Jontavious Willis, Artistic Director
Artistic Director for Acoustic Blues, Jontavious Willis will keep an eye on the overall flow of the week and join the artist faculty he’s invited to teach in providing an inspirational week of learning.
Jontavious grew up singing Gospel music and brings his love for Gospel into the program. In 2023, the gospel choir returns after a few years’ hiatus during the peak of the pandemic. Jontavious has invited Shirley Smith and her colleague Pamela English to direct the choir. Jontavious has also invited Lloyd Buchanan, whose music is rooted in gospel and blues, to teach voice.
For 2023 Jontavious has invited folks steeped in early acoustic blues as well as a gentle touch into early electric, when it was about tone, not volume.
2023 PT Acoustic Blues Faculty
Andrew Alli, Harmonica
This Richmond, Virginia native was always passionate about music and stumbled upon the blues while taking up his first instrument, the harmonica. He instantly fell in love with the blues and 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 in the Chicago and Delta styles of blues. 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.
Benjamin Hunter, Mandolin
Benjamin Hunter is an award-winning multi-instrumentalist, composer, community activist, social entrepreneur, and educator. Benjamin’s work explores the intersections of music & art, community, policy, and culture.
In 2016, his America roots duo with Joe Seamons took first place in the International Blues Competition. In 2018, Benjamin composed the music for the critically acclaimed production, Black Bois. With his primary instrument the violin, he is as comfortable playing classical as he is blues and jazz. City Arts Magazine wrote, “The music he plays not only spans an array of genres but a huge swath of history.” Living Blues magazine wrote, “An unbridled freedom and genre emancipation is evident in Ben Hunter’s music, yet the deep blues are a cornerstone of his style”.
Bobby Rush, Harmonica
Two-time GRAMMY winning legend, Blues Hall of Famer, six-time Grammy nominee, and 14-time Blues Music Award winner, Bobby Rush has been making records for nearly 70 years and has more than 400 recordings, 75 career releases, and now 27 studio albums to his name.
Bobby Rush was born Emmett Ellis, Jr. outside Homer, Louisiana, in 1933. He twanged a diddley bow before picking up a guitar around age 11, and his preacher father knew enough about a harmonica to pass along a few riffs to his progeny. The family relocated to Pine Bluff, Arkansas, in 1948. While still a teenager, Rush became a professional blues musician, adopting his stage name so as to not disrespect his devout dad. To sneak into clubs and juke-joints, the underage Rush fashioned a moustache out of matchstick ash. In Pine Bluff, the young bluesman befriended legendary slide guitarist Elmore James and played around the Deep South with him and harmonica ace Little Walter, among others. Their travels introduced Rush to other blues greats of the era, including Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. Inspired by their tales of the booming Chicago blues scene, in 1951 Rush headed north to the Windy City. There he assembled a band with a young Freddie King on guitar. (Luther Allison would join the group later.) For years, Rush gigged steadily around the West Side and in the southern suburbs of Chicago, but it wasn’t until 1964 that he made his recording debut with the tough downbeat blues “Someday,” on the small Jerry-O label.
Thanks to his long memory and quick wit, Rush has long ranked as one of the blues’ best storytellers, a quality often on display in his solo performances which incorporate his masterful storytelling, humor, prolific guitar and harmonica playing, and soulful vocals.
Bobby Rush will spend part of the week with us, teach one harmonica master class and perform in concert.
Big Jon Atkinson, Recording/Guitar
Born into the digital cyber age Jon Atkinson grew up in a world full of children playing video games while adults were watching all manners of YouTube videos on their computers. The young man had no use for any of those things and pursued a singular passion, making blues music. He was moved by a language that is rarely spoken in this day and age. He was inspired by a sound seldom heard. He worked to create this music using the great masters of the past as the mentors who would guide him to great heights in the blues world in a very short time.
In May of 2014 Atkinson released his debut album entitled, Boogie With You Baby on Bluebeat Music. Lange describes the release as, “…an amazing collection of talent and tunes.” Finally, the rest of the world was able to hear what only his live audiences were lucky enough to experience, a trip back to that elusive place that remains off the beaten path, real blues… played the right way. Big Jon Atkinson speaks the language fluently and with such a well-articulated deep emotion that when you hear this young man play and sing the blues it is an experience you will never forget.
