Doheny Blues Festival is returning with a new lineup and a new location

Singer and songwriter Beth Hart will perform at the 21st annual Doheny Blues Festival on May 20 at Sea Terrace Community Park in Dana Point.
(Photo by Studio-E Elena Garm)

The Doheny Blues Festival traditionally offers different lineups of seasoned veterans and up-and-coming acts, but this year music fans are in for another change: a new location.

The 21st annual Doheny Blues Festival will be held at Sea Terrace Community Park in Dana Point on May 19 and 20.

Founded in 1998, the festival has played host in years past to blues legends Bo Diddley, B.B. King and John Lee Hooker and rock pioneers Chuck Berry and Little Richard.

The festival was forced to move this year after the California parks department notified organizers in November that they’d have to find a new venue after two decades at Doheny State Beach.

“If you’ve attended the Doheny Blues Festival over the last 20 years, you definitely do not want to miss this year’s event at the new location,” said show producer Rich Sherman via an email interview. “We have some surprises in store for music fans, and the lineup and venue is truly stellar.”

Headlining this year’s festival are Rock & Roll Hall of Fame bluesman Buddy Guy, boogie blues guitarist George Thorogood and the Destroyers, jam band Blues Traveler, British Invasion singer Eric Burdon and the Animals and blues guitarist Jimmie Vaughan. The hot new acts include boisterous North Carolina native Nikki Hill, Southern roots rockers Larkin Poe led by sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell, and Bay Area dance party ensemble the California Honeydrops.

“We always try to find a balance of crossover headliners, traditional blues artists and a few emerging acts — and this year is no exception,” Sherman said.

Los Angeles-born singer/songwriter Beth Hart returns to Doheny after playing the festival in 2015. Hart got her first break as a 1993 “Star Search” winner. Two decades of touring have taken her from Nashville’s iconic Ryman Auditorium to London’s Royal Albert Hall.

Hart’s Doheny set is likely to include some of the songs she says best define her: “Leave the Light On,” “Swing My Thing” and “Sky Full of Clover.”

“There’s a lot of soul, there’s jazz, there’s rock, there’s blues, there’s gospel,” Hart said. “There’s a lot of what I call storytelling kind of songs. It’s just a mix of a lot of different styles that I like.”

Hart never knows whether she’s going to click or not with a festival crowd, but said she had fun during her last Doheny appearance.

“It was the nicest crowd and we just loved it,” Hart said. “Hopefully we’ll have that same connection again. I’m always nervous. I never know what the reception is going to be.”

The Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter has teamed with guitar heroes like Jeff Beck, Neal Schon and Slash, but is best known for her work with blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa.

The brooding, emotionally-bare blues rocker with the burnt-honey voice paired up in 2013 on “What You Gonna Do About Me” with festival co-headliner Buddy Guy.

Hart and Guy have been on the same bill of a lot of shows, but they’ve never performed on stage with each other. Hart was in the bathroom when Guy tried to call her up on stage in Australia and she had just gotten a face peel when he invited her to join him for a show at the Hollywood Bowl.

“I think I’d be terrified to be up on stage with him,” Hart said. “He’s so awesome. I wouldn’t even feel worthy.”

This year’s festival will be held at Sea Terrace Community Park on the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Niguel Road, next door to Monarch Beach Resort and across the street from the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel.

Festival organizers have received feedback about parking concerns, Sherman said.

“In all, we feel the parking process will actually be more efficient than in the past,” he said.

Early birds might be able to find free parking on portions of Niguel Road and PCH. Paid parking with free shuttle service will be available at Strands Beach and Dana Hills High School. The Salt Creek Beach Park parking lot next to the Ritz opens at 7 a.m.

Festival gates open at 11 a.m. for general admission ticket holders. The two-day show will feature 24 sets of music on two main stages at opposite ends of the venue with a third “back porch” stage for more intimate acoustic performances.

Like the festival’s former home, the new venue will offer a food court, wine lounge, craft beer garden and vendor area, all with Pacific Ocean views.

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Brady MacDonald is a contributor to Times Community News.