Join us for the largest country blues gathering in the nation! Concerts feature players and music from regions where pre-war country blues were formed — Piedmont, the Delta, Mississippi Hill Country, New Orleans, Texas and more. Immerse yourself in the African – American history and traditions from which blues has grown.
Mainstage shows at McCurdy Pavilion cap off a week-long workshop for nearly 250 passionate acoustic blues students taught by artists from across the country. Club shows and a massive Saturday mainstage performances transform Port Townsend into the summer blues getaway.
Port Townsend Gospel Choir
Saturday August 3, 2019, 11 am
Joseph F. Wheeler Theater, FREE
with director Shirley Smith
Acoustic Blues Showcase
Saturday August 3, 2019, 1:30 pm
McCurdy Pavilion, Reserved Seating: $48, $40, $27
The “Festival-within-a-Festival!’ An afternoon buffet of blues masters takes to the McCurdy Pavilion mainstage for an epic celebration of blues. Be sure to bring your appetite, as Mo Chilli BBQ will be serving up mouth-watering fare on Littlefield Green.
Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes
Aaron Jonah Lewis
Jim Kweskin and Suzy Thompson
Jontavious Willis and Andrew Alli
Reverend Robert Jones
Terry “Harmonica” Bean
Valerie and Ben Turner
Port Townsend & Fort Worden
Located just 2 hours west of Seattle, Port Townsend is the perfect place to indulge your creative side. With its maritime heritage, Victorian architecture, artist spirit, and a touch of urban chic, Port Townsend is an easily accessible base camp to the Olympic Peninsula and beyond.
Centrum’s home is at Fort Worden – the kind of destination that stays with you for a lifetime. Amidst the magnificent natural setting and the influence of its military past, Fort Worden is home to inspiration, education and personal transformation. People gather here to participate in arts and music events, woodworking classes, conferences, camping and outdoor activities, family reunions, weddings, and much more. Originally designed as a military base to protect Puget Sound, Fort Worden evolved into an iconic and cherished state park. The fort – featuring 100 historic structures – spans two miles of saltwater shoreline with views of the Olympic and Cascade Mountains, and the San Juan Islands.
Click here for detailed instructions about traveling to Seattle to Port Townsend without a car.
Jefferson County International Airport
Airport Cutoff Road, Port Townsend, WA 98368
Located less than two miles from downtown Port Townsend, Fort Worden is easily accessible for both locals and visitors.
General inquiries: email@example.com, (360) 385-3102 x117
Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton, Artistic Director
Although still in his 20s, Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton has earned a reputation for transporting audiences back to the 1920’s and making them wish they could stay there for good. Blind Boy Paxton may be one of the greatest multi-instrumentalists that you have not heard of. Jerron performed to a sold-out audience at the Lead Belly Tribute at Carnegie Hall on February 4, 2016 along with Buddy Guy, Eric Burdon, Edgar Winter, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and other stars. In the two years since his incredible performance at that star-studded show in one of the world’s great concert houses, Paxton’s own star has been rising fast. He opened for Buddy Guy at B.B. Kings in NYC; for Robert Cray at the Reading PA Blues Festival, and performed at numerous other festivals including: Woodford Folk Festival & Byron Bay Blues Festival in Australia; Calgary Folk Festival in Canada; Jewel City Jam in Huntington WV; Freihofers Jazz Festival in Saratoga Springs FL; Clearwater Festival in Croton-on-The Hudson NY; Fayetteville Roots Festival in Fayetteville AR: Cambridge Folk Festival in the UK., Harvest Time Rhythm & Blues Festival in Ireland; and headlined the 2017 Brooklyn Folk Festival. Paxton is a two-time participant in the Keeping The Blues Alive Cruise and is the new Artistic Director of the Port Townsend Acoustic Blues Festival & Workshop at Centrum in Port Townsend, WA. Paxton was featured on CNN’s Great Big Story and appeared in the multi award winning music documentary AMERICAN EPIC produced by Robert Redford, Jack White & T-Bone Burnett.
Junious “House” Brickhouse – Early African American Dance
Junious “House” Brickhouse is an internationally established educator, choreographer and cultural preservationist with over 30 years of experience in Urban Dance Culture. Born in Virginia Beach, VA, his dance training began at family gatherings dancing the funk styles of the era. Growing up, he sought out all the learning opportunities available to him, from community centers to parking lots, where young people were teaching each other and building communities around urban dance forms. Early on, he established himself as a leader and mentor in those communities, serving to educate and guide others. At age 18, Junious embarked on an over 21-year career as a Logistics Professional in the U.S. Army and later as a Department of Defense contractor.
As the Founding Executive Director of Urban Artistry Inc. (www.urbanartistry.org), Junious has inspired and created a movement of artists dedicated to the preservation of urban dance culture, specifically within communities of practice. As Urban Artistry’s Executive Director, Junious produces projects such as The International Soul Society Festival, The Preservatory and the UA Digital Archives to encourage other artists to research and document tradition bearers and their contributions.
As a scholar/practitioner, Junious teaches at colleges and universities, using an experiential approach to teaching, Movement of the African American South, Hip Hop Culture as well as Urban Dance movement and the cultural context from which it evolves. As the Director of Next Level, an initiative sponsored by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in association with the Department of Music at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Meridian International Center for Cultural Diplomacy, Junious works tirelessly to promote international cultural exchange in underserved communities, conflict transformation and entrepreneurial skill building through Hip Hop music and dance.
A citizen folklorist, Junious also conducts independent research into those cultural traditions whose influence is reflected in urban dance culture. From ring shouts and acoustic county blues to Hip Hop, understanding the nature and meaning of these art forms and their influences, is what motivates this artist.