Chaz Leary, Washboard
Though comfortable in all forms of our diverse American musical heritage, Washboard Chaz Leary has achieved dominance and international recognition in acoustic country blues. He has played professionally with an impressive array of world-class musicians, both on the stage and in the recording studio. His reputation as a consummate musician and performer – along with a delightful stage presence has brought him countless excellent reviews and wide popularity. Originally from New York, Chaz lived in Boulder, CO from 1975-1997, and played with a wide variety of bands including the legendary Ophelia Swing Band, Prosperity Jazz Band, BBQ Bob & Washboard Chaz, Judy Roderick and the Forebears, and Bleecker St. During this time, Chaz was a two time finalist in KBCO’s Boulder songwriting contest. Upon arrival in New Orleans in December 2000, Chaz established himself as a seasoned musician, forming his Washboard Chaz Blues Trio with Ben Maygarden on harmonica and Roberto Luti on slide guitar. Shortly afterward, Chaz joined Alex McMurray and Matt Perrinne on sousaphone to form the Tin Men, one of New Orleans’ most unique and recognized bands. Since then, Chaz has also played with the cream of New Orleans musicians, including the New Orleans NightCrawlers, The Iguanas, Tuba Fats, Royal Fingerbowl, The Jazz Vipers, the Tin Men, The Palmetto Bug Stompers and Washboard Rodeo.
Corey Ledet, Accordion
Corey Ledet was born and raised in Houston, Texas, but spent his summers in Parks, Louisiana immersed at all times in the Creole culture. He learned everything he could so he could incorporate the culture in all areas of his life – the traditions, the food, and most importantly, the music. His love for the Creole/Zydeco music was instant and hard for him to ignore. He studied the originators of the music such as Clifton Chenier, John Delafose, and Boozoo Chavis. He branched out to include studying any (and all) artists of Zydeco. At the age of 10, he picked up shows playing drums for Houston-based band Wilbert Thibodeaux and the Zydeco Rascals and slowly learned the main instrument of the music – the accordion. He came to truly love any type of accordion – the single-note, triple-note and piano key accordions – and any others. He worked at building his skills until he knew each one fluently.
Corey keeps one foot firmly in tradition while exploring surrounding influences in order to create the best of both worlds. He is able to infuse old and new styles into his own unique sound from all of the people he studied and was influenced by.
Dave Steele, Guitar
Dave began performing as a barroom acoustic solo guitarist and singer while attending Allegheny College in Northwest Pennsylvania in the 1970’s. During the 80’s, Steele expanded his interest to electric blues, as a founding member of the Zipper City Blues Band. After seven years as a popular regional act, Steele moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan where he formed and led the popular blues band Big Dave and the Ultrasonics. The band featured his big-voiced singing and sly lead guitar work as they swung throughout the U.S. and Canada 150 nights a year, regularly lighting up blues clubs like Buddy Guy’s Legends and the Zoo Bar, while making main stage appearances at festivals like the Montreal Jazz Fest and repeat performances at Portland Waterfront Blues Festival. After four recordings, (the final one on the Burnside label,) the Ultrasonics disbanded. Dave took a break from performing at the turn on the century but continued to play at home with Shari. Dave brings a basket of guitar influences to the partnership- single note lines inspired by B. B. King and Charlie Christian, acoustic ragtime and blues fingerpicking, and rhythm guitar, ala Count Basie accompanist Freddie Green – that mesh seamlessly with his wife’s dynamic fingerstyle and slide playing.
