The fifth annual Flights & Sounds Summer Festival at the Orange County Great Park will continue Aug. 23 with Jim Washburn's Guitar Picks.
The festival's Made in America Weekend — dedicated to blues, swing and guitars — will kick off with a program curated by local critic Jim Washburn starring Junior Watson, the John Jorgenson Quintet and Mark Turnbull.
During the festival, audiences of all ages are treated to five weekends of free summer concerts that feature a diverse mix of dance and music performances ranging from African rhythms to Celtic folk.
Concerts are held in three unique venues. Guitar Picks takes place at Palm Court Arts Complex, an outdoor, club-like space under 54 illuminated Canary Island palm trees.
Blues guitarist Watson, 62, boasts nearly 30 years of experience with blues and swing genres. Watson, an Orange County resident, frequents several local music venues and has performed all around the world.
Over the years, the guitarist and vocalist has always been a sideman or featured artist. But at the festival, he will step out into the spotlight.
Watson's three-piece backing band will include bassist Bill Stuve and drummer Ed Mann from the Mighty Flyers, as well as pianist Fred Kaplan of the Hollywood Fats Band. The quartet will play a 45-minute set of songs off "Jumpin' wit Junior," Watson's third solo CD, released in May. But otherwise, Watson has not really thought about the set list, he said.
"A lot of that stuff is done usually when you see the crowd," he said in a phone interview. "We've got a lot of options, so I'll just maneuver around when I see what kind of crowd is there, what kind of age group they are in general, and then we'll take it from there."
Watson first gained notoriety three decades ago, while playing West Coast jump blues style.
Since then, he has played on more than 60 albums and has backed-up or recorded with the who's-who of the blues: George Smith, Jimmy Rogers, Shakey Jake, Luther Tucker, Charlie Musselwhite, Kim Wilson and William Clarke.
In 1976, he played guitar for blues legend Big Mama Thorton.
"She was a real character," Watson said. "I can say that much. She was pretty funny. She was a little bit bitter, because everyone was doing her songs and she didn't get credit for a lot of them. You know, 'Hound Dog' was done by Elvis Presley, but Leiber and Stoller put their name on it. And then, Janis Joplin did 'Ball And Chain.' So, she was a little bit bitter, but she plugged out there and she just really did her thing. It was amazing."
Although heavily influenced by blues music, Watson melds diverse styles together to create a sound of his own. His influences are as varied as Tiny Grimes, Oscar Moore, Bill Jennings, Rene Hall, Robert Lockwood Jr., Jimmy Rogers, Eddie Taylor, Guitar Slim and Earl Hooker.
"It's mysterious music, you know," Watson said of the blues. "It's simple music, but there is something to it. There's an element of amazement in there, so I never get tired of it to this day. The blues is bigger than you could imagine. It kind of captivates your soul in a way. Once you really get into it and you have a passion for it, you can't get rid of it."
Among the remaining featured acts in Guitar Picks is the John Jorgenson Quintet, which features guitarist John Jorgenson, a founding member of the Desert Rose Band and the Hellecasters.
The Grammy Award-winner and Academy of Country Music award recipient spent six years as Elton John's guitarist and has collaborated with artists from Barbra Streisand to Earl Scruggs, according to Jorgenson's website.
Jorgenson, also an avid clarinet player and vocalist, will play original Gypsy jazz style compositions with his quintet.
Grammy Award-winner Mark Turnbull completes the Guitar Picks line-up.
Turnbull will play jazz tunes on a classical guitar. Locals may remember him as the former music director and composer for the Laguna Playhouse.
The Flights & Sounds of Summer festival runs through Aug. 31.
The other Made in America Weekend acts are the Pete Jacobs Band, playing Aug. 24 and Grammy Award-winning bluegrass legend Del McCoury and his band will take the stage Aug. 25. The festival finishes up with the Aquabats! on Aug. 30 and Lavay Smith and Her Red-Hot Skillet Lickers on Aug. 31.
If You Go
What: Flights & Sounds Summer Festival
Who: John Jorgenson Quintet, Junior Watson and Mark Turnbull
When: 8:15 to 10:15 p.m. Aug. 23
Where: Palm Court Arts Complex, Orange County Great Park
Cost: Free admission, $10 parking