Guy Davis – Performance
Guy Davis once said, “I like antiques and old things, old places, that still have the dust of those who’ve gone before us lying upon them.” Blowing that dust off just enough to see its beauty is something Guy has excelled at for over twenty years of songwriting and performing. It’s no wonder his reverence for the music of the Blues Masters who’ve gone before him has been evident in every album he’s ever recorded or concert he’s given. Guy has had his musical storytelling influenced by artists like Blind Willie McTell and Big Bill Broonzy, and his musicality from artists as diverse as Lightnin’ Hopkins and Babatunde Olatunji. However, there’s one man that Guy most credits for his harmonica techniques, by stealing and crediting from him everything that he could, and that man is the legendary Sonny Terry.
Guy has spent his musical life carrying his message of the blues around the world, from the Equator to the Arctic Circle, earning him the title “An Ambassador of the Blues”. His work as an actor, author, and music teacher earmark him as a renaissance man of the blues. What music and acting have in common, he explains, “is that I don’t like people to see the hard work and the sweat that goes into what I do. I want them to hear me and be uplifted.”
When Guy Davis plays the blues, he doesn’t want you to notice how much art is involved. “It takes work making a song that’s simple, and playful, and easy to do,” he says. “And I don’t want people to see that. I want some little eight-year-old kid in the front row to have big eyes and say, ‘Hey, I want to do that!’.” Continuing his mission to spread the blues around the world, Guy has lately been doing more teaching. “I’ve had beginning and intermediate students, and I try to give them enough of the basics that they can go into a jam session, and create more licks out of the ones they know. And I try to give them a bit of my philosophy. To my mind you can treat these songs as recombinant DNA, you can own it and you can create something new with it. And I didn’t sign any papers, but I can claim an ownership to the blues.”
John Miller – Guitar (Country Blues)
At the age of 12, John Miller was inspired to play the guitar after seeing Mississippi John Hurt perform at the Philadelphia Folk Festival. He bought his first guitar at the age of 16 and launched into an intensive period of study of Country Blues guitar, learning the music of John Hurt, Mance Lipscomb, Bo Carter, Blind Blake and other greats. By the time he was twenty-seven, John had released five solo albums to international critical acclaim. Those albums ranged from country blues and old time country music to the songs of George Gershwin.
In addition to his work as a composing and performing musician, John Miller has close to forty years’ experience as a music teacher, having begun teaching privately while still in high school.
John has extensive experience teaching groups, with many years’ service teaching at such music camps as Puget Sound Guitar Workshop, Georgia Strait Workshop, BC Swing Camp, the California Coast Music Camp, the Port Townsend Acoustic Blues Workshop, Augusta National Heritage’s Bluesweek and the European Blues Association’s Bluesweek.
Jim Kweskin – Guitar and Jug Band Lab
Jim Kweskin is the founder of the legendary 1960s Jim Kweskin Jug Band with Fritz Richmond, Geoff Muldaur, Maria Muldaur, Bob Siggins and Bruno Wolfe. During the five years they were together, they successfully transformed the sounds of pre-World War II rural music into a springboard for their good-humored performances. Their imitators were legion, including a San Francisco jug band that became the Grateful Dead, a Los Angeles jug band that became the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and a New York jug band that became the Lovin’ Spoonful. No other group attained their unique blend of youthful energy and antiquarian expertise, tight musicianship, loose camaraderie, and infectious swing.
These days Jim is best known as a singer and bandleader, but he also created one of the bedrock guitar styles of the folk revival, adapting the ragtime-blues fingerpicking of artists like Mississippi John Hurt and Pink Anderson to the more complex chords of pop and jazz. He has maintained a remarkably consistent musical vision since his jug band days, continuing to explore traditional folk and blues with the sophisticated sensibility of a jazz musician, and jazz with the communal simplicity of a folk artist. He has recorded many solo ventures, as a member of the U and I band, with band-mate Geoff Muldaur, with Samoa Wilson, with The Texas Sheiks as well as performing and recording with a wide variety of well-known musicians such as Maria Muldaur, John Sebastian, David Grisman, Cindy Cashdollar, Happy Traum, Meredith Axelrod, Juli Crockett and Samoa Wilson, to name a few.
Terry “Harmonica” Bean – Guitar and Harmonica (Mississippi Hill Country)
Terry “Harmonica” Bean was born in Pontotoc, Mississippi, where he has remained living to date. His father, Eddie Bean, was a blues guitarist who played in an electric blues band, and encouraged his son to play both harmonica and guitar. A sharecropper, he also enlisted his twenty four children in assisting in picking cotton to earn a living.
Terry played for his school and in American Legion baseball, before two traffic accidents meant that his competitive career finished in his early twenties. In 1988, Terry saw Robert Lockwood, Jr. play at a music festival in Greenville, Mississippi, and this experience inspired him to perform regularly in and around Greensville for the next few years. He became more versatile, appearing as a one-man band, accompanist or band leader and he variously worked with T-Model Ford, Asie Payton and Lonnie Pitchford. His first solo recording, Here I Am Baby, was released in 2001. This has been followed by six more albums, using a variety of musical ensemble settings.
Terry plays both harmonica and guitar, occasionally at the same time, and has performed at blues festivals, and in juke joints. He toured Europe performing in a traditional blues style. Terry “Harmonica” Bean delivers a pitch perfect Mississippi hill country experience.
Kenny Brown – Slide Guitar
Kenny Brown is an American blues slide guitarist skilled in the North Mississippi Hill Country blues style. He began hearing Otha Turner, Napolean Strickland and others who played at picnics across the road from his home at 7 years old. Brown apprenticed with Mississippi Joe Callicott, who moved in next door to his home in Nesbit, Mississippi, from age 12 to 15, when Callicott died.