Ethan Leinwand, Piano
Ethan Leinwand is a St. Louis-based pianist who specializes in barrelhouse blues. A mostly self-taught pianist, he is a student of the music, and delights in bringing this lost art to life. His unique repertoire stretches from ragtime to boogie-woogie and tells the story of blues piano. Through performances and workshops across the United States and Europe (as well as an active YouTube channel), Ethan has gained world-wide recognition as a leading exponent of barrelhouse blues piano.Ethan was born and raised in Middletown, CT and graduated from Wesleyan University in 2005. He began his music career in 2009, performing in bars, restaurants and nightclubs in New York City. He moved to St. Louis, MO in 2014 – a town with deep piano blues and ragtime traditions – and began collaborating with vocalist Valerie Kirchhoff (Miss Jubilee, The St. Louis Steady Grinders) and guitarist Nick Pence (The Bottlesnakes), among others. He can be seen performing weekly in his hometown. Notable appearances include The Port Townsend Acoustic Blues Workshop (WA), The West Coast Ragtime Festival (CA), The UK Boogie Festival, The Brooklyn Folk Festival (NY), The Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival (MO), The LaRoquebrou International Boogie-Woogie Festival (France), The University of Chicago Folk Fest (IL), The Arches Boogie-Woogie Stage (OH), and Pianissimo Piano Festival (Germany).
George Aschmann, Violin
George Aschmann, from rural Fort Valley, Virginia, is a violinist (or fiddle player) who began playing music around his home from an early age. He has studied many forms of early recorded American music, among which are blues and jazz violin styles from the 1920’s and 30’s. George started travelling to New Orleans to study and play music in 2014, and has since performed across the U.S. and Europe with many different groups, most recently touring with the collective Frog and Henry and his trio/quartet the Marmalade’s Melody Men. Both groups revive the music first made popular in the 1920’s and 30’s in New Orleans, Chicago, and across the U.S., a mixture of jazz, blues, jugband, stringband, ragtime, and popular songs. Notable appearances include Umbria Jazz (Italy), Jazz Ascona (Switzerland), Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion (TN/VA), Are You Syncopated (Germany), Bude Jazz Festival ( England), Guinness Cork Jazz Festival (Ireland), Roots N Blues Festival (MO), Abita Springs Busker Festival (LA), Rando Jazz Festival (France).
Hubby Jenkins, Banjo and Guitar
Hubby Jenkins is a talented multi-instrumentalist who endeavors to share his love and knowledge of old-time American music. Born and raised in Brooklyn he delved into his southern roots, following the thread of African American history that wove itself through America’s traditional music forms. As an integral member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops and later Rhiannon Giddens band, Hubby has performed at festivals and venues around the world, earning himself both Grammy and Americana award nominations. Today he spreads his knowledge and love of old-time American music through his dynamic solo performances and engaging workshops.
Ian B. Walters, Piano
Ian B. Walters plays spirited, updated blues and standards as well as contemporary tunes. Known for his unique piano sound, dripping with soul vocals, and all-around good vibes, Ian’s inventive interpretations of great old songs make them new again. After studying classical piano for 13 years, he found his musical voice in vintage blues, R&B, American Standards, and early Rock-n-roll. One of the most sought-after performers in the Washington DC area, he can often be found playing blues festivals and clubs solo or with numerous bands. In 2008, Ian became the newest member of the blues piano faculty at the Augusta Heritage Center’s annual Blues Week in Elkins, WV. He teaches classes and has private students in Blues Piano, combining classical western musical methods with the music of early 20th Century America extending to Rock-n-roll and early R&B. He uses various styles, including Boogie Woogie, Honky Tonk, and New Orleans Stride and Ragtime to demonstrate a historical approach to the development of American Popular Music.
Jerron Paxton, Banjo and Guitar
Jerron Paxton served as the Artistic Director of the Port Townsend Acoustic Blues Festival & Workshop from 2014-2019 and we are honored to have him return as artist faculty, along with Phil Wiggins, the first artistic director, who has not missed many blues weeks. Jerron’s talent rivals the greatest. He plays in the true songster tradition: ragtime, hokum, old-time, French reels, Appalachian Mountain music, early jazz and blues and more.
Paxton was born into an African American Jewish family with mixed Creole /Choctaw Indian ancestry who moved to South Central Los Angeles, where Jerron grew up. He is a highly capable multi-instrumentalist who picks banjo and guitar, plays harmonica, piano and other instruments, including the fiddle, his first instrument.
