The Lebanon Blues Festival keeps on growing
The blues have been described many ways by many different people. In the film “Crossroads” (the Ralph Macchio version, not the Britney Spears version) Willie Brown said, “Blues ain’t nothing but a good man feeling bad.” Stephen Stills once said, “One thing the blues ain’t is funny.” Maybe Jimi Hendrix said it best when he proclaimed the blues was easy to play, but hard to feel.
For the past 15 years, the city of Lebanon has defined the blues as a boon for community charitable efforts. The Lebanon Blues Festival again takes over the streets of the quaint, historic downtown area Saturday, Aug. 3 with some of the area’s heavy hitters in the genre.
The lineup boasts a wide variety of takes on the 12-bar form: the mellow jazzy tones of The Wright Brothers, the big band funk of the Bluebirds, the gut-bucket vocal authenticity of Them Bones.
However, it wouldn’t be a proper blues festival without a couple of guitar virtuosos.
That department is held down by a trio of some of the best players in Southwest Ohio. Noah Wotherspoon has been on stage since his pre-teen years. While he no longer fits into the “child prodigy” category, he has developed into a seasoned player. Anyone who loves the blues in the area has likely caught a Kelly Richey show or two already. Just as Wotherspoon dispelled any notion of novelty, Richey cannot simply be viewed as a “girl who plays pretty good.” Her playing has a bite and simmering intensity that only comes from decades of grinding it out on the road. Scotty Bratcher’s incendiary playing has enabled him to open for a virtual who’s who list of the genre’s top performers. He also plays with Kenny Wayne Shepherd band’s frontman in his side project, Noah Hunt and the 420 All Stars.
Let it grow
The festival was originally organized by the Lebanon Chamber of Commerce, but after two years, the Optimist Club took over the reins. Initially, times were tough, according to Chairperson Ann Smith.
“The first couple years we barely made any money, but we’re now able to give more than $40,000 every year back to the community from the festival,” Smith said.
The event draws together many different crowds. Of course, music fans come for the blues, but a classic car show was added in 2004 and Red Hot Blues Run followed two years later. A motorcycle show will make its debut this year.
Families are encouraged to come, as a kid’s area offers games and crafts to keep the little ones busy. Foodies can take in some BBQ and a beer garden offers fans of hops and barley a place to partake in a cold beverage or two. This all-inclusive atmosphere has allowed the festival to grow each year, with attendance estimates of around 14,000.
“People know that we’re easy to get to, we’re a free event that they can kind of come down and hang out with their friends and family and listen to some good music,” Smith said.
While the car show and kids’ row make the afternoon a decidedly family affair, around 8 p.m. usually brings on a more adult vibe. This is usually when the crowd swells to the largest of the day.
“It’s pretty much standing room only in the music area and beer garden,” Smith said. “It’s really packed.”
The success the festival has enjoyed also encouraged the local Rotary Club and Historic Downtown Lebanon, Inc. to stage a country music festival earlier this year. Smith said the Optimist Club was proud to have established a template that others in the community could emulate.
Building up the community
The crowds may come for the tunes, car show or just a free show, but Smith said what she puts the most value in is the ability to raise money to pump right back into the community.
Proceeds from the festival go to causes such as the Warrior Back Pack Program, the Child Advocacy Center and Bridge Riding for the disabled just to name a few. The Red Hot Blues Run supports the city’s parks and recreations department.
“A lot of people come to the blues festival and think ‘Hey, it’s a festival that I’m going to go and listen to music.’ They don’t really understand that the money they’re paying for that beer and BBQ sandwich is really going to help the kids of this community,” Smith said. “Every time you’re spending money and coming to our festival, you’re helping a kid get a meal over the weekend that normally wouldn’t get fed, you’re supporting kids that have been raped and abused. That’s what’s important to us – to raise that money and give it back to the community.”
The Lebanon Blues Festival will take place in downtown Lebanon on Saturday, Aug. 3 from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Admission is free. Check-in for the Red Hot Blues run will take place at 4:30 p.m. behind the City Building. The kids’ run begins at 6 p.m. The adult run begins at 7 p.m. For more information, visit lebanonbluesfestival.org.
Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at RustyPate@DaytonCityPaper.com.
2013 Lebanon Blues Festival schedule
Jimmy D. Rogers 11 a.m.
The Wright Brothers noon
The Noah Wotherspoon Band 2 p.m.
Them Bones 3:30 p.m.
The Kelly Richey Band 5 p.m.
Gregg Clark & the Lebanon Blues All-Stars 6:30 p.m.
The Bluebirds 8 p.m.
The Scotty Bratcher Band 9:45 p.m.