Chicago blues musician headlines Pennsylvania Blues Fest’s 25th anniversary
LAKE HARMONY — Pennsylvania Blues Festival celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, but the multi-day event almost had to go without a Saturday night headliner.
The festival, which runs from Sept. 16 through Sept. 18 at Split Rock Resort in Lake Harmony, originally featured Grammy-nominated act Buckwheat Zydeco in its top slot on Sept. 17. When Buckwheat had to cancel dates due to health concerns, festival producer Michael Cloeren reached out to Chicago blues man, Ronnie Baker Brooks.
“It was tough to be honest with you,” Brooks said. “You want to wish well for Buckwheat Zydeco and you know that this was his slot, it was meant for him, but then again you get excited ‘cause it’s an opportunity to play the festival. It’s a pretty cool festival to play.”
Brooks has played the festival multiple times — he described his return as a “homecoming,” and this year he’ll bring a friend along in Blues Hall of Fame musician Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater. The two are no strangers to each other — Brooks played on his fellow Chicagoan’s last two releases and will share the stage with him Sept. 17.
“Eddy Clearwater, he’s a cross between Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters with his music,” Cloeren said. “He wears an Indian headdress, he’s a big showman, so that’ll be a real treat for the fans.”
Clearwater and Brooks join a lineup Cloren said is like going to an ice cream parlor — no matter which flavor of blues they prefer, there’s something for everyone.
“To me it’s like my children each year, booking this lineup,” Cloeren said. “They’re all international artists, they tour all over the world and it’s really special. Even for people who don’t think they like blues or don’t know what blues is, it’s happy music. They should come out and see this tradition that’s been happening 25 consecutive years in the Poconos.”
The festival took place in Lake Harmony for the majority of its lifetime before moving to Palmerton in 2011. It returned to its hometown last year to what Cloeren described as a warm welcome.
“All the bars booked blues bands down that strip in Lake Harmony, they put out banners, it’s a cool vibe,” Cloeren said. “That’s why we end the music at 9:30 Saturday and Sunday, because then they can go to the local restaurants to have dinner or see a local band, or they can come to our showcases on-site for late night jamming.”
Tickets for the showcases are $12 in advance at PennsylvaniaBluesFestival.com or $17 at the gate, while a one-day ticket is $35 in advance and $40 at the gate. Tickets are also available for an 11 a.m. Sept. 17 master class with blues guitarist Ronnie Earl for $50. Cloeren said the class was organized to give a wider variety of people reason to check out the 25-year-old festival — something key to its next 25 years.
Reach Gene Axton at 570-991-6121 or on Twitter @TLArts
IF YOU GO
What: The 25th Pennsylvania Blues Festival
When: 7 p.m. Sept. 16, noon Sept. 17 and Sept. 18
Where: Split Rock Resort, 100 Moseywood Rd., Lake Harmony
How Much: $12 in advance and $17 at the door Sept. 16. $35 in advance and $40 at the door Sept. 17 and Sept. 18.
Special Events: A $50 master class with blues guitarist Ronnie Earl, 11 a.m. Sept. 17. The 9 p.m. Sept. 17 showcase is $12 in advance and $17 at the door. The 9:30 a.m. Sept. 18 brunch is $30 in advance; $35 at the door. A Saturday/Sunday pass is $60. To purchase tickets in advance for any of the weekend’s events, visit PennsylvaniaBluesFestival.com.