Justin Golden, Guitar
With roots in the Mississippi Delta, Chicago, and the Piedmont of Virginia, Richmond-based guitarist and songwriter Justin Golden’s origins are deeply vested in the blues. First picking up the guitar at age 19, Golden did what came naturally and let the music flow through him. With an extremely diverse musical palette, Golden aims to bring some new ideas to traditional blues forms. In addition to his work as a recording and performing artist, Golden maintains a busy teaching schedule and works with the non-profit The Rhapsody Project to provide community enrichment through anti-racist cultural heritage programs.
Lloyd Buchanan, Voice
Lloyd Buchanan is rooted in Gospel and the Blues. His connection to the Hammond organ began at a very early age in church accompanying his mother. This indoctrination gave way to formal studies at LaGrange College where he expanded his musical vocabulary going deep into jazz improvisation under the tutelage of pianist/composer, Randy Hoexter and guitarist, Trey Wright. Lloyd has been a first-call session player at the Loft Recording Studio as well as numerous other facilities throughout the southeast. His B3, piano, bass and vocal chops can be heard on hundreds of recordings. As an educator and clinician, Lloyd served as jazz accompanist at LaGrange College and as Guest Artist in Residence at Columbus State University.
Mark Puryear, Guitar
Mark Puryear is a musician, ethnomusicologist, and curator. For the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, he curated the 2011 Rhythm and Blues: Tell It Like It Is program as well as the Freedom Sounds event that celebrated the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. He was nominated for a Grammy for producing the Smithsonian Folkways album Fannie Lou Hamer: Songs My Mother Taught Me.
The Downtown D.C. Musical Ministry of Flora Molton | Folklife Magazine
Mary Flower, Guitar
No less an authority than legendary Jefferson Airplane/Hot Tuna guitarist Jorma Kaukonen admiringly described Mary Flower as “a national treasure in your own backyard.”
Indeed, the internationally renowned award-winning Portland, Oregon-based singer/guitarist/songwriter is a prodigious talent whose seasoned skills have established her as one of America’s foremost roots performers. Flower combines a deep historical knowledge with a restless creativity that keeps her music evolving into new creative territory while echoing influences from Piedmont to the Mississippi Delta, with additional stops at ragtime, swing, folk, and hot jazz.
Midwest native Flower relocated from Denver to the vibrant Portland music scene in 2004. Since then, she’s continued to impress crowds and critics at folk festivals in America and abroad, including Merlefest, Waterfront Blues Fest, King Biscuit, A Prairie Home Companion and the Vancouver Folk Festival, while maintaining a parallel career as a renowned guitar teacher. Mary has shared her guitar skills at over 25 guitar “camps” and is about to celebrate 10 years at her own guitar intensive near Portland, Oregon, Blues in the Gorge. Along the way, she’s twice been a Finalist in the International Fingerstyle Guitar Championship, as well as being nominated three times for the Blues Foundation’s prestigious “Blues Music Award.” Mary is a contributing writer for Acoustic Guitar magazine and has recorded several instructional DVDs for the Homespun label.
Nick Pence, Guitar
Nick Pence is a well-known guitar player from St. Louis. Nick plays with The Bottlesnakes, The Dust Covers or The New Missouri Fox Hunters. These two have worked together in the past, including forming a gospel group The Houndsteeth.
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. Washington, D.C. native and Takoma Park, Maryland, resident, blues musician, teacher and artistic director, a two-time winner of the prestigious WC Handy Blues Foundation awards, Phil is only the third harmonica player to receive the lifetime honor of an NEA National Heritage Fellowship. Today he is the only living player of the instrument to hold the prestigious honor of being a “Master of Traditional Arts.” Often referred to by its unofficial designation as “Living Cultural Treasure” award, the fellowship honors and preserves the diverse cultural heritage in the United States. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) annually awards one-time-only NEA National Heritage Fellowships to master folk and traditional artists, to recognize lifetime achievement, artistic excellence, and contributions to our nation’s traditional arts heritage. In 2021 he was awarded the Maryland Heritage Award, also the most prestigious cultural award bestowed on the arts in the state.
Rev. Robert Jones, Ukulele
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 in live 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. Rev. Robert Jones makes his home in Detroit while performing throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. An award-winning multi-instrumentalist, he is accomplished at guitar, harmonica, mandolin, banjo and fiddle. He has recorded six albums of original and tradition songs. Robert is the former host of the award-winning radio programs “Blues from the Lowlands” and “Deep River” broadcast on Detroit Public Radio’s WDET-FM Detroit. And he has taught at music history courses at Wayne State University in Detroit. As an ordained minister and a Baptist pastor, he has an unwavering faith the cultural importance of sacred and traditional American roots music.
