You cannot get enough of the blues.
Which is why there will be a second annual Reading Blues Fest Nov. 16 through 18, primarily at the DoubleTree by Hilton Reading.
Once again, the festival is being presented by Berks Arts Council with John Ernesto as fest general manager — the same folks who bring you Boscov’s Berks Jazz Fest.
Rock and Rock Hall of Fame inductee and Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Booker T. Jones is the headliner while Reading Blues Fest also is stocked with plenty of other extraordinary artists.
Jones plus Ruthie Foster featuring DOXA Gospel Ensemble will bring A Night of Soulful Blues to the DoubleTree Grand Ballroom on Friday, Nov. 16, at 8 p.m.
Jones was one of the architects of the Memphis soul sound of the 1960s as the leader of Booker T. & the MG’s, who scored a number of hits on their own as well as serving as the Stax Records house band.
He arguably is the most famous Hammond B3 player in history with his trademark keyboard chops elevating him into a pillar of soul music.
But Jones’ accomplishments don’t stop there. As a producer, songwriter, arranger and instrumentalist, he has worked with a remarkable variety of artists such as Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Willie Nelson, John Lee Hooker, Soul Asylum, the Roots, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Eddie Floyd, Albert King, Steven Sills, Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge.
In 1971 Jones produced the outstanding debut album by Bill Withers, which featured the hit memorable “Ain’t No Sushine” single. In 1978 Jones produced Willie Nelson’s triple platinum album Stardust.
In 1992 Booker T. & the MG’s were induced into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and that same year the group reunited for a special high-profile gig, serving as the house band for an all-star tribute to Dylan on his 30th anniversary as a recording artist.
Ruthie Foster won the Koko Taylor Award for Traditional Blues Female at the 2018 Blue Music Awards. It was her eighth Blues Music Award. With the release of her latest album Joy Comes Back, the Recording Academy may want to put its engraver on notice. Because every note on it confirms this truth: It’s Ruthie’s time.
Reading’s own DOXA Gospel Ensemble, whose name means “praise,” has been featured many times in the Boscov’s Berks Jazz Fest as guests with other artists, mostly notably in Kirk Whalum’s Gospel According to Jazz Celebration.
Opening Night features the Welcome Party concert with the Craig Thatcher Band with very special guest G.E. Smith on Friday, Nov. 16, at 6 p.m. at the Crossroads at the DoubleTree.
Thatcher is a gifted guitarist, vocalist and songwriter from Nazareth who has played with such great artists as Simone, Buddy Guy, Derek Trucks, John Mayall, Jimmie Vaughan, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Roseanne Cash, Roger McGuinn, Herman’s Hermits, Spencer Davis Group and John Mayer.
Smith is one of the most in-demand blues/rock guitarists in the world. Millions of TV viewers know him from his 10-year tenure stint fronting the Saturday Night Live Band. He was lead guitarist for Daryl Hall and John Oates, toured with Bob Dylan and performed with Mick Jagger, Tina Turner, Buddy Guy, Eddie Van Halen and Keith Richards.
The festival finale is a blockbuster featuring four distinct concerts starting at noon on Sunday, Nov. 18, at the DoubleTree Grand Ballroom with Shemekia Copeland, John Nemeth with The Berks Horns, Jazz Gets the Blues: Clarence Spady & Nick Colionne, and Vanessa Collier.
Whether she’s belting out a raucous blues-rocker, firing up a blistering soul-shouter, bringing the spirit to a gospel-fueled R&B rave-up or digging deep down into a subtle, country-tinged ballad, Shemekia Copeland sounds like no one else.
John Nemeth is top shelf as an electric blues and soul harmonicist, singer and songwriter. He has won two Blues Music Awards for Soul Blues Male Artist in 2014 and Soul Blues Album in 2015 for Memphis Grease.
The Berks Horns are Mike Anderson on saxophone, John Loos on trombone and Rob Diener on trumpet.
Clarence Spady plays with a depth and sensitivity that can’t be taught, effortlessly combining blues, jazz, funk, Latin and rock into his own unique style. His moving guitar play, rough street-edged vocals, songwriting and live improvisations are demonstrated with every performance.
With a style that is both urban and contemporary, Nick Colionne combines jazz, R&B, blues and funk into an unmistakable sound and vibe that is instantly recognizable. Colionne takes the guitar to unexpected places in his performances and his rich baritone vocals delight his audiences.
