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Baton Rouge Blues Festival 2017: Day 2 Photos

The second day of the 2017 Baton Rouge Blues Festival featured another great group of bands, cool merch and lots of tasty local cuisine. Here are more images that capture all the downtown fun …

Click here to see exclusive photos by Sean Gasser of DIG magazine: Relive the 2017 Baton Rouge Blues Festival.

Exclusive shots from Sunday, April 9, 2017, by Patrick Dennis of The Advocate are here: Big crowds rock out on final day of Baton Rouge Blues Festival

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Baton Rouge Blues Festival Offers a Little Bit of Everything

STAFF REPORT, APRIL 8, 2017
WBRZ

The Baton Rouge Blues Festival kicked off the first day of the annual event on Saturday. The festival is celebrating its 35th year, and Frank Vine has been to every one of them. “I’ve been coming to it since the ’80s, when it used to be held in August,” Vine said. “It’s bigger, much larger crowds, and it used to just be one stage. Now, it’s two main ones and couple small ones.”

It’s not only the best blues artists in the state coming together, but also a place where locals can come out and support the art community. In the bustling vendor section, local artist Emily Annabelle Kor says festivals like this open doors for the art community. “This is my third year, it’s been amazing watching the downtown area grow,” Kor said. “A lot of the local artists come down and show their work.”

Waynes Jones, a sketch artist for the past 40 years, agrees. “That’s why people are socializing, eating having fun, crafting, dancing – and that’s nice for this city,” Jones said.

MORE HERE: Baton Rouge Blues Festival offers a little bit of everything

‘Authentic, One-of-a-Kind Experience’: Looking at the 2017 Baton Rouge Blues Fest

BY JOHN WIRT, APRIL 5, 2017
The Advocate

In the past few years, nationally known headliners Buddy Guy, Dr. John and Delbert McClinton drew big crowds to the Baton Rouge Blues Festival. In 2016, an estimated 50,000 people attended the two-day, free festival.

This year, blues-rock band the Fabulous Thunderbirds tops the bill. But beyond the Thunderbirds and some others, Blues Festival organizers are sticking to their 90-90 booking policy — 90 percent of the talent hails from a 90-mile radius around Baton Rouge.

“That’s important to communicate to everyone,” said Clarke Gernon, board president of the Baton Rouge Blues Foundation, the festival’s presenting sponsor. “This is a festival made from this place. A lot of the artists are from Baton Rouge, but also from the areas right around us. There’s so much music here.”

“We want to give the audience and the performers a truly authentic, one-of-a-kind experience,” said Blues Festival chairman Chris Brooks.

Because there’s so much local talent — and so much music to be heard at the festival — Gernon, Brooks and other festival organizers hope that festival patrons will attend full days at the event rather than arrive late to only hear a headlining act.

A day at the festival can be a more complete festival experience, organizers say. Also, more time spent at the festival can translate to more food, drink and merchandise sales and more donations. All of that helps sustain the festival and secure its future.

MORE HERE: ‘Authentic, one-of-a-kind experience’: Looking at the 2017 Baton Rouge Blues Fest

For Baton Rouge Blues Festival Volunteers, There’s Reward Beyond the Music

Without a small army of volunteers like Chris and Ursula Bethmann, there would be no Baton Rouge Blues Festival.

Now in their third year of supporting the festival, the Bethmanns love to give back to their community – and they love the blues. That makes volunteering with the Baton Rouge Blues Festival the best of both worlds.

“My husband and I have always done some sort of volunteer work – whether with the kids’ school, our church, our neighborhood or with our jobs,” says Ursula, formerly of Aiken, S.C. “When I saw that the festival was looking for volunteers, I thought it would be a good way to learn and experience the local culture with its rich music history while giving back to the community that we moved to.”

The event itself – slated for April 8-9, 2017 in downtown Baton Rouge – is overseen by the Baton Rouge Blues Foundation, and organized by a 21-member committee led by festival director Chris Brooks. They’re all volunteers, too. That keeps costs down for a growing festival that remains free of charge.

The Bethmanns have had an insider’s view as that stirring success story unfolded. Along the way, they discovered that the Baton Rouge Blues Festival did more than provide a broader context for understanding the area. Ursula has also been impressed with the sense of community that the festival provides, describing it as a unifying cultural force.

“We love people, we love learning about different cultures – and Baton Rouge, for sure, has a unique culture full of music and food,” Ursula says.

When all the hard work is gone, there’s usually a chance to mingle with her neighbors, too.

