a decade now, but describes performing blues-based music in a power trio as life-defining. The format has pushed him to the limits of his ability at every show. And he loves it.
“The guitar and the art of songwriting are my refuge,” he says. “They are a never-ending journey of discovery of myself and the music of yesterday and today.”
With each passing year, his passion grows with audiences and performers he shares the stage with. Influences include many of the usual suspects: genre royals like Albert, Freddie and Earl King, as well as a lot of known and unknown players whose sounds are full of emotion.
“Of course, there’s also the likes of Robert Johnson, T-Bone Walker, Herbert Sumlin, Matt Murphy, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Preston Shannon, Ronnie Earl, Duke Robillard, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, Albert Collins, Carlos Santana, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan,” King lists. “Modern players that have grabbed my attention are Guy King out of Chicago, Matt Schofield from Europe, and the late Sean Costello from Atlanta.”
While JKT offers riveting covers, including Black Crowes’ “Hard to Handle,” festival-goers will hear a few originals, in which the band blends their staple sounds of raw Texas shuffle with gritty guitar and a rhythm section. Their sound ranges on the spectrum, with always a few staples that tend to get a reaction from a crowd, such as “Tried To Tell You”— a cautionary tale about the perils of excess and blind ambition.
“We will also play a newer, edgier riff-based tune called ‘Merica’ that started of with another name but morphed an expression of the state of today’s sociopolitical climate,” King adds. “An album tentatively named ‘Just Keep Trying’ is on the works.”