Around 1971 Brown began playing with two other musicians. Johnny Woods would make an occasional playing partner until his death in 1990. More steady was Brown’s learning with R. L. Burnside, who claimed Brown as his “adopted son,” In the early seventies they started to perform in their region, and would keep up as a duo for thirty years sometimes joined with Calvin Jackson on drums. Cedric Burnside joined their tours from about 1994, as Burnside’s reputation surged in the 1990s and early 2000s. Brown first appeared abroad in Sweden in 1989.
Brown has recorded with R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, Asie Payton, CeDell Davis, Paul “Wine” Jones, Frank Frost, T-Model Ford, Dale Hawkins, Mojo Bufford, Jessie Mae Hemphill, The North Mississippi Allstars, Jojo Herman as well as Cyndi Lauper. His own debut album was Goin’ Back to Mississippi (1996), rereleased on Big Legal Mess produced by Dale Hawkins. He has recorded one album for Fat Possum Records, Stingray (2003). He released Cheap, Fast, and Dirty (2006) with Danish guitarist Troels Jensen, at Olufsen Records. Meet Ya In The Bottom (2008) is a CD Baby release, as well as his double album Can’t Stay Long in 2011. Brown’s guitar work was featured in the 2006 film Black Snake Moan, where he provided backing for star Samuel L. Jackson’s vocals. He can be seen in the film’s climax as a guitarist in a blues band, playing alongside Cedric Burnside. Brown continues to perform locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally and currently lives in in the North Mississippi Hill Country with his wife Sara.
Aaron Jonah Lewis – Blues Violin
Aaron Jonah Lewis is an acclaimed multi-instrumentalist, performer and educator.
He has won awards at the Clifftop Appalachian String Band Festival, including First Place Neotraditional Band in 2008 and 2015, and at the Galax Old Fiddlers Convention, including First Place Bluegrass Fiddle in 2018 and in 2007. He has performed at major festivals from the US to the UK and from Italy to Finland and continues to tour extensively.
Lewis has appeared on dozens of recordings from bluegrass and old time to traditional jazz, contemporary experimental and Turkish classical music projects. He has taught workshops at the the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow and at the English Folk Dance and Song Society in London.
He also plays and teaches banjo, mandolin, and guitar and is currently based in Detroit.
Suzy Thompson – Blues Violin and Jug Band Lab
Suzy Thompson is one of the rare musicians today who has mastered the acoustic blues violin, following in the footsteps of Lonnie Chatmon, Clifford Hayes and Eddie Anthony. A powerful blues singer in the styles of Memphis Minnie and Bessie Smith, and a highly respected blues fingerpicking guitarist, Suzy is unique in her ability to combine fiddle, vocals and guitar in the blues and ragtime idioms. In 2003, after thirty years as a working musician, Suzy Thompson released her first solo CD, “No Mockingbird” which features blues songs (including the title track, which has been described as “Memphis Minnie on acid”) and oldtime fiddle rags. Suzy is backed on the album by an all-star cast including Maria Muldaur, Fritz Richmond, Geoff Muldaur, and Mike Seeger. Her followup CD, “Stop & Listen”, released by Arhoolie Records in 2005, is a live concert recording with Del Rey, Eric Thompson, and the Thompson String Ticklers.Over the past three decades, Suzy has been a leading force in many influential roots music groups, including the California Cajun Orchestra (two award-winning CDs on the Arhoolie label), the Blue Flame String Band (with Kate Brislin and Alan Senauke), Klezmorim (who started the klezmer music revival in the 1970’s), the all-woman Any Old Time String Band (featured on the Grammy-winning Arhoolie box set), and most recently, the Bluegrass Intentions (with banjo ace Bill Evans.) She has also worked with Darol Anger, Laurie Lewis, Beausoleil, Peter Rowan, Maria Muldaur, Jody Stecher, Del Rey, Geoff Muldaur, Alice Gerrard, D.L. Menard, Jane Voss, Rinde Eckert, the Savoy-Doucet Cajun Band, Sukay, and Frankie Armstrong, among others.
Suzy currently records and performs in a duet with her longtime musical partner, reknowned flatpicker Eric Thompson, with Thompsonia (Suzy, Eric and Allegra Thompson), with the Aux Cajunals (a Cajun band, in which Suzy plays Cajun accordion and fiddle), in a duet with resonator guitar goddess Del Rey, and with Eric in the Todalo Shakers. She often works with Geoff Muldaur and Jim Kweskin as a side musician and collaborates with other musicians including Mary Flower; Craig Ventresco and Meredith Axelrod; Foghorn Stringband; and Laurie Lewis.
Rick Franklin – Guitar (Piedmont)
Rick Franklin was born in Alexandria, Virginia and traveled the U.S. and England until 1968 when his family returned to Virginia and his father retired from military service. Since 1981, the Arlington, Virginia resident has been playing acoustic guitar and singing the Blues at community events, local festivals, international festivals, as well as various clubs, cafes and other venues. Rick’s musical style of blues is known as the “Piedmont” style identified with such legendary players as Blind Blake, Blind Boy Fuller and William Moore along with players and friends like “Bowling Green” John Cephas, John Jackson, and Archie Edwards. Rick has taught guitar to youths and adults both nationally and internationally.
Rick is personally committed to the preservation and diffusion of the Blues, especially amongst the young. Rick has been on the Euroblues Promotions Blues Week faculty, the Port Townsend Blues Week faculty, and the Augusta Heritage Center Blues Week faculty. He has been an Executive Board member of the DC Blues Society and helped organize and performed in the first annual DC Blues Festival. Rick also contributed to the DC Blues Society as a music critic for their monthly and quarterly publication.
