The thrill remains

The 28th Annual Michelob Dayton Blues Festival

 By Benjamin Smith
Photo by: Longtime regional blues favorites Cincinnati Slim & the Headhunters return to headline the Dayton Blues Festival on July 21

Earl “Southside” Hayes’ love affair with the blues began with a single song. It then bloomed with a case of mistaken identity.

“I went to a blues jam looking for a chance to hear some live music, and had an opportunity to hear Snapper Mitchum, an entertainer and bassist from Chicago who had moved to Dayton,” Hayes recalled. “He sang a cover of B.B. King’s ‘The Thrill Is Gone.’ That tune made me run out the next day to a local record shop and purchase a B.B. King album. I was so excited that I grabbed the wrong thing – I grabbed a record by Albert King! I heard Albert’s song ‘Blues At Sunrise’ and that did it for me.”

Hayes was hooked. So much so, in fact, that the lifelong singer started performing with Snapper Mitchum and other blues artists. Then, in 2003, Hayes formed his own group, the Southside Blues Band.

“I stepped out and assembled some local friends to develop a blues show that allowed me to be the frontman,” Hayes said. “I don’t play any instruments at all. I really liked being a showman, so I learned from several people, such as the late great Dayton blues singer Piney Brown. All of them taught me a lot about playing to a crowd.”

Known in Dayton for their soulful covers – selections by Buddy Guy, Bill Withers, Stevie Ray Vaughn and yes, B.B. King – the current Southside lineup will perform their set at the 28th Annual Michelob Dayton Blues Festival on Sunday, July 21. It’s an event that Hayes is very familiar with. Not only has he performed there before, but 2013 marks his eighth year as its host/emcee.

“It’s been a wonderful eight years,” said Hayes. “During his first year coordinating the festival, Marty Romie – the talent buyer for the festival – convinced Jim Nichols, the founder of the Dayton Blues Festival, to give me an opportunity to host. Jim passed away in 2008, and I honor him every year at the festival.”

Hayes’ enthusiasm for the concert remains as strong as it was when he first served as host.

“The growth of the festival has been an exciting thing to see,” Hayes said. “I think each year, the variety and styles of blues give people something to look forward to.”

This year’s show should prove no different.

Starting things off on the good foot will be a 1 p.m. performance by Pittsburgh native and Dayton resident Chris Yakopcic, who won the solo/duo honors at the 2012 Cincinnati Blues Society “Road to Memphis” Blues Challenge.

“Chris is an amazing talent,” Hayes explained. “He plays both the guitar and harmonica exceptionally well. I think everyone will enjoy his style, especially people who love artists from the old Stax Records label.”

Sets by Show Stoppers, Johnny Mack & The Heavyweights, Big Joe Blues and Bad Men On A Mission will follow. Then, at 6 p.m., the Southside Blues Band take the stage.

Capping the festival will be a set by the reunited Cincinnati Slim & The Headhunters, who reigned as a legendary live act in the Miami Valley during the 1980s and 1990s.

“Slim [KC Elstun] is extremely talented. I haven’t seen him in years, so it will be good to catch up. Let’s hope they have Chuck Berry’s ‘Little Queenie’ on the set list! Slim’s harmonica playing and the band’s driving music will have your toes tapping – or better yet, you’ll be up and dancing.”

Of course, dancing – and watching other Daytonians dance – is only one of the concert’s selling points.

“People associate the blues with sad, lifeless music,” Hayes said. “But it’s really powerful. Blues transcends, and I would have to say that the Dayton Blues Festival brings different people together to enjoy the music and interact with one another. There are watchers of the blues, listeners of the blues and there are those who just love to dance to the blues. People really have a good time. I encourage everyone to come out, enjoy the music, the great food and all the friendly people. The City of Dayton Department of Recreation and Youth Services, and the Downtown Dayton Partnership, work hard with all the other sponsors and vendors to make this happen. Best of all, the price is right – it’s free!”


The 28th Annual Michelob Dayton Blues Festival will take place on Sunday, July 21, at Dave Hall Plaza, located at Fourth and Jefferson Streets. Admission is free. Food and merchandise vendors will be present. Michelob will offer premium beers. Lawn chairs and blankets are welcome; alcoholic beverages and pets are not permitted. The schedule of performances for this year’s festival is as follows: 1 p.m.: Chris Yakopcic; 2 p.m.: Show Stoppers; 3 p.m.: Johnny Mack & The Heavyweights; 4 p.m.: Big Joe Blues; 5 p.m.: Bad Men On A Mission; 6 p.m.: Southside Blues Band; 7 p.m.: Cincinnati Slim & The Headhunters. For more information, call 937.333.8400.

Reach DCP freelance writer Benjamin Smith at

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Benjamin Smith

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