“I think that we just love watching people dancing, mingling and enjoying good food,” Ursula adds. “Doing this highlights the good in people. Folks who come to the blues festival are coming with a great frame of mind, to have fun and enjoy great local musicians who have cultivated the meaning of the blues.”

Volunteers receive a Baton Rouge Blues Festival t-shirt and are invited to attend a post-festival thank you party. To find out more, go the festival’s volunteer sign-up page.

Rooftop blues concert is perfect launch for Blues Fest

By DONNA BRITT, APRIL 4, 2017
WAFB

The weather will be perfect when Baton Rouge blues fans gather for an evening of music and complimentary drinks.

The proceeds of the concert atop the Commerce Building, located at 333 Laurel St., will benefit the Baton Rouge Blues Foundation and its mission of promoting, preserving, and advancing blues in Baton Rouge.

The performer will be Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, a Mississippi legend for his blues bar in Bentonia, the oldest surviving blues club in the state and on the Mississippi Blues Trail. Bentonia blues has its own sound. As proprietor of the Blue Front Café, Holmes has made great strides in preserving local blues flavor and nurturing artists on his stage.

Holmes will sing and perform at what the Baton Rouge Blues Foundation calls a “Rent Party.” The concert is Friday, April 7. Doors open at 7 p.m. The show runs from 8 to 11 p.m. Tickets are $35 in advance or $40 at the door and include complementary drinks.

MORE HERE: Rooftop blues concert is perfect launch for Blues Fest

Organizers of the Baton Rouge Blues Festival Juggle the Financial Demands of a Growing — and Free — Festival

Chris-Brooks-Jon-Kaufmann-and-Henry-Turner.jpg

Roughly 90% of the performers each year at the Baton Rouge Blues Festival are musicians who have personal ties to the Capital Region and surrounding area, including Henry Turner Jr., who returns to the festival again this year. Here, chairman Chris Brooks, left, and booking chair John Kaufman, center, pose with Turner at his local music venue, Henry Turner Jr.’s Listening Room. Photo by Brian Baiamonte

By ANNIE OURSO, MARCH 15, 2017
Greater Baton Rouge Business Report

Festival-goers have a pretty sweet deal in the Baton Rouge Blues Festival.

At what organizers boast is one of America’s oldest blues festivals, more than 50 performers annually take to four stages over two spring days in downtown Baton Rouge. While the festival has always been focused on highlighting the city’s rich swamp blues heritage and has a bevy of local talent, big name headliners like Dr. John and Buddy Guy have boosted the festival’s profile in recent years.

Perhaps best of all, the festival is free. Organizers—all of whom are volunteers—view the event as a gift to the city. But it doesn’t come cheap, and the return on the investment required to pull it off each year is measured more in terms of culture than currency.

“It takes a lot of money and business acumen to produce a festival of this size,” says festival chairman Chris Brooks. “It’s like running a small business.”

Produced by the Baton Rouge Blues Foundation and a committee of 21 volunteers, the Baton Rouge Blues Festival has an estimated annual operating budget of about $250,000. As expected, the biggest expense is booking performers. Brooks says musicians consume at least 35% of the budget. The staging, audio and visual aspects of a music festival also cost big bucks, while smaller expenses include production, tents, security and marketing.

So where does the money come from? Corporate sponsorships, which start at $1,000, and beverage sales bring in the most revenue. Combined, they provide about 65% of the festival’s budget, while a grant from the city supplies another 20%. Other sources of revenue include art and food vendor fees, VIP tickets and merchandise sales.

A major challenge for free music festivals is they can easily fall victim to their own success. As events like the Baton Rouge Blues Festival grow and gain additional attendees, expenses inevitably grow—and sometimes at a much faster pace than sponsorships and revenue. Gary Bongiovanni, editor of concert industry trade publication Pollstar, says all free festivals have limits that make sustaining growth a tricky endeavor.

“You have to be very creative to run a free festival,” Bongiovanni says. “They operate every year by their fingertips. It’s not an easy business.”

MORE HERE: Organizers of the Baton Rouge Blues Festival juggle the financial demands of a growing — and free — festival

Henry Gray Receives Replacements For the Signature Tie He Lost in Louisiana Flood

Fans streamed into into the Time Out Lounge on January 17, 2017, hoping to wish Henry Gray a happy 92nd birthday. What they witnessed was something bigger than cake and candles, more important than another celebratory banner and helium-filled balloons.

Henry Gray got a piece of his legacy back.

The Grammy-nominated bluesman survived devastating 2016 floods in Louisiana, but he lost all of his possessions – including a signature part of his stage show. For years, he’d worn a tie with a piano design and the words “Henry Gray and the Cats” inscribed on the front; later, it became to cover image for a 2009 album, as well.

