By Hailey Le Roy
For the second time since the coronavirus shutdowns, the award-winning Winthrop Rhythm & Blues Festival is returning for another year of intoxicating guitar, smooth vocals, and foot-stomping cadences.
The event, presented Friday through Sunday (July 21-23), will mark 36 years since the event’s founding and 30 years at the Blues Ranch.
From sprucing up the property with a decorative sign and entrance gate to replacing the 30-year-old wooden stage, the nonprofit Winthrop Music Association is gearing up for a comparable turnout to last year’s sold-out festival, which bustled with blues-goers eager to leave the house after being stuck inside.
Friday night’s activities are shifting to the main stage, with opening acts Jackie Venson and Too Slim & The Taildraggers taking the spotlight. Like years past, however, attendees can expect the latter part of all three nights to ensue in the beer garden with the Methow Juke Joint All-Stars. This tradition concludes each night with fan-favorite acts and surprise performances, allowing for some of Winthrop’s most beloved artists to permeate the late-night air with their iconic sound.
Proceeds from Friday’s concert go to nonprofits such as The Cove in Twisp.
Saturday night performers include Grammy winner Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, as well as Grammy-nominated North Mississippi Allstars and Ruthie Foster. Sunday’s lineup boasts accomplished Judith Hill, who has worked with world-renowned artists Michael Jackson and Prince; and Marc Broussard, who recently released a song with acclaimed guitarist Joe Bonamassa.
However, this is just a taste of the massive lineup found on the event’s website: https://winthropbluesfestival.com/.
Event founder Jimmy Smith described his idea to establish a blues festival within Winthrop’s “cowboy country” as having an unforeseeable future in its initial stages. For the first six years of its production, the event did not have a consistent location.
“There’s been many years we thought it was going to be the last,” Smith said.
Now, the event has thoroughly established itself within the community and beyond. It stimulates the Methow Valley economy and is the recipient of multiple awards.
Smith says he did not expect the success, describing him and his team as “just a bunch of hippies wanting to put on a concert and have some fun.”
The event has changed quite a bit since its genesis, with the audience diversifying more each year. As the generation the event was initially catered to grows older, the Winthrop Music Association has expanded its palette to include younger R&B lovers. Nowadays, most of the festival’s audience comes from Seattle, including both young families and old-fashioned blues-goers.
Despite genre shifts and new artists, Smith says the festival has built a trusting rapport with its audience.
“Even if they haven’t heard of this particular band, they know it’s going to be really good,” he said.
Familiarize yourself with this year’s sound by checking out the festival’s Spotify playlist, located on the event’s “Home” page.
Security is getting tighter with a new “infield policy.” Attendees should prepare to open all bags and coolers upon entering the premises. More on the new entry requirements is on the event’s website.
“The Blues Ranch” is located at 19190 State Route 20.