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Blues on the bay
Three-day festival comes to Vinoy Park
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The Tampa Bay Blues Festival welcomes Nikki Hill April 12.
ST. PETERSBURG – The Tampa Bay Blues Festival will run Friday through Sunday, April 11-13, at Vinoy Park, 500 Bay Shore Drive NE.

For 2014, festival headliners will include Buddy Guy, Michael McDonald and Irma Thomas.

Since 1995, the biggest names in blues music have traveled to the area to play the Tampa Bay Blues Festival, annual event attracting blues enthusiasts from all over the world. Set on the shores of Tampa Bay at the scenic Vinoy Park, attendees this year will be treated to a showcase of American blues music, performed in a beautiful tropical setting.

The Tampa Bay Blues Festival is staged at Vinoy Waterfront Park in downtown St. Petersburg. On Friday and Saturday, gates will open at around noon. On Sunday, the gates will open at about 12:30 p.m.

The main entry gate is located on Fifth Avenue Northeast and Bayshore Drive. Tickets are available for sale at the main gate. Will call is also handled at the main gate. All ticket sales, including beverage tickets, must be purchased with cash. Tickets are not required to purchase food products. ATMs are available at the main entry gate and the northwest corner of Vinoy Park.

The following items will not be permitted on the festival grounds: coolers, bicycles, pets, recording devices and alcohol. No umbrellas or shade canopies may be set up in front of the main stage area. An area designated toward the rear of the park is available for those who intend to bring small umbrellas or shade canopies. No large tents may be set up under any circumstances.

Single day tickets start at $40. A three-day pass is available for $110 in advance. Visit www.t­ampab­ayblu­esfes­t.com.

2014 headliners

At age 77, Buddy Guy is a living legend.

He’s a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and he was a major influence on rock icons such as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Guy was a pioneer of Chicago’s fabled West Side sound and he remains a living link to that city’s halcyon days of electric blues.

Over the years, Guy has earned six Grammy Awards along with an impressive 28 Blues Music Awards.

In 2013, Guy released “Rhythm & Blues,” his 27th studio album. The recording features 21 tracks, which boast contributions from a variety of guest artists, such as Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, and Brad Whitford of Aerosmith and guitar wizard Gary Clark Jr.

Michael McDonald has been a “prominent part in the soundtrack to our times,” as his biography states on his Facebook page.

McDonald, as an artist and songwriter, has collected five Grammy Awards. With his husky baritone and distinctive keyboard style, he has been entertaining audiences with his own brand of “blue-eyed soul” for more than three decades. He first attained popularity as the Doobie Brothers’ lead singer, writing and singing such hits as “Takin’ It To The Streets,” “Real Love” and the No.1, “What A Fool Believes.” After leaving the band in 1982, he continued to top the charts with songs such as “I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near),” “Sweet Freedom” and “On My Own.”

Irma Thomas is one of New Orleans’ most beloved and iconic entertainers.

Known as the Soul Queen of New Orleans, Thomas boasts rich and resonant vocals underscored by her distinctive, soulful and direct-from-the-heart delivery. Born in 1941, she is a contemporary of Aretha Franklin and Etta James. Her 2006 album “After the Rain” won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album. She followed it up with “Simply Grand” in 2008.

Full festival lineup

Boasting a state-of-the-art sound system, this year’s festival promises to be one of the biggest events on the Tampa Bay music scene.

Following is the festival lineup:

Friday, April 11

• Selwyn Birchwood – 12:30 p.m.
• Matt Schofield – 2:30 p.m.
• Coco Montoya – 4:30 p.m.
• Shemekia Copeland – 6:30 p.m.
• Buddy Guy – 8:30 p.m.

Saturday, April 12

• Nikki Hill – 12:30 p.m.
• Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials – 2:30 p.m.
• Tommy Castro and The Painkillers – 4:30 p.m.
• The Blind Boys of Alabama – 6:30 p.m.
• Michael McDonald – 8:30 p.m.