In addition to solo performances and performances with Phil Wiggins, Rick also performs in the area with the popular acoustic blues trio Franklin, Harpe, and Usilton and the more recently popular acoustic blues trio, Rick Franklin and His Delta Blues Boys. These groups perform blues and ragtime music and songs from the 1920s and 1930s in the Memphis, St. Louis guitar-duet and Piedmont style.
Bruce Sunpie Barnes – Blues Piano
Bruce Sunpie Barnes is a veteran musician, park ranger, actor, former high school biology teacher, former college football All-American, and former NFL player (Kansas City Chiefs). Sunpie Barnes’ career has taken him far and wide, and he has traveled to over 35 countries playing his own style of blues, zydeco and Afro-Louisiana music incorporating Caribbean and African influenced rhythms and melodies.
He is a multi-instrumentalist playing piano, percussion, harmonica, and he learned to play accordion from some of the best, including Fernest Arceneaux, John Delafose, and Clayton Sampy. With his musical group Sunpie and the Louisiana Sunspots, he has played festivals and concerts accross New Orleans and the US, as well as internationally, and they have recorded 5 critically acclaimed CDs.
Sunpie is deeply involved in New Orleans parade culture and takes his music to the streets. He is Second Chief of the North Side Skull and Bone Gang, one of the oldest existing carnival groups in New Orleans, and a member of the Black Men of Labor Social Aid and Pleasure Club.
Wendy DeWitt – Piano
With a piano style influenced by the greats of Chicago blues and Texas boogie Wendy spreads the joy of boogie woogie through performance and workshops. Wendy toured with Hank Ballard and the Midnighters seeing first hand the evolution of blues to rock and roll, and has performed with Charlie Musselwhite, Otis Rush, Big Time Sarah, and for over twenty years with Steve Freund.
Recently back from two weeks at Mustique Blues Festival with Joe Louis Walker and Murali Coryell, and a stint on the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise, she also appears at festivals in Spain, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Belgium and across the United States. Intent on spreading the joy of blues and boogie to new audiences, Wendy produces the Queens of Boogie Woogie and San Francisco International Boogie Woogie Festival. In 2012 and 2014 Wendy and Kirk Harwood represented The Golden Gate Blues Society in the International Blues Challenge, Memphis, Tennessee, and are 2014 Finalists.
Brought to the blues at the age of 10 while growing up over a store in the rural town of Glen Ellen, California Wendy DeWitt’s passion for music lead her to Chicago Blues and Texas Boogie Woogie with influences ranging from Otis Spann, Memphis Slim, and Professor Longhair to Katie Webster and Bessie Smith. Wendy teaches workshops at JazzSchool in Berkely, CA, and has inspired students at Centrum in Port Townsend, WA, Augusta Blues Week in West Virginia, and in conjunction with the US Embassy, Budapest, Hungary.
Dalton Ridenhour – Piano
Missouri native Dalton Ridenhour, currently a resident of New York, grew up playing ragtime and early Jazz in the Midwest before sharpening his skills at the Eastman School of Music.
Dalton plays Ragtime, Stride and Blues Piano. He performs domestically and internationally with various groups including Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks, Dan Levinson’s Roof Garden Jass, The Lovestruck Balladeers, Goodbye Picasso, Naomi and Her Handsome Devils, and The Dotted Halves.
Although most often as a member of an ensemble — where, Hines-like, he glitters and surprises, Dalton also played solo at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival (in Sedalia, Missouri) which offered more opportunities to savor his exceptional solo and duo playing.
Dalton can frolic and stomp, but he can also muse, and his playing is always animated by wonderful rhythmic impulses. He takes familiar repertoire and through slight shifts — he’s never cliched — we visit old songs and hear them, tenderly liberated from decades of routine. He doesn’t covet “innovation” for its own sake, but his performances reflect his deep self, no matter what the tempo.
Reverend Robert Jones – Guitar (Holy Blues)
Rev. Robert Jones, Sr. is a native Detroiter and an inspirational storyteller and musician celebrating the history, humor and power of American Roots music. His deep love for traditional African American and American traditional music is shared inlive performances that interweave timeless stories with original and traditional songs.
For more than thirty years Robert has entertained and educated audiences of all ages in schools, colleges, libraries, union halls, prisons, churches and civil rights organizations. At the heart of his message is the belief that our cultural diversity tells a story that should celebrate, not just tolerate.
Acclaimed photographer James Fraher writes about Robert: “Perhaps the world’s most highly educated blues musician, an ordained minister, a longtime DJ, and a living encyclopedia of blues history, the Reverend Robert Jones is comfortable among juke joint loud talkers, fancy-hatted church ladies, and PhDs alike.”
Jontavious Willis – Guitar and Voice (Country Blues)
Hailing from Greenville, Ga., Jontavious grew up singing gospel music at the Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church with his grandfather. At the age of 14, he came across a YouTube video of Muddy Waters playing “Hoochie Coochie Man” and was hooked. That’s when he set his course on the blues. All types — Delta, Piedmont, Texas, gospel. As a fingerpicker, flat-picker and slide player. On guitar, harmonica, banjo and cigar box. And four years later he was playing on Taj Mahal’s stage.
“That’s my Wonderboy, the Wunderkind,” Taj Mahal said after inviting Jontavious to play on stage in 2015. “He’s a great new voice of the twenty-first century in the acoustic blues. I just love the way he plays.”
Currently Jontavious is finishing his studies at Columbus State University, majoring in sociology. But on most weekends, you can find him playing a small house show, up on the main stage or posting music videos for his friends and fans around the world.
