The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Life!

August 21, 2013

Brand New Gig:

A festival for jazz and blues lovers is born

Lady D, host of the Groovy 94.1 Simply Jazz and Blues radio show and live Tamarack performances, decided she didn’t have enough to do on her mountainous to-do list. As co-purveyor of 110 Marshall (that bluesy artspace on Marshall Ave., Beckley) and coordinator of West Virginia’s Finest Talent competition, she saw yet another opportunity to cultivate an appreciation for music beyond the country and bluegrass proliferating in the hills and along the banks of the New. The festivals celebrating an increasing number of jazz and blues enthusiast’s tastes were more central and northern to the state. So she, along with blues fan and pal Antonia Ritchie gathered a committee to conceive the first Simply Jazz and Blues Festival, happening at The Drift recreation area this weekend, Aug. 23-25, at Sandstone Exit 139 off Interstate 64.  The three-day event catering to southern W.Va.’s jazz and blues devotees has drawn an incredible lineup of more than 20 performers, including former cohort to legend Muddy Waters, James Cotton, aka Superharp.

“We’re expecting to get a couple of thousand in attendance our first time out. If there’s nobody but me and James Cotton out there, then that’s who will be there,” Lady D admits.

While having fallen in love with the harmonica player’s mastery of his art, she is also interested in connecting to see if the two might be distant relatives. “His last name is the same as mine,” explains Lady Doris Fields nee Cotton, divulging a point about her music festival that is the same with festivals in general and a major part of their charm — the opportunity to get up close and personal with artists and their music, sans bodyguards and pyrotechnics.

“It’s not hard, especially with blues and jazz artists, to get them to come to this part of the country. Jazz and blues aren’t mainstream. These people want to work. They’re just real people performing real music.”

Nothing goes with an artist unplugged quite like the accompanying backdrop of beauty provided by the New River. “This setting is really good for us. When people hear the music and come for the festival on the water, there’s no way they are not going to want to come back.”

For three years now, Lady D has found the jazz and blues audience alive and well in southern West Virginia, with a growing fan base of her own and calls and requests for music she’s not only spinning but teaching about. “I get lots of people calling in to support the show. They always call in when I’m giving away free music, too. They want access to this style of music, they have just never had live performances right here in this area and on a regular basis.”

In addition to James Cotton, the festival lineup includes Roomful of Blues, a New England group described as breathing new life into vintage songs, Zac Harmon, Johnny Rawls, Biscuit Miller & the Mix, and more faces and instruments to apply to the sounds of her Sunday radio show. The weekend full of special guests will include Emcees Martin Staunton, Rhayne Thomas and Dreama Denver. Denver is announcing from the “Nat Reese Memorial Stage” in honor of the late West Virginian blues man; the number two stage will officially be dedicated during Saturday’s lineup.

“There are people called ‘blues tourists’ who plan their vacations around these events, so we are expecting locals and people from out of state. Sponsors have embraced this well, but at $200 to $300 sponsorships. That’s fine, we just had to work harder.” But, she predicts, “Next summer, supporters will be calling us wanting to be a part of this.”

— E-mail: lshrewsberry@register-herald.com

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