Rodrigo Mantovani, Bass
Born and raised in Brazil, Rodrigo has always had a deep love for American blues and roots music from a very young age. Rodrigo has been a member of some of the first ground breaking Blues bands in Brazil and because of his deep knowledge regarding the Traditional Blues, expertise and feel for the Blues, he has also been a first call bassist for many of the premier American Blues acts touring and recording with heavy weights of the Blues scene. Rodrigo’s work can be heard on many recordings, as a member of various bands, and also playing on and producing his own projects worldwide.
For his work playing and producing projects in Brazil, his band had two albums released in U.S.A and one of them was nominated for the 37th Annual Blues Music Awards. This remains an historic event as they were, the only non-American artists to ever have been nominated for these awards.
Living in the U.S since 2019, playing full time with the Nick Moss Band, Rodrigo has been collecting a lot of success on his path, winning 2 BMA’s in 2020( Best Traditional Blues Band Of The Year, and Best Traditional Blues Album Of The Year), recording several albums with different artists and projects and also been featured as the cover of one of the most important Blues Magazines on the Blues world, the Blues Blast Magazine.
Shari Kane, Guitar
Shari started playing guitar at the age of five. By the early 1970’s she had become a devoted blues fan, and learned how to play fingerstyle blues on the acoustic guitar. When she was sixteen, she began teaching guitar. She continues to teach, offering workshops in many of the cities where she performs.
Shari’s many years spent studying the work of the Delta Blues masters can be heard nightly as she picks up her acoustic guitar. Throwing herself into a stinging Robert Johnson interpretation, a jumping Robert Junior Lockwood shuffle, or the intricate finger stylings of Reverend Gary Davis and Mississippi John Hurt, Shari’s mastery of the acoustic tradition is apparent.
In 1990, she began touring with harmonica legend Peter Madcat Ruth. The two recorded four CDs and played in venues nationwide as well as Spain, Brazil, Poland, Canada and the Cayman Islands. An accomplished slide player, she appears on Rory Block’s 1992 release, Ain’t I A Woman.
“Working with Shari, a door opened in my mind that allowed me to see my fretboard in a new way, and I’m finally able to build skills that will allow me to play spontaneously.” – Valerie Turner, Piedmont Bluz
Shirley Smith and Pamela English, 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.
Shirley Smith along with Pamela English, are here to help us welcome back the PT Acoustic Blues Gospel Choir
Todd Cambio, Instrument Maintenance and Repair
Todd Cambio started training as a luthier in his early 20s, working with an old violin builder. For the most part, his education came from reading old technical manuals; talking with other traditional luthiers; repairing, restoring, and measuring hundreds of old guitars; and building new instruments for over twenty years. He has worked with some of the best musicians in the business and incorporated their feedback into his building. While many luthiers are about embracing advances in technology, Todd is about reviving traditional techniques that have been lost to modern generations and becoming effective and efficient at using those techniques…more info and beautiful pictures @ Fraulini Guitar Company
In memory of Steve James, who passed January 6, 2023
Steve James, guitarist, mandolinist, songwriter and luthier – was on faculty for Port Townsend Acoustic Blues (not called that then) in 1994 and since a total of 16 times. During the last years of Steve’s life in Seattle, WA he worked with two young adults from the Rhapsody Project in his luthier shop, Angelo Zito and Mariah Roberson. Steve spoke proudly of how well each took-to the fine work. Early November 2022, Steve proposed doing an “instrument maintenance and repair” workshop during 2023 PT Acoustic Blues week. Not long after, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor and spent the last months of 2022 wrapping up his remarkable life. Steve’s website is still up, he left a goldmine for us. We miss him and offer our deepest condolences to his friends and fans.
Todd Cambio and Steve James were friends. In memory of Steve, Todd has agreed to present an “instrument maintenance and repair” workshop at PT Acoustic Blues along with Steve’s two apprentices, Angelo and Mariah.