Phil Wiggins – Harmonica
Phil Wiggins is a versatile traditional harmonica player, continuing the Piedmont blues tradition, a gentle and melodic blues style of the mid-Atlantic region. He plays the diatonic ten-hole harmonica in the country blues style, cupping both hands around the instrument and playing acoustically. His sound is not shaped by the gear, the microphone or amplifier when performing on stage, instead by his complex syncopated patterns, breath-control and rhythm, stylistic virtuosity and fiery solo runs. As a teenager living in Washington D.C. in the 1970s, he played at the Smithsonian National Folklife Festival with street singer Flora Molton, sitting in with blues greats Johnny Shines, Sunnyland Slim, Sam Chatmon, Robert Belfour and Howard Armstrong. By the time he graduated from high school in 1973, D.C. blues elders John Jackson, John Cephas and Archie Edwards had embraced him. He joined the Barrelhouse Rockers, a band fronted by pianist and singer Wilbert “Big Chief” Ellis, where John Cephas played guitar. They toured regionally until Ellis retired in 1977, when John Cephas invited him to join in the duo ‘Cephas & Wiggins’.
Phil Wiggins has taught thousands of burgeoning harmonica players and actively continues to teach and lead as artistic director in workshops, such as at the Augusta Heritage Center of Davis & Elkins College in West Virginia and the Port Townsend Acoustic Blues Workshop in Washington State. Plus, he continues to play an active role on the board of the National Council for Traditional Arts.
Shardé Thomas – Vocals
Shardé Thomas is an American singer and fife player in the vanishing American fife and drum blues tradition. She is the granddaughter of Otha Turner, who founded the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band. Fife-and-drum bands became less common during Reconstruction, but in the relatively isolated hill country of northern Mississippi, they continued to play for civic events, picnics, and other public gatherings.
Otha Turner, founder of the long-running Rising Star Fife & Drum Band, was born in rural Rankin County, Mississippi, around 1907, and began playing the fife as a boy. He also drummed in local bands, eventually including a well-known group led by Napolean Strickland. He led Rising Star until his death in 2003, at which point his granddaughter Shardé Thomas took it over.
Shardé had picked up the fife before she turned five. Otha Turner loved telling the story of how the little girl simply strode up to him one day, grabbed a cane, and began blowing into it. Within a few years, fortified by the pluck and self-confidence she’s demonstrated ever since, Thomas was performing with Rising Star at picnics. Thomas still makes her fifes by hand out of cane, hollowing it out with a heated metal rod—just as Turner did. These days she usually calls the band “Rising Stars” because, she says, that’s what they are. They play functions in and around her native Sardis, Mississippi—including the annual goat roast and music festival at Turner’s old place in nearby Gravel Springs—as well as festivals and workshops all over the country.
If the antiquity and near extinction of the fife-and-drum tradition has you expecting Shardé Thomas to deliver a musty exercise in “folkie” revivalism, though, you’d better think again. Her fife technique transcends the instrument’s limitations—she slurs and bends notes, creating tonal and harmonic complexities that defy its seemingly constricted range. Her richly textured voice carries an irresistible buoyancy, which makes “Little Sally Walker” (an old children’s ring-game song that she’s been singing virtually all her life) a highlight of her shows. She’s also developed into an impressive hand drummer—she plays galvanizing polyrhythms on traditional material as well as on rock ‘n’ roll numbers such as “Bo Diddley” (a favorite when she sits in with the North Mississippi Allstars).
Orville Johnson – Accompanist for Vocals
Orville Johnson grew up in a small farming town in Illinois not far from the banks of the Mississippi river. His early playing career was focused around the St Louis, MO music scene where he was exposed to and participated in a variety of blues, bluegrass, and American Roots music. He began singing in his Pentecostal church as a young boy, in rock bands during middle school, and then took up guitar and dobro at age 17 with early influences from Doc Watson, Mississippi John Hurt, Mike Auldridge, and Chuck Berry. His travels took him west to Colorado and California, south to New Orleans and Memphis and in the mid 1970s Orville spent several seasons playing on the SS Julia Belle Swain, a period piece Mississippi river paddlewheel steamboat plying the inland waterways.
He moved to Seattle WA in 1978 where he was a founding member of the legendary NW folk/rock group The Dynamic Logs and over the years has played with a diverse list of artists including Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett, John Hartford, Maria Muldaur, Richie Havens, Laura Love, blues artists John Cephas, Howard Armstrong, Sam Andrew (Big Brother and the Holding Company) and Mick Taylor (Rolling Stones). Johnson, known for his dobro and slide guitar stylings and soulful vocal acrobatics has guested on over 400 albums, appeared on Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion, Jay Leno’s Tonight Show and was featured in the 1997 film Georgia with Mare Winningham and Jennifer Jason-Leigh. He is also in demand as a teacher and author, writing for Acoustic Guitar and Fretboard Journal and teaching at prestigious workshops worldwide, including Euro Blues Week, International Guitar Seminar, Puget Sound Guitar Workshop and Guitar Intensives.
Shirley Smith – Gospel Choir
Shirley Smith is a Detroit native who studied under the tutelage of one of Detroit’s premier harpists and vocal instructors, Patricia Terry-Ross, who was her teacher at Detroit’s Cass Technical High School. Shirley studied voice, piano, and harp under Mrs. Ross. She also studied voice with Professor Dennis J. Tini at Wayne State University. Shirley’s passion for music shows in her interaction with her students. She teaches piano from beginner to intermediate here at the studio. She is also a phenomenal vocal coach and loves to work with children as well as adults who aspire to enhance their vocal ability. She was the original music director/vocal coach for the gospel stage play Detroit’s own, Perilous Times, produced by TJ Hemphill. She has traveled extensively nationally and abroad to Melbourne, Australia and Jamaica to coach vocals in the Gospel genre. She was also the original Minister of Music for Bishop William H. Murphy, III and The Dream Center Church, Atlanta, GA.
