Four years ago, a county government-sponsored blues festival was the last thing most people expected would ever take place in Hernando County. But there it was, the inaugural Bluesapalooza, a two-day event in 2009 featuring some of the Tampa Bay area's best-known blues artists cranking it up on the soccer fields at Anderson Snow Park.
Parks and Recreation Department events coordinator Christie Williams said that seeing such a strong turnout for that first event gave her hope that good things were on the horizon. Fast forward to the present and there is plenty of evidence that the success will continue with the fifth installment of Bluesapalooza, which kicks off at noon Saturday at Hernando Park in downtown Brooksville.
The daylong event, which again will feature some of the top blues talent on the west coast of Florida, will be held in a new venue that Williams thinks is ideal.
"It's a beautiful setting under the trees that's perfect for listening to music," she said. "We've got a wonderful lineup and a lot of great food vendors. It could be the best festival we've ever had."
Williams said that in addition to the main stage at the band shell, this year's event will also feature a second "B" stage with local blues artists.
Bluesapalooza's lineup of bands pretty much covers all styles of the blues genre, from traditional to contemporary and beyond. Here's a sampling of what to expect:
Damon Fowler: A veteran of all five Bluesapaloozas, Fowler will once again headline the event. A Florida native, Fowler's mix of roots rock, blues and jazz has made him perhaps the state's most highly regarded blues export. He tours extensively throughout the United States.
Sarasota Slim and Nitro: Considered by many to be the sage of the bay area blues scene, Sarasota Slim, a.k.a. Gene Hardage, has come to personify the genre's traditional side with smooth vocals and an eloquent guitar style. However, Slim fans are well aware that the veteran guitarist is fond of mixing things up when he performs, so expect some surprises. He will be joined Saturday by his longtime compatriot and blues harp master, Nitro Bozeman.
Berry Oakley and Skylab: The son of the late Allman Brothers bassist Berry Oakley put together his first group a half-dozen years ago. Since then, he has made steady inroads in the blues and jam band scene, performing a variety of classic blues and rock tunes as well as original music.
RJ Howson: A veteran of the Chicago blues circuit, Sarasota roots rocker and blues man RJ Howson picked up his skillful guitar chops performing and jamming with blues icons at Buddy Guy's Legends club. The past several years, he has been a fixture on the South Florida blues club circuit.
Wendy Rich:Perhaps the Tampa Bay area's most notable female blues voice, Rich has been involved in the bay area music scene and has headlined concerts and festivals for more than 20 years, including a yearlong stint as front woman for Janis Joplin's legendary original band Big Brother & the Holding Company. A resident of Brooksville, she performs frequently in the area.