The multi-talented Vanessa Collier is an in-demand artist, bringing her charismatic charm, passionate and fiery performances, soulful voice, searing saxophone solos and witty songwriting to the stage.
Between its opening and closing concerts, Reading Blues Fest is just that – a veritable blues fest.
For starters, there is the Friday, Nov. 16, at 11:30 a.m. Kickoff Luncheon at The Peanut Bar Restaurant with The Bluesmasters featuring three Berks County musical giants — bassist/vocalist Bennie Sims, pianist/vocalist Cliff Starkey and saxophonist/vocalist Erich Cawalla.
In what promises to be an unforgettable concert, Chicago Plays the Stones featuring Ronnie Baker Brooks, Billy Branch and more plus Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials are set for Saturday, Nov. 17, at 1:30 p.m. at the DoubleTree Grand Ballroom.
Brooks and Branch performed on the Chicago Plays the Stones album, which has 12 all-new recordings of iconic Rolling Stones songs, reimagined in the Chicago blues style.
Brooks is a blues and soul guitarist, singer, songwriter and recording artist. He is a highly respected club performer in Chicago.
Branch is a harmonica player and singer who has played on over 150 different recordings, including 12 under his name. Some of the notables he has recorded with are Willie Dixon, Johnny Winter, Lou Rawls, Koko Taylor, John Primer and Taj Mahal.
Lil’ Ed Williams is a blues slide guitarist, singer and songwriter. With his backing band, The Blues Imperials, they enthrall audiences. Williams’ swirling, snarling slide guitar work is riveting, and The Imperials are a snarling boogie-blues machine.
Vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Blind Boy Paxton is doing two shows on Saturday, Nov. 17, at noon and 6 p.m., at the Crossroads at the DoubleTree. His style draws from blues and jazz before World War II, transporting audiences back to the 1920s and 1930s and making them wish they could stay there for good.
Alexis P. Suter, the owner of that big, booming voice, and her band The Ministers of Sound. perform at the A Sly Fox Brewery Co. Happy Hour Concert on Saturday, Nov. 17, at 4 p.m. at the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts.
Tommy Castro & The Painkillers plus Tinsley Ellis are center stage on Saturday, Nov. 17, at 8 p.m. at the DoubleTree Grand Ballroom.
Castro is known for his intensely passionate vocals, stellar musicianship and dynamic performances. He and The Painkillers — bassist Randy McDonald, keyboardist Michael Emerson and drummer Bowen Brown – have played hundreds of shows to thousands of music lovers, always leaving audiences screaming for more.
Ellis, a Southern blues-rock guitar wizard, vocalist and songwriter, has been a bona fide worldwide guitar hero for over three decades. Armed with his signature molten licks, melodic riffs and rousing intense solos, Ellis is among the blues world’s best-loved, hardest-working and most well-travelled statesmen.
Also on Saturday, Nov. 17, are the Guitar Conversations with G.E. Smith and Craig Thatcher hosted by Michael Cloeren at 10:30 a.m. at the DoubleTree Amphitheater and the entertaining Dave Mell Blues Band at 7:30 p.m. at the Peanut Bar Restaurant.
Local guitarist Josh Taylor’s Next Gen Blues is at Sofrito Gastro Pub/Reading for a noon Blues Brunch on Sunday, Nov. 18.
There is a special film screening of “Sidemen: Long Road to Glory” on Sunday, Nov. 18, at 10 a.m. at the DoubleTree Amphitheater. The film is an intimate look at the incredible lives and legacies of piano player Pinetop Perkins, drummer Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and guitarist Hubert Sumlin, all Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf sidemen. There is a post-film Q&A with director Scott D. Rosenbaum. Michael Cloeren hosts the event.
The Blues Jam will be Friday, Nov. 16, and Saturday, Nov. 17, at 11:30 p.m. at the Crossroads at the DoubleTree with the Craig Thatcher Band and very special guest G.E. Smith hosting Friday night and Vanessa Collier hosting Saturday night.
For ticket information and artist profiles, please visit readingbluesfest.com.
The mission of Berks Arts Council is to cultivate, support and promote the arts in our community through collaboration, education and presentation. In addition to the Reading Blues Fest, Berks Arts Council presents Berks Jazz Fest, Bandshell Concert Series, Pagoda Awards and Fast Lane Art, administers the Pennsylvania Partners in the Arts Re-Granting Program, and provides art exhibition and marketing opportunities for member artists. Visit www.BerksArts.org for more information.