She is formerly the Minister of Music at The Potter’s House International Ministries in Jacksonville, FL, where the pastor, Bishop Vaughn McLaughlin, was proud to oversee her musical gift for 17 years. Several of her students have gone on to achieve great success musically such as international gospel recording artist Lisa McClendon and also Jamison Ross who was the winner of the 2012 Thelonious Monk Competition for Drummers.
Her company, Journey Music Studios, LLC, is one of Metro Detroit’s premier places for music lessons. She teaches students, of all ages, who want to learn to play by ear as well as read music. She has enjoyed teaching gospel / praise & worship classes for several summer music festivals including the Augusta Blues Festival at Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, West Virginia, the Country Blues Festival for Centrum in Port Townsend, Washington, and the Swannanoa Gathering at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, NC.
Valerie Turner – Guitar
Valerie Turner is a native New Yorker with southern roots in Virginia and Georgia. She plays finger style Country Blues guitar and specializes in the Piedmont style of fingerpicking. She has taught at the Port Townsend Acoustic Blues Workshop, Blues & Swing Week, and at Blues in the Gorge.
A 2018 inductee into the New York Blues Hall of Fame, Valerie is also the author of Piedmont Style Country Blues Guitar Basics, an independently published book. Her eclectic repertoire was heavily influenced by the late John Cephas, a world renowned Country Blues musician in the Piedmont style, and her guitar playing is reminiscent of traditional blues greats like Mississippi John Hurt, Etta Baker, and Elizabeth Cotten.
Valerie and her husband Ben perform as the Piedmont Blūz Acoustic Duo and, in addition to a host of domestic venues and festivals, the duo have traveled as far as Europe and the Middle East to share their music
Ali Kafka – Guitar
The first time Ali Kafka heard the driving bass and loping syncopation of the piedmont blues, she became obsessed with the idea of recapturing it with her own hands. Scrapping together enough money to get herself a guitar, learning from nothing but the records she could find and the fragments of advice she could gather from other musicians, Ali Kafka surprised just about everyone with how far along she could come toward her goal in just a few short years.
Found the past few years performing on the porches, stoops, and stages of New Orleans, sometimes wandering from town to town, Ali cut her teeth as a street musician; at times accompanied by fiddles, cellos, washboards, jugs, or playing counterpoint duets with fellow country blues guitarists.
Enamored with the nuance and feeling of 78 record era blues and string band music, Ali has passionately sought to steward the cause of preserving the things she loves most about this music, inspired to share what she has learned along her journey with others of the same desire.
Cedric Watson – Blues Accordion
One of the brightest young talents to emerge in Cajun, Creole and Zydeco (Louisiana French) music over the last decade, Cedric Watson is a four-time Grammy-nominated fiddler, singer, accordionist & songwriter with seemingly unlimited potential.
Originally from San Felipe, TX (population 868), Cedric made his first appearance at the age of 19 at the Zydeco Jam at The Big Easy in Houston, TX. Just two years later, he moved to south Louisiana, quickly immersing himself in French music and language. Over the next several years, Cedric performed French music in 17 countries and on 7 full-length albums with various groups, including the Pine Leaf Boys, Corey Ledet, Les Amis Creole with Ed Poullard and J.B. Adams, and with his own group, Bijou Creole.
Cedric Watson & Bijou Creole resurrect the ancient sounds of the French and Spanish contra dance and bourré alongside the spiritual rhythms of the Congo tribes of West Africa, who were sold as slaves in the Carribean and Louisiana by the French and Spanish.
With an apparently bottomless repertoire of songs at his fingertips, Cedric plays everything from forgotten Creole melodies and obscure Dennis McGee reels to more modern Cajun and Zydeco songs, even occasionally throwing in a bluegrass fiddle tune or an old string band number. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he is also a prolific songwriter, writing almost all of his songs on his double row Hohner accordion. Cedric’s songs channel his diverse ancestry (African, French, Native American and Spanish) to create his own brand of sounds.
Cedric’s albums are a tapestry of pulsing rhythms and Creole poetry, and his live performances are unforgettable, all at once progressive and nostalgic.
“We don’t want to forget that one of the biggest contributions to our culture, music and heritage was made by the Native Americans. I find that the old Zydeco rhythms sound like a mix of African and Native American ceremonial rhythms. This mélange very possibly came about through the intermingling of the Native American population and the Maroons.” – Cedric Watson
Ernie Vega – Blues Mandolin
A staple of the New York folk scene, Ernie Vega combines a fabulous soulful voice, matched with fast picking guitar, and imaginative song writing.
The string master performs stark versions of Country Blues, Gospel-Blues, Old-Time, & Jazz classics (as well as original compositions) that are stripped down to their barest elements. Sounding like ghosts from a by-gone era, Ernie illustrates the simple elegant power of these great songs.
He performs and teaches his broad repertoire of songs at the fabulous Jalopy Theater in New York, a venue fast becoming Brooklyn’s center of Folk, Roots and the Art of the Jug. Ernie Vega transports you to a time when the Village was still Bohemian and old-time music was all there was.
Lightnin’ Wells – Ukulele
Mike “Lightnin’” Wells breathes new life into the vintage tunes of the 1920s and depression era America employing various appropriate stringed instruments in a dynamic style which he has developed in over thirty years of performing. Raised in eastern North Carolina, Wells learned to play harmonica as a young child and taught himself to play the guitar as he developed a strong interest in traditional blues and folk music. He has presented his brand of acoustic blues throughout North Carolina, the United States and Europe.
Lightnin’ remains an insatiable student and researcher, studying the various forms of American roots music from bygone eras. His musical style is personal and energetic yet remains true to the original root form. His goal is to entertain and educate using a variety of sources, influences and techniques to express his dedication, respect and pleasure in presenting this unique American art form.
Sean Cronin – Upright Bass
Multi-Instrumentalist and songwriter Sean Cronin was born in Invermere, BC, and currently resides in Brooklyn, NY.
