Artistic Director Jontavious Willis
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.” Jontavious accepted invitation to lead the Port Townsend Acoustic Blues workshop as Artistic Director starting in 2020.
In her formative years Albanie was exposed to the local music of Louisiana: the sounds of Cajun, zydeco, blues and gospel music at festivals and backyard parties. After relocating with her family to Texas at the age of nine, she began taking guitar lessons and developing an interest in acoustic-roots and electric blues, punk rock, and hair metal. Albanie began her love and study of early American jazz as a freshman in high school when she was exposed to the Parisian Romani guitarist Django Reinhardt. Listening fervently to recordings of Reinhardt, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Fats Waller, and other great figures, she began to develop her feel for swing. Soon she was performing alongside mentors and other players of the Austin scene. In the summer of 2013 Albanie relocated to New Orleans, Louisiana, where she currently lives and performs solo and with various ensembles.
Ben Hunter is a multi-instrumentalist whose interests lie in roots music from around the world. Born in Lesotho, raised predominantly in Phoenix, with stints in Seattle and Zimbabwe, Ben was “raised classically” on violin, but now plays a variety of styles—roots, folk, jazz, blues, world, gospel, you name it. At Whitman College, Ben came upon two violinists who influenced him most: Stuff Smith and Eddie South. Like Ben, Eddie South was an African American classical violinist who made the transition over to jazz and blues styles. Stuff Smith’s phrasings and technical dexterity impressed him. String band violinist, Clifford Hayes, helped him understand how violinists play the blues in a different way. Ben plays in the internationally touring duo, Ben Hunter & Joe Seamons, as well as solo and with other local Seattle jazz groups. In 2017, Ben composed music for a dance piece, Black Bois, that has received critical acclaim, and is currently an artist-in-residence for Seattle’s On The Boards theater group.
Carl Sonny Leyland
Raised on the South Coast of England, as a child Carl was drawn to American music on LP records his father would play. He developed an appreciation for Dixieland jazz, the rock n roll of the 1950s and the country music of Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams. At 15 Carl discovered boogie-woogie. Captivated by the sound of the repeating 8 to the bar left hand pattern, he was inspired to begin on a path that would become his life’s purpose. Within 3 months he became a member of a respected local group “The Bob Pearce Blues Band.” In 1988 Carl’s initial visit to New Orleans inspired him to relocate to that city where he spent the next nine years. Active on the club scene, Carl quickly gained a reputation for his authentic blues and early rock n roll stylings. In 1997, he moved to Southern California and joined Big Sandy and His Flyrite Boys and toured for over three years. His repertoire had expanded to include ragtime and early jazz styles and became part of the traditional jazz scene around Los Angeles and San Diego. In June of 2003 the Carl Sonny Leyland Trio was formed. Whether playing solo or with his trio, Carl’s playing displays an infectious spontaneity, providing plenty of surprises for the listener.
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.
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.
Bruce Sunpie Barnes
Sunpie 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 across 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.
Briar is a singer of vintage jazz, blues and original music. By blending a powerful voice with stories about the history and origins of her music, she shines a light on singers and tales that have been forgotten by the country that created them. Raised in the small community of Chimacum, Washington, Briar uses her music to help explore her unique background as a black woman from the rural Pacific Northwest.
Whether belting Bessie Smith numbers or crooning original songs about Sherlock Holmes, her performances are defined by her combination of grace and playfulness, elegance crossed with down-home bravado. In addition to her regular engagements as a singer and ukulele player, Briar teaches music for Seattle JazzEd, is a leader of the Rhapsody Project, and is currently pursuing a degree in Environmental Science from Olympic University.
Valerie 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.
