A pair of talented bands kicked off the 22nd annual River City Blues Festival in front of a packed crowd Friday night at the Lafayette Hotel.
More than 100 people turned out Friday night to enjoy the music, which continues Saturday.
Both the Michael Gough Group and Chicago Rhythm and Blues Kings have been together for at least 20 years and brought some serious experience to the opening night of the two-day event.
Blues fans Rick Martin, 66, of Akron and Harry Stephens, 60 of Parkersburg attend the festival annually and were there again Friday.
They have been friends since they met in college 43 years ago.
“Every year we get together and play guitar and attend at least four or five concerts,” said Martin. “We have been to blues concerts in Chicago, Dayton, Wheeling, Pittsburgh and many other places all over the country.”
Stephens said this festival is a good choice for the pair because of the location and timing.
“We come to this and the (River City Blues) competition regularly, because they are the first real jazz events of the year,” he said. “Most of the ones we attend other than this are outdoors, which can be cold in February.”
The event is hosted annually by The Mid-Ohio Valley Blues, Jazz and Folk Music Society. John Bolen, president of the society, said the weekend festival generally attracts at least 500 people.
Bolen said for fans of this genre of music, it’s the ultimate locally concert experience.
“Every year we have other blues societies in the tri-state area that come to enjoy this festival,” he said. “It’s an intimate and fun experience. Everyone has a backstage pass.”
The festival will continue Saturday afternoon and evening with five more blues bands set to take the stage.
Chris Sutton will be the first act to perform Saturday afternoon from 2 to 2:30 p.m.
Sutton was the first place winner of the River City Blues Competition held in Marietta in February.
After Sutton’s performance, Rocky Sutton will take the stage from 2:35 to 3:50 p.m. followed by the Jake Leg Stompers from 4 to 5:30 p.m. to round out the afternoon. The evening finale will feature Eddie Shaw and the Wolf Gang from 8 to 9:30 p.m. and Zac Harmon from 9:45 to 11:30 p.m.
For the brief intermission between the two acts Saturday there will be an announcement of the guitar raffle winner.
In years past, Saturday has generally drawn the larger crowd of the two-day festival.
“We have more bands performing over a wider range of times on Saturday,” said Bolen. “We understand that Saturday is the finale so we always try to make sure we have a great act lined up for that.”
Delores Baker, 78, of Belpre, said Saturdays can get unbelievably busy.
“Friday night draws a large crowd, but most of the time there isn’t even room to dance on Saturday,” she said.
She has been attending the festival with her daughters and a group of their friends for the past 21 years.
Baker noted that many of the group members travel a great distance to meet at the festival every year.
“We have people in our group that come from Charleston, Texas and one that even used to live in California,” she said. “We come every year because we love the music. Most of our group reserves their hotel room for the next year before they leave on Sunday.”
Baker and her youngest daughter attend all types of local concerts regularly, but she admitted that none measure up to the blues festival.
“This is a whole weekend of fun, and the music is always amazing,” she said. “You can bet I’ll be dancing tonight and that I’ll be here dancing tomorrow.”
Baker said she plans on attending both the festival and competition every year they are held, or until she is unable to make it.
“I love this type of music, especially the real old Memphis Southern type of blues,” said Baker. “I’ll be coming to enjoy this event as long as I can physically move to dance.”