By Marcy Stamper
On the cusp of its fourth decade serving up rollicking rhythm and blues to fans every summer, the Winthrop Rhythm & Blues Festival has snagged world-renowned acts for this year’s lineup.
Headliners are Charlie Musselwhite, the award-winning virtuoso blues harmonica player and member of the Blues Hall of Fame; and the Royal Southern Brotherhood, featuring Cyril Neville, Devon Allman and Mike Zito.
Musselwhite’s philosophical take on the blues aptly sums up the festival. “Too many people think of the blues as sad, but I think many of these tunes will immediately dispel that notion, as they are fun, dancing tunes that lift your spirits. I often tell people that the blues is your buddy in good times and your comforter in bad times. It’s music from the heart, instead of the head,” he said.
The Royal Southern Brotherhood, who follow Musselwhite on Saturday night, combine their talents in funk, blues, hard rock and reggae to create a unique Southern blues-rock sound that has captivated audiences since they merged their musical minds a few years ago. The New Orleans–based band recently finished a successful world tour and has released several acclaimed albums.
Shemekia Copeland returns this year on Saturday evening, her powerful vocals tinged with gospel and the gritty sounds of the streets of Harlem. Copeland has opened for the Rolling Stones, headlined at blues festivals around the world, and even performed for the Obamas.
Winthrop’s R&B would not be complete without the spirited sounds of Too Slim and the Taildraggers, with Too Slim’s mastery of slide guitar and their original blues-rock compositions. The former Spokane-based band has been propelled by their success to Nashville, where their recordings have continued to accrue nominations for blues album of the year.
Also on the program is Roy Rogers, considered one of the world’s premier slide guitarists, renowned for his diverse contributions as a songwriter and producer, and for his work on movie and TV soundtracks.
The soulful lilt of Zydeco comes Sunday afternoon from the heart of Creole country with Curley Taylor and his band Zydeco Trouble. With a good dose of blues in their original numbers, Zydeco Trouble layers on the rhythm and keeps audiences dancing.
Harmonica whiz Chris O’Leary and his band are known for their distinctive sound, ranging from mellow to high-energy and leavened by O’Leary’s vocal stylings. Backed up by a precise band, the group delivers fun, roadhouse-style blues.
Check out the experimental soul, blues and rock mix of the Soul of John Black and gospel-influenced blues from the Holmes Brothers, who combine sweet three-part harmony with rough-edged vocals in an original take on American roots. The award-winning group has performed in 50 different countries, getting audiences up and dancing from Singapore to Russia to New Zealand.
The trio Homemade Jamz Blues Band—two brothers and a sister, just in their teens and 20s—has captivated audiences with rough vocals, blazing guitar licks and driving percussion that belie their youth. “We all love the blues,” said one sibling. “For some reason it just comes naturally to us.” Look for them at the blues jam on Saturday night.
Seattle’s 10-piece DoctorfunK has been a mainstay of the Northwest soul-music scene for two decades, blending horns and a strong rhythm section in ballads and up-tempo dance numbers.
Boogie-woogie piano player David Vest opens the program on Saturday and Sunday with his artistry on jazz and country-blues ballads. Vest has played with Roy Orbison and shared the stage with Bo Diddley.
Lady A, a favorite of Winthrop audiences, is back to lead the all-star jams and dance fests that run into the wee hours at the Blues Ranch’s beer garden. Lady A has been charming fans with her sultry blues and gospel vocals for two decades.
Carolyn Wonderland, the Chris O’Leary Band, and Curley Taylor finish up the festival at the blues jam on Sunday night.
Once again, the festival is hosting a $10 blues jam and dance on Friday night (free to weekend ticket holders). The Friday-night dance extravaganza features the Soul of John Black, DoctorfunK, and Too Slim and the Taildraggers, with proceeds donated to The Cove food bank.
The festival starts at the Blues Ranch outside Winthrop at 7:30 p.m. on Friday (July 18) and runs through the wee hours of Sunday night (July 20). Tickets for the whole weekend are $90 in advance through Central Reservations at 800-422-3048 or www.winthroptickets.com; and through the Winthrop Music Association, which puts on the festival, at 997-3837. Tickets are $100 at the door.
All events are at the Blues Ranch outside Winthrop
Friday, July 18
Blues Ranch Beer Garden, emceed by Lady A
7:30 p.m. The Soul of John Black
9:30 p.m. DoctorfunK
11:30 p.m. Too Slim and the Taildraggers
Saturday, July 19
11 a.m. David Vest
12:30 p.m. DoctorfunK
2 p.m. The Soul of John Black
4 p.m. Roy Rogers and the Delta Rhythm Kings
6 p.m. Shemekia Copeland
8 p.m. Charlie Musselwhite
10 p.m. Royal Southern Brotherhood, featuring Cyril Neville, Devon Allman and Mike Zito
11:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. Methow Juke Joint All-Stars, featuring Homemade Jamz Blues Band and emceed by Lady A
Sunday, July 20
11 a.m. David Vest
12:15 p.m. Homemade Jamz Blues Band
1:30 p.m. The Chris O’Leary Band
3 p.m. Carolyn Wonderland
4:15 p.m. Curley Taylor and Zydeco Trouble
5:30 p.m. The Holmes Brothers
7:15 p.m. Too Slim and the Taildraggers
9 p.m. to 2 a.m. Methow Juke Joint All-Stars, featuring Carolyn Wonderland, the Chris O’Leary Band, and Curley Taylor, emceed by Lady A and Stan Street