PA Blues Fest returns to Lake Harmony, Shemekia Copeland to perform special set
LAKE HARMONY — The blues returns to the Poconos Friday and plays through Sunday during the Pennsylvania Blues Festival.
The festival started as the Poconos Blues Festival in 1992 and spent its first 19 years at the nearby Big Boulder Ski Area, but for the last four years the festival has organized at Blue Mountain Ski Area near Palmerton.
This year’s iteration of the Pennsylvania Blues Festival sees the event’s return to Lake Harmony, albeit at a new venue — Split Rock. Festival producer Michael Cloeren is excited about the move.
“Picture two stages—a big concert stage going up a ski hill and then a 9,000-square-foot performance tent with 1,000 chairs under it,” Cloeren said. “Then, in between, you have a grove with vendors. It’s a really nice, level terrain and easily accessible which is important. The Friday and Saturday night showcases are 200 yards from the festival grounds at the Galleria Conference Center. Finally, the setting is nice and there’s plenty of on-site lodging. There are several hotels within 5 miles.”
The move back to Lake Harmony benefits the festival in a myriad of ways, but Cloeren said the festival gives back just as much to the community.
“People were used to coming here (for the festival), Cloeren said. “It’s a community event—for the local hotels, restaurants (and) bars, it was the biggest weekend of the year in the 1990s and 2000s at Lake Harmony. If you take that revenue away from the community, it’s a big hit. Blues people are worldly, they travel and they spend money. They definitely have subsidiary income.”
The Pennsylvania Blues Festival kicks off with a dinner and showcase featuring Mikey Junior’s Blues Revue, then continues during the weekend with 17 national acts over two full days. That’s a lot of blues to book, but Cloeren has a formula for creating the ideal genre festival.
“How I program blues is one-third classic festival names, one-third names that rarely come east of the Mississippi and one-third artists that even knowledgeable blues fans might have heard of but never seen before,” Cloeren said. “We give the fans that travel far and wide a reason for traveling far and wide. In the 24 years I’ve probably booked 500 national and international artists and I’ve probably seen 450 of them prior to booking them.”
The festival will feature Grammy-nominated blues vocalist Shemekia Copeland on Saturday. This is the fifth time Copeland has performed at the Pennsylvania Blues Festival, but there’s something special about this one.
After performing her own set, Copeland will join an 11-piece band made up of former members of her late father’s band. Johnny Clyde Copeland was a blues guitarist from Texas and the Pennsylvania Blues Festival will present a lifetime achievement award to the Copeland family to honor Johnny. This is the first time his band will take the stage together since 1997, and they’ll back Shemekia as she performs her father’s music.
Cloeren said he always starts Sunday off with gospel music and this year is no exception. The Highway O.C.’s, a 10-piece gospel band who takes the stage in suits, will perform traditional gospel music. The traveling church of the blues will make camp for the weekend at Split Rock in Lake Harmony and blues enthusiasts are invited to come share in the services all weekend long.
More information, including a complete festival schedule, directions to Split Rock and detailed ticket pricing, can be found at pennsylvaniabluesfestival.com
Reach Gene Axton at 570-704-3943 or on Twitter @TLArts