His musical journeys have taken him all over the world with Jazz groups like the Bria Skonberg Quintet, Mike Allen Trio, and Amanda Tosoff Quintet, as well as folk and rock bands like Bocephus King, Jolie Holland, Viper Central, and Petunia.
He currently plays bass with many old-time Jazz bands in New York, as well as leading his own experimental Chamber-Rock ensemble, Sean Cronin’s Very Good.
Last year, Cronin was nominated for a Drama Desk Award in New York City for his musical score for the play Kill Me Like You Mean It, and has been involved in several theatrical productions there as a composer.
Frog and Henry – Guitar, Fiddle, Banjo, Washboard, Jug
Formed as a collective of several street-performing groups. Frog and Henry perform old dance and jazz music from New Orleans in the early 1900’s on brass and string instruments, with nearly every instrumentalist contributing to vocals.
Most of their repertoire is dug up from forgotten songs dating to the dawn of recorded music, in the form of early dance tunes, or from even earlier 19th century sheet music.
In residence as faculty artists for Port Townsend Acoustic Blues 2019 are members: F. H. Henry, guitar; Coleman Aiken, fiddle; Maxwell Poulous, mandolin; Robin Rapuzzi, washboard; and Jonathan Doyle on jug. Each will teach one daily class on their instrument and lead a band lab ensemble. Each will teach one daily class on their instrument and lead a band lab ensemble together.
F.H. Henry – Guitar
F.H. Henry has spent the last ten years researching early recorded jazz, blues, and stringband guitar music – influenced primarily by Johnny St. Cyr, Bobby Leecan, Eddie Lang, Lonnie Johnson, Ikey Robinson, Riley Puckett, Bud Scott, Bo Carter, Memphis Minnie, Gerald Clark etc, with a focus on ensemble playing, rather than solo guitar work.
A secondary focus has been the construction of guitar accompaniment parts to ragtime music, often reworking left-hand piano parts from written ragtime pieces.
And most recently, he’s turned his attention to chordal solos in ensemble settings, where the guitar assumes the role of either the piano, or of several horns playing in harmony along with implied accompaniment, relying heavily on bass runs in the style of Bobby Leecan and Eddie Lang.
Jonathan Doyle – Jug
Clarinetist, saxophonist, composer, and arranger and jug player, Jonathan Doyle lives in Port Townsend WA in the Pacific Northwest. He still spends time in Chicago, Austin TX, and on the road.
Jonathan briefly attended Depaul’s School of Music in Chicago, where he studied under Mark Colby and Susan Cook. He left school to pursue a full time career in music during the neo-swing movement of the mid-90s, playing with the Mighty Blue Kings and then the Four Charms. He has also worked with Chicago’s emerging improvisers such as Josh Berman, Jason Adasiewicz, and Design Flaw, and developed an interest in country blues and jug band music playing with the Wabash Jug Band. In 2004, Mr. Doyle moved to Austin to pursue his love of acoustic and roots music afresh. After a brief stint with the Asylum Street Spankers, he went on to freelance in Central Texas’ vibrant traditional jazz, swing, and western swing scene, playing with well-established acts such as Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel, and the Jim Cullum Jazz Band, as well being a part of many fine local bands such as Thrift Set Orchestra, Albanie & her Fellas, Stan Smith and the Jazz Pharaohs, Aunt Ruby’s Sweet Jazz Babies, East Side Dandies, White Ghost Shivers, Whit Smith’s Hot Jazz Caravan, The Giant Three and his own projects The Jonathan Doyle Quintet / Swingtet.
His time in New Orleans introduced him to the hot jazz and traditional blues band, Tuba Skinny. And his connection to Chicago led to playing with the amazing Fat Babies as well as guitar maestro, Joel Paterson. More recently he has started performing with Naomi & Her Handsome Devils and Hal Smith’s Swing Central and the Casey MacGill Orchestra!
Jonathan is committed to crafting original music as well studying the American musical traditions. He strives to organize and be a part of bands whose music is rooted, yet distinct. And to play for listeners and dancers anywhere they’ll have him!
Maxwell Poulos – Mandolin, banjo
Maxwell Poulos is a mandolinist, tenor, plectrum and 5 string banjoist based out of New Orleans by way of California. He specializes in playing piano rags arranged for string instruments, early string band music and accompanying old jazz music on tenor banjo. Some of his influences include The South Street Trio, 6 and 7 8ths String Band , Papa Charlie McCoy, Scottdale String Band, Prater And Hayes, and the Memphis Jug Band.
Over the past 5 years he has played in bands such as The Loose Marbles, Hokum High Rollers, Steve Pistorius quartet, and Frog and Henry. Although Maxwell has given individual music lessons and has played everywhere from the streets of New Orleans to big stages all over the U.S and Europe, this will be his first attempt at teaching in a class setting.
Robin Rapuzzi – Washboard
Robin Rapuzzi is a longtime veteran of the New Orleans music scene, having made his bones on the streets and clubs of the city, keeping time for bands such as Tuba Skinny, The Loose Marbles, Frog and Henry and the Hokum High Rollers.
With influences ranging from jazz and blues to second line rhythms, from ragtime marches to Afro-Latin music, from Bull City Red to Baby Dodds, Robin has made an extensive study of the washboard in American music and is committed to bringing its timeless sound into the new millennium.
Robin has toured extensively throughout the United States, Australia and Europe, teaching washboard techniques and performing at a wide variety of venues.
He’s excited to make his first appearance at the Port Townsend Blues Festival this year.