It disappeared last August, on a night when Gray awoke with rising waters already at the edge of his mattress. His piano was wrecked, his favorite hats were floating in a toxic stew, and his tie was gone. What didn’t wash away was later stolen by a looter, who swiped a safe that included his birth certificate and the Grammy medallion honoring Gray’s 1998 album A Tribute to Howlin’ Wolf.

“Henry was telling me about losing everything in the flood,” said Maxine Crump, a founding member of the Baton Rouge Blues Foundation. “I said, ‘Henry, everything?’ He said, ‘The water was up to my neck.’ And I said, ‘Henry, did you lose your tie?’ Because, as you know, every time you saw Henry play, he had on his piano tie. Henry lost his piano tie in the flood – and it broke my heart to think that I wasn’t going to see Henry playing, wearing his piano-keys tie.”

Later, she shared this heartbreaking tale with Chris Brooks, chairman of the Baton Rouge Blues Festival. His response: “We’ve got to get his tie back.” It represented a small thing, in the face of so much loss, but the symbolism was nevertheless writ large. Brooks found a design company, Matt Dawson’s Stay Gray Ponyboy, to replicate Gray’s familiar neckware, and had two ties created in time to present them to Gray during this raucous birthday celebration.

Gray started the night performing inside a semi-circle of well wishers, before his big surprise. A galaxy of local blues stars filtered in to pay their respects, among them Larry Garner, Chris LeBlanc and Kenny Neal, even as Gray offered unique takes on favorites like “Tipitina,” and “Sweet Home Chicago” and “Staggerlee” – reanimating his own often-overlooked role in constructing the post-war city-blues sound.

A recipient last year of the Living Legend award at the 2016 Baton Rouge Blues Foundation blues gala, Henry Gray was born in Kenner, Louisiana, in 1925. His journey toward shared stages and sessions with the likes of Little Walter, Jimmy Reed, Mick Jagger, Jimmy Rogers and Buddy Guy would detour, however, through the Pacific battles of World War II. By then, he’d already re-traced the familiar trail of mid-century African-Americans from the South toward Chicago where, after his time in the service, Gray apprenticed with Big Maceo Merriweather before becoming a sideman with Chess Records. An association with Howlin’ Wolf lasted some 14 years; he also served as a pianist with Muddy Waters – they’d met so early in Waters’ career that Muddy used to borrow Henry’s car – and with Elmore James.

Gray eventually returned to Louisiana, buying a home in north Baton Rouge while working for the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board. He had a regular working band for a time, established a regular gig at the late Tabby Thomas’ Blues Box and released a series of well-received albums – including a collaboration with Bob Corritore titled The Blues Won’t Let Me Take My Rest in 1999, Henry Gray Plays Chicago Blues in 2001 and Times Are Gettin Hard in 2009, among others. More recently, he had settled into a series of warmly regarded solo performances like the one at Time Out Lounge – where Gray appears regularly on Tuesdays – and then the skies opened up in 2016.

Clarke Gernon, president of the Baton Rouge Blues Foundation, presented Gray with his new ties even as the crowd at Time Out quickly quieted. “Henry, it was so important for us to try to give something back,” he said, sparking a new round of cheers. “We know you lost everything in the flood, and we know this tie is a very important part of who you are when you go out and travel the world. We appreciate everything you do for us.”

Once the birthday cake had been cut, he responded to this emotional evening in his own inimitable way: Henry Gray launched into a boisterous version of his best-known song, “Lucky Man.”

Baton Rouge Blues Festival 2017 Lineup includes Fabulous Thunderbirds, Kenny Neal, Marc Broussard, more

By ADVOCATE STAFF, JAN. 19, 2017
The (Baton Rouge) Advocate

The Baton Rouge Blues Festival gave the city some good news on Thursday to clear our minds of the dreary weather. The annual festival announced the lineup for its 2017 event through the above promotional video.

The free festival is set to take place in downtown Baton Rouge on April 8-9. This year includes local and regional favorites as well as a few surprises.

Performers include the Fabulous Thunderbirds; Kenny Neal and the Neal Family Band; Marc Broussard; Larry Garner; Mr. Sipp; the Legendary Blues Band featuring Kenny Neal, Henry Gray, Sam Hogan and Others; Ana Popovic and Alvin Youngblood Hart, among others.

MORE HERE: Baton Rouge Blues Festival 2017 lineup includes Fabulous Thunderbirds, Kenny Neal, Marc Broussard, more