Jayy Hopp was born in Lagrange on March 10th, 1995. He started with Gospel (drumming at first until his cousin formally introduced him to the guitar). Gospel and R&B music was very influential in his formative years. The guitar grooves and distinctive sounds always caught his ear. As he aged, Jayy Hopp expanded his musical vocabulary. He started listening closely to Jimi Hendrix playing style, which lead him to people like Buddy Guy, Albert Collins, Jimmy Dawkins, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Son Seals, Hubert Sumlin, Robert Ward (his uncle) and Ike Turner. His long-time friend, Jontavious Willis enlightened him about the roots of blues and different playing styles. Jayy Hopp plays with a solid syncopation and you can hear his influences clearly in his playing. Jayy Hopp should be a known name under this new generation. Under the wings of Jontavious Willis, he has learned more about the roots of the blues and how it affected the different genres we have today. He has become more fluent in the Country Blues playing style. He has also been rewarded a Certificate for completing the Bentonia Tuning Workshop where Grammy nominated Mr. Jimmy “Duck” Holmes was the instructor, in Bentonia, MS.
Benedict Turner is a roots percussionist specializing in lap-style washboard and bones. As a professional Graphic Designer and Senior Art Director, Benedict curates vintage washboards and bells from around the world and uses these artifacts to create his unique line of Darlington washboards which feature detailed carvings and sculpted attachments. Benedict has studied with Washboard Chaz of Louisiana fame, as well as with Newman Taylor Baker of the Ebony Hillbillies. Inspired by these two talented percussionists, Benedict has his own style of washboard playing, which is influenced by the melodic and percussive sounds of the steel drums of his birthplace, Trinidad and Tobago. Benedict and his wife, Valerie Turner, comprise the Piedmont Blūz Acoustic Duo, dedicated performers and preservationists of Piedmont style musical traditions.
Barrelhouse blues pianist and preservationist based in St. Louis, MO, and a student of the music’s rich history and varied regional styles, Ethan Leinwand presents personal interpretations of many of the great (and forgotten) old-time masters. Though rarely championed and little remembered today, barrelhouse piano is an important and impressive piece of the blues story. Combining elements of ragtime, boogie-woogie, and early jazz – all with a low-down blues feeling – barrelhouse blues is a two-handed piano style built to keep ‘em dancing. Ethan shares his passion for this forgotten genre through storytelling and performance, shedding light on the music, the players, and the environments whence they came. Originally from Middletown, CT, Ethan has spent time living in New Orleans and Brooklyn. He moved to St. Louis, MO in 2014 and performs regularly in his adopted home city. In addition to his solo work, Ethan is a part of multiple projects, including Miss Jubilee and the Yas Yas Boys, The Bottlesnakes, and The St. Louis Steady Grinders.
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.
Jimmy “Duck” Holmes
Jimmy “Duck” Holmes is the proprietor of one of the oldest juke joints in Mississippi, the Blue Front in Bentonia. In the mid-2000s he began performing blues actively after many years of performing casually, and has already garnered several awards and many accolades. He is a practitioner and conscious advocate of a distinctive blues style from his hometown Bentonia, whose most famous proponent was blues pioneer Skip James.
Mamie Minch is a longtime staple of New York’s acoustic blues scene. This Delaware native grew up in a music loving family and started playing fingerstyle blues in her teens. She developed a guitar style that’s a soulful combination of Piedmont style picking and a looser right hand, (think Mississippi John Hurt and RL Burnside’s baby) and her smoky, emotive alto has gotten her compared to Nina Simone and Terry Collier.
Listening to Mamie sing and play is like unpacking a time capsule of American music that’s been stored in her 1930’s National steel guitar for decades and filtered with a modern feminine sensitivity. She writes and performs blues and ballads that bridge between historical record and contemporary city life, and especially loves including material from women musicians writing over the last 100 years. Her recent album Slow Burn made the New York Daily Best 50 Albums of 2020. She is also a luthier doing guitar repair and restoration, and along with her business partner Chloe Swantner (a Port Townsend native) co-owns Brooklyn Lutherie, the New York City’s only woman owned and run instrument repair shop.
