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SPECIAL EVENTS : The Blues Get Bigger in Long Beach

Event: Long Beach Blues Festival.

Performers: Albert Collins, Johnnie Taylor, Bobby (Blue) Bland, Albert King, the Staple Singers, James Cotton, Ruth Brown, the Kinsey Report, Johnny Adams with Walter (Wolfman) Washington, Lil’ Ed & the Blues Imperials.

History: The first Long Beach Blues Festival was in July, 1980, after KLON-FM deejay and blues-booster Bernie Pearl, frustrated by the lack of live opportunities for local blues musicians, persuaded the station to sponsor a festival at the Cal State Long Beach football stadium. The initial event drew only 700 people, but generated enough momentum to add a second day by 1984. More than 16,000 attended last year’s two-day event, and several auxiliary programs preceded the weekend concert. Several factors account for that growth: a shift to the campus’ North Athletic Field placed the festival in an unusually pleasant spot for an outdoor concert; the development of solid production values ensured good sound and tight scheduling; and a change in date to mid-September made Long Beach a logical second stop for major blues acts for the established San Francisco Blues Festival the week before.

Sound: Long Beach has always tried to showcase the wide range of styles under the blues umbrella, and this year’s model is no exception. There’s a heavy slant toward the Southern soul-gospel side, with former Stax hit-makers Johnnie Taylor (“Who’s Makin’ Love to Your Old Lady,” “Disco Lady”) and the Staple Singers (“Respect Yourself,” “I’ll Take You There”). The Chicago sound is represented by harp master James Cotton, the tough, modern blues of the Kinsey Report and the raucous boogie of Lil’ Ed & the Blues Imperials. Guitar fanatics can get their kicks from the licks of Albert Collins and Albert King. Ruth Brown (co-star of John Waters’ film “Hairspray”) will swing out with the jazz-tinged blues strain that helped get Atlantic Records on its feet in the late ‘40s. Don’t be too surprised, though, if Johnny Adams steals the vocals honors, particularly since “the tan canary” will be teamed with his longtime New Orleans partner, guitarist Walter (Wolfman) Washington, for the first time in Los Angeles. But the best thing about the festival is that you never know who might catch fire and turn in the outstanding set. Last year, people came away talking about Clarence (Gatemouth) Brown more than headliners Robert Cray and B. B. King, and those who saw the 1986 festival are probably still raving about Little Milton’s scintillating performance.

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Dates: Saturday and next Sunday, Cal State Long Beach North Athletic Field, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.


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