Sunday, April 13

• George Porter Jr. – 1 p.m.
• Tad Robinson – 2:30 p.m.
• Big Sam’s Funky Nation – 4:30 p.m.
• James Hunter – 6:30 p.m.
• Irma Thomas – 8:30 p.m.

Opening this year’s festival is local favorite Selwyn Birchwood.

Birchwood recently signed with Alligator Records. In 2013, Birchwood catapulted from local hero to shooting star. He won the world-renowned International Blues Challenge, beating out 125 other bands from the United States and abroad. He also took home the Albert King Guitarist Of The Year Award.

This June, Alligator Records will release Birchwood’s new album, “Don't Call No Ambulance.” It is described as “a fully realized vision of contemporary blues.”

According to a press release from Alligator Records, Birchwood's original songs range from raucous romps to hill country stomps, from searing, serious slow blues to modern blues-rock.

Coco Montoya is a self-taught guitar slinger who plays with an emotional intensity few string benders possess.

Playing left-handed and upside down like Albert King, Montoya learned his guitar techniques from his years with legendary bluesman Albert Collins.

“I never had a lesson in my life,” Montoya says in his biography provided by Intrepid Artists. “I would watch other guitar players to catch what they did. I would wait for that one moment when they would do it, and just stare at them and try and remember where their hand was, where their fingers were.”

Alligator Records’ Tommy Castro and The Painkillers recently released “The Devil You Know,” Castro’s first full-length studio release since 2009.

“The Devil You Know” is also Castro's first album featuring his new lean and mean stripped down four-piece band, The Painkillers. The 13-track CD – featuring nine songs written or co-written by Castro – showcases a looser, grittier, down and dirty side of Castro's signature blend of hard hitting blues, rock and Memphis soul that harkens back to the days when he started playing as a teenager.

Castro is a multiple Blues Music Award winner, most notably for his 2009 Alligator debut, “Hard Believer.” In 2010, Castro won four Blues Music Awards including, for the second time in his career, the B.B. King Entertainer of the Year Award, and, for his whole group, Band Of The Year. He also picked up Contemporary Blues Album of the Year and Contemporary Blues Male Artist of the Year.

Also performing Saturday is another Alligator Records band – the gold standard for raw-boned slide-fueled Chicago blues: Lil' Ed & the Blues Imperials.

Lil' Ed & the Blues Imperials recently received the 2013 Living Blues Critics' and Readers' Awards for Best Live Performer.

James Hunter was born in 1962 into a working–class family in Colchester, Essex, in England.

“It wasn’t quite like growing up with the blues in Alabama, but in my part of England, anywhere south of Watford would be considered Alabama,” he says in his biography. “In the States, you’ve got the Mason-Dixon Line and in England, we’ve got the Watford Gap.”

Hunter’s earliest musical influences came from a collection of old 78 rpm records of ’50s rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm and blues. Hunter’s grandmother gave him the collection. His older brother taught him to play guitar.

His most fifth studio album, “Minute by Minute,” was released in 2013.

Palladium to host After Shows

A series of Tampa Bay Blues Festival After Shows will be presented Friday and Saturday, April 11-12, at the Palladium at St. Petersburg College, 253 Fifth Ave. N., St. Petersburg.

The Palladium is within walking distance of Vinoy Park and offers a beautiful setting to enjoy additional music while socializing with friends and blues fans from around the country. This concert series features some of the best blues bands from the festival, all performing in the intimate setting of the Palladium Theater.

The ticket price for each night’s show is $20. Tickets are available online and at the door each evening. Seating is limited.

To purchase tickets for the After Show events, visit www.t­ampab­ayblu­esfes­t.com.

On Friday, April 11, the lineup will include performances by Matt Schofield, Coco Montoya and Selwyn Birchwood. On Saturday, April 12, the lineup will include performances by Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials, Tommy Castro & the Painkillers and Nikki Hill.
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