Well, the Memorial Day Weekend is almost upon us. It's a bittersweet weekend for me. One, because it features one of my favorite music festivals of the year — the Santa Cruz Blues Festival (see Beth Peerless' story in this week's GO!).
Two, because Monday is Memorial Day, certainly a day of celebration and remembrance, but I'm not sure how many people really know what the day is all about. As a veteran, it's especially poignant to me because it not only honors those who serve in our armed services here at home and all over the world, but it honors those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.
So, while you're barbecuing, picnicking, frolicking on the beach, whatever you do to celebrate the holiday, take a moment to say a quick prayer for those departed and send positive thoughts for those still putting themselves in harm's way for our freedoms.
OK, now back to the blues festival. Why is it one of the best music festivals on the West Coast? Well, for one thing it's held in a beautiful location, the tree-rimmed natural bowl of Aptos Village Park, with relatively easy access and shuttle bus service with free parking at Cabrillo College just down the road.
Two, it's compact, all killer, no filler. There are five top-notch acts each day, Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Three, the headliners are true headliners. Past artists have included B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Bonnie Raitt, Boz Scaggs, Al Green, Joe Cocker, Ben Harper, Ray Charles, Robert Cray and on and on. Sometimes there are two or more headliners each day.
Plus, there are some great opening acts, usually a rising star. A few years ago, I caught an opening act that blew away a still half-asleep audience on Sunday morning: Trombone Shorty, who has since become a headliner in his own right.
This year the headliners include the Doobie Brothers, Los Lobos, Jonny Lang, Los Lonely Boys and Joan Osborne, with supporting acts that include Tommy Castro, Big Sam's Funky Nation, The Holmes Brothers, Coco Montoya, Jimmy Thackery, Elvin Bishop and the great Chicago harp master James Cotton.
And if you noticed, not all these artists are strictly blues artists, although most are rooted in the blues tradition, even a tried-and-true rock 'n' roll act such as the Doobies.
It's almost impossible these days to book a two-day festival with purely blues acts, especially if you want to sell it out. The big-name artists are slowly dying off or touring with less frequency and there aren't a lot of young artists coming in to fill their shoes.
So Santa Cruz sprinkles its lineup with bluesy rock, New Orleans funk and R&B and even the occasional Americana act (think Dave Alvin last year).
All that said, you will, of course, find me in Santa Cruz both days. Besides, I'm in love with Joan Osborne. There, I said it. Her new album, "Bring It On Home," by the way, very bluesy and soulful, is one of her best, IMHO.
More info and details (including streaming music from all festival artists) is at www.santacruzbluesfestival.com.
But, there are two more festivals this weekend, both in Monterey, the third California Roots Music&Arts Festival at the Monterey County Fairgrounds and the inuagural Great Monterey Clam Chowder & Calamari Festival at the Custom House Plaza in downtown Monterey.
Marcos Cabrera covers the former in his story in this issue, but suffice to say this "reggae/rock" festival features artists such as SOJA, Pepper, The Expendables, Iration, JBoog, Passafire, The Green and One A-Chord. Details and tickets at: www.Cal-Roots.com.
The latter, yes, is predominantly a food festival, but it does have a musical component, plus it's all free! Well, the food will cost you a few sheckels, but everything else is free.
Bands playing over the three-day event include the Cachagua Playboys, John "Broadway" Tucker, the IPOs, BTA, Red beans & Rice, Nu-Horizon and the ReUnion Band.
Details at 649-6545. Also, check out Mike Hale's story in the Friday Life & Times section of the Monterey County Herald.
Quick hits: Tune in Saturday at 11:05 a.m. to The Spotlight Hour with Tanya Moore at 1460 AM or 101.1 FM (or 1460KION.com online) to hear reality TV stars, Carmel residents and a cappella singing group Overtone.
The group is starring, along with Dina Eastwood and family, in the E! network series "Mrs. Eastwood & Co." Go to the Facebook page for the Spotlight Hour to direct questions to the boys.
And, the legendary The Fabulous Bagtones will play a rare show Sunday night at 8 at Carbone's in New Monterey, with none other than Tom Ayres on guitar and general merriment. This band doesn't play often, so this is a real treat. No cover, plenty of covers and open to everyone. GO!
Santa Cruz happenings:
Of course, this is Santa Cruz Blues Festival weekend, so all the after-parties, well at least Saturday and Sunday, are at Moe's Alley. Friday night's might be considered a pre-party, featuring, as it does The Holmes Brothers doing their gospel-blues thing at 9 p.m.
Saturday night, at 9 it's New Orleans funk with Big Sam's Funky Nation, while the Sunday finale at 9 p.m. features Coco Montoya and Jimmy Thackery and any number of artists from that day's festivities jamming with the boys.
Other music in Santa Cruz includes Americana singer-songwriter Robert Earl Keen at the Rio Theater on Monday night, while James Farm with saxophonist Joshua Redman plays the Kuumbwa Jazz Center on Thursday night.
Guitarist Pierre Bensusan plays Thursday night at Don Quixote's in Felton, while Pipa Pinon & Dreambeach plays Wednesday, also at Don Quixote's.