Ben Hunter and Joe Seamons – Songster Band Lab
Ben Hunter & Joe Seamons are songster revivalists who perform acoustic blues, field hollers, fiddle & banjo breakdowns, and early jazz that delights audiences in concerts and workshops nationwide. For seven years, their tours have extended their work as teachers and community organizers in their home of Seattle, Washington. With their unique integration of performance, education and modern-day folklore, this duo redefines the role of a songster in the 21st century. In 2016, they earned 1st place in the International Blues Challenge’s solo/duo category. In July, they released a new album with harmonica master Phil Wiggins entitled “Black & Tan Ball.”
Ben and Joe have been playing together for almost 7 years, the last 5 of which sent them to the Port Townsend Acoustic Blues Festival, learning at the feet of the elders of the acoustic blues tradition. They found an affinity in the many branches that tied into the blues and created this duo as a way to explore these branches. Their musical kinship and sense of joy in interpreting this music is evident and was the basis of an invitation from Dom Flemons (formerly of the Carolina Chocolate Drops) to tour and record for his album Prospect Hill. Rather than thinking of their music as blues, it’s best to situate Ben and Joe as American songsters. A songster traditionally refers to an artist whose repertoire is much broader than the old blues, and spans many of the genres that Ben and Joe inhabit. Uncle Dave Macon, Robert Johnson, and Charlie Patton are classic examples of songsters.
In January of 2016, the Washington Blues Society sent Ben and Joe to the 26th annual International Blues Challenge in Memphis, TN. There, they were awarded 1st place—out of 94 solo/duo acts representing 16 countries—for their unique blend of a cappella field hollers, fiddle & banjo breakdowns, and duet distillations of early jazz.
In 2017, they toured Europe with Phil Wiggins, released a new album with Phil, “Black & Tan Ball,” and began to put the finishing touches on the new community venue where the trio recorded together, South Seattle’s Black & Tan Hall.
Andrew Alli – Harmonica
Andrew Alli is a 29 year old Richmond, Virginia native. Always passionate about music, he stumbled upon the blues while taking up his first instrument; the harmonica. He instantly fell in love with the blues and all of the history that comes with the harp. Andrew developed his style of playing by studying from the harmonica greats including: Little Walter, Big Walter Horton, Sonny Boy Williamson II, and Junior Wells.
Co-founding “Andrew Alli and Last Night’s Blues Band”, with drummer, Charles Hibbler in 2012. The band had a particular interest to the Chicago and Delta styles of blues. With Drummer, Charles Hibbler, Bassist Ken Kellner and Guitarist Mike Burgess, “Andrew Alli and Last Night’s Blues Band” won the title of 2013 River City Blues Society, Blues Challenge Champions! They represented Richmond in the International Blues Challenge, down in Memphis, Tennessee.
Andrew also has had the privilege to tour with folk musicians Tim Barry and Josh Small during a US, European, and Australian music tour. The Richmond Folk Festival has featured Andrew for 3 years teaching harmonica lessons and performing.
Mark Puryear – Blues History and Deep Story
Mark Puryear is an ethnomusicologist, Grammy nominee, and has served as a curator with the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. He curated the Freedom Sounds: A Community Celebration, the public celebration commemorating the grand opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History Culture in 2016.
From 1996 – 2006, he managed the NEA National Heritage Fellowships. Puryear’s involvement in public sector folk and traditional arts spans more three decades. His professional accomplishments include researching, documenting, and programing, producing and performing traditional and contemporary arts nationally and internationally.
Puryear holds an MA in ethnomusicology from the University of Maryland, he has taught and at the University of Maryland, Bowie State University, Montgomery College, and lectured at Howard University. Puryear’s performance experiences include Smithsonian Folklife Festivals, the Montpelier Cultural Arts Center, D.C. Blues Society Festival, Port Townsend Acoustic Blues Festival, The Library of Congress, clubs, college campuses, and private events.
Puryear has performed with blues artists such as Phil Wiggins, Gaye Adegbalola, Nat Reese, Jay Summerour, Warner Williams, Daryl Davis and many others.
Kit Stovepipe – Listening Sessions (Race Records)
Musician and 78 collector Kit Stymee Stovepipe grew up in Eugene, Oregon. First cutting his teeth playing Washboard and Guitar in the group, The Sourmash Hugband, riding freight trains and hitchhiking as a means of touring back in 2003. Kit developed his style, drawing on the great musicians of the 20’s and 30’s, and by busking on the street to make a living. In underground scenes, He first made a name for himself as an influential musician with his group The Inkwell Rhythm Makers, by making obscure music more accessible through performance, and sharing the original recordings with people. Kit continues to do so in his current Band, The Crow Quill Night Owls. Kit was mentored by the legendary Baby Gramps, and is inspired by many, from blues players like Blind Blake and Frank Stokes, to hillbilly groups like The Scottdale String band and The East Texas Serenaders. Jazz musicians like Jabbo Smith, novelty groups like the Five Harmaniacs, and popular stars such as Nick Lucas and Cliff Edwards. All these unique musical styles are the ingredients in the melting pot he continually draws from. A large part of the theme kit approaches this music with, is on not being afraid of the unpolished and raw. There is a ferocity in those original recordings, even when they’re sweet, they still have a bite. Kit has shared stages with Honey Boy Edwards, Dick Dale, John Sebastion, Robin Ramaley of the Holy Modal Rounders, Baby Gramps and also with Maria Muldaur who he recorded a Grammy nominated album with, and toured with promoting the record. He has played everywhere from West coast farmers markets, to the subways of New York. Large festivals and theaters, to small house concerts and punk rock basements. In some circles he has even been known to dance onstage with Belly dancers of the highest caliber. One day he might find himself onstage playing to a large enthusiastic crowd, the next, drink a 40 with you behind a dumpster and sneak into a sold-out hip hop show. Wherever he goes, Kit remains a professional weirdo who loves discovering and sharing old art.