Colonial Beach Blues Festival Celebrates Virginia's Rich & Diverse Blues Heritage

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Famed Carolina blues musician Mac Arnold brings his mighty talents to the Colonial Beach Blues Festival (Photo by Joel Kinson of Seanettles Photography)
Famed Carolina blues musician Mac Arnold brings his mighty talents to the Colonial Beach Blues Festival (Photo by Joel Kinson of Seanettles Photography)

A small festival with big heart! That’s the best way to describe the Colonial Beach Blues Festival in Virginia that took place the weekend of June 20, kicking off the summer blues festival season.

In it’s fourth year, the festival attracts blues fans from all around the Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia region. There were 14 local and national acts featuring a wide range of blues performers showcasing their music.

Similar to other blues festivals, this festival is the result of a few people’s dedication and hard work keeping the blues in our mainstream lives. Dominick & Charlene Salemi of the Colonial Beach Blues Society professionally and successfully pulled off the Colonial Beach Blues Festival. “You have a festival and people will come from miles away!” Dominick Salemi says. Not only is this a celebration of the blues but also a charity event. All ticket proceeds for the event benefit the Organization for Autism Research.

The blues gods were in their favor as the first drop of rain fell Saturday night on Bobby Messano’s last electrifying blues-rock note for the night. “We’ve been lucky with rain “, Charlene Salemi says, “If it has rained in the past, it only delayed the music momentarily, but all-in-all the weather’s been good every year!”

Dominick Salemi proudly scans the crowd; everyone is tapping their feet in rhythm to the hard stomping, harmonic screaming innovative style of blues music from a well-dressed blues band from New York, Daddy Long Legs. Dominick Salemi smiles, “I like to bring something different and new to the fans.” Indeed, this was refreshingly different. He goes on to say he doesn’t like to invite too many of the same musicians because he doesn’t want his festival to be known as a venue for a particular band.

The Friday night headliner was Albert Castiglia. Castiglia and his band played songs from his new album, Solid Ground, on Ruff Records. A few catchy covers interpreted brilliantly, “Sway” and “Just like Jesus” demonstrated his ability to play a wide variety of different styles. His own songs, “Searching The Desert For The Blues” and “Sleepless Nights” highlight the extreme spiritual swag and emotional lyrics. Reading the crowd, Castiglia varied his playlist to accommodate the energized crowd from gentle acoustic melodies to crunching blues-based riffs and everything in between.

One band Dominick did invite back this year was the fan favorite Bobby Messano. When Messano and his band headlined Saturday night, he took the stage to what must have been one of the warmest welcomes in his career. Things got better when shortly into his set the band presented Messano with a birthday gift and cake. Obviously surprised by the kind act of his band, the offering set the tone for the night as Messano emotionally played songs from his album, Welcome to Deltaville (with Deanna Bogart), released by The Prince Frog Record Company.

The last headliner of the weekend was Mac Arnold & Plate Full O’ Blues. Sporting a calm and cool demeanor and looking larger than life in his black outfit, Arnold masterfully unveiled a full pallet of old-school blues to cap the long weekend. A true iconic bluesman not only does he play the blues, he is the blues. Mac Arnold’s resume is a whos-who in the blues world. He has toured and recorded with the Muddy Waters Band and recorded LPs with Otis Spann and John Lee Hooker. Mac Arnold proves the lyrical richness and culture of the early blues still has a place in society.

A number of the bands took to the microphone and thanked Dominick & Charlene Salemi for the opportunity to be part of the Organization for Autism Research charity and for the chance to perform in front of the crowd. The Bush League thanked Dominick & Charlene Salemi for their support “of the true American art form, the blues.” The Mike Starkey band from Lusby Maryland, with their entourage of supporters even graciously waived their fee to support the worthy charity. Waverly Milor who plays harp & vocal for Hard Swimmin’ Fish proudly tells the audience he works as a special education teacher and understands the importance of the charity because some of his students are autistic.

These acts of generosity and dedication highlight the importance of attending these festivals. Artists frequently work for nothing or close to nothing just to bring their brand of music to the listener. They often have CDs, tee shirts and other merchandise and gladly stick around after the show to sign autographs and discuss their music. You will not find that kind of intimacy with a larger commercialized national act.

For the blues fans in the Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia region the second annual Southern Maryland Blues Festival, August 23 & 24, will again bring the blues community together just across the Potomac River in Prince Frederick, Maryland.

Like the Colonial Beach Blues Festival, the Southern Maryland Blues Festival brings awareness of another charity, Safe Harbor, Inc. and Special Love, Inc. as its primary beneficiaries. Those who missed the Colonial Beach Blues Festival have another opportunity later this summer to see Bobby Messano and Mac Arnold & Plate Full O’ Blues dish out their style of blues. A partial list of bands in the line up include the Spin Doctors, Leon Russell, Guitar Shorty, Royal Southern Brotherhood and Samantha Fish. You can find more about the Southern Maryland Blues Festival here.

If you attend a blues festival this summer, you will no doubt be exposed to a wide range of music categorized as traditional or modern offshoots of the blues that can be as varied as the people who frequent these events. No matter if the festival is big or small, blues festivals are one of the greatest truly American cultural events bringing people together to celebrate our rich and diverse heritage. It doesn’t get any bigger than that.

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