Rich DelGrosso’s performances at clubs and festivals, and airplay of his recordings, have garnered him eight Blues Music Award nominations. Six of the eight were for Best Instrumentalist for his mandolin work, and the others were Best Acoustic Album of the Year; one with Fiona Boyes and Mookie Brill in 2009,” “Live From Bluesville,” and the other in 2015, “The Ragpicker String Band.” Writer, teacher, performer, DelGrosso widely regarded as the leading exponent of mandolin blues. For over thirty years he has performed and written articles for Blues Revue, Living Blues, Mandolin Magazine, Frets, and Sing Out!, and he has published mandolin and guitar instruction books for Hal Leonard Pub. He has presented workshops across the Americas and Europe, earning him a Keeping the Blues Alive Award from the Blues Foundation in Memphis.” “He lets his fingers do the talking, and his beautiful, clear tone and fluid technique are a delight…” – Living Blues
Roy Book Binder
Roy Book Binder has been rambling around the world for the past 45 years! He gave up his Greenwich Village “pad” in the early 1970’s and lived in his “Tour Bus” for the next 15 years criss crossing the US and appearing at festivals throughout Canada & Europe.
Book Binder, travelled with the legendary Rev. Gary Davis in the late 60’s….. The Book, recorded his first solo acoustic Blues album in the 70’s, which was the first to receive 5 stars in DOWNBEAT magazine! In the late 80’s ‘The Book’ was part of Bonnie Raitt’s East Coast Tour, which included an appearance on The Grand Old Opry which led to almost 30 appearances on NASHVILLE NOW’s, Ralph Emory Show! In the 90’s he often appeared with JORMA KAUKONEN (who recorded 2 of Roy’s songs). THE GOOD BOOK, Roy’s latest release of all original songs, reached #3 on AirPlayDirect’s Americana charts! #1 was Guy Clark & #2 was the late Townes Van Zandt. Folkdj.org had Roy in the top 3 artists for July.
Roy has the goods: the original, the bare-knuckle, the low-down . . . blues. Who can say they were friends with the Rev. Gary Davis, Pink Anderson and Robert Lockwood? And toured with Arthur Big Boy Crudup, Hot Tuna, JJ Cale & Bonnie Raitt? Roy can. He has the stories, the licks, and the mystery of timeless music in his fingers.
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.
Jimmy Vivino (aka Jimmy V) has always considered himself “a blues man with a job”. Although best known for serving 26 years as Conan O’Brien’s musical director, guitarist and bandleader, his experience in the music business predates that by 20 plus years.
Jimmy V has produced, lead bands and recorded with a countless number rock and roll and blues artists for five decades including the likes of Hubert Sumlin, Warren Haynes, Bob Weir, Keith Richards, Elvis Costello, Johnnie Johnson, Son Seals, Shemekia Copeland, Levon Helm, Phoebe Snow, Dion, Laura Nyro, Bob Margolin, Lowell Fulson, John Sebastian, Joe Louis Walker and Al Kooper to name a few. When not producing, recording or touring with other artists, Jimmy still tours the country and the world with his own band and is due to release a new blues album later on this year (2022).
Born in Jackson, Mississippi, Meagan May was born into generations of farming and music. Relief from the sweltering Mississippi heat came from the breeze on the front porch, and music helped pass the time. May learned to play guitar as a child from her maternal grandmother, Jeanette Stewart Austin, who introduced her to artists such as, Hank Williams, Ray Charles, and Elvis. Her paternal grandmother, Jean Pickering May, was a professional musician before she married, known for her Boogie Woogie piano style. Family members and close friends gathered on Sunday afternoons to sing from the Old Heavenly Highways Hymnal while her great grandfather, Lester Stewart, would buck dance and yodel his “Lonesome Cowboy Song,” and “Amazing Grace,” heart wrenching and performed a cappella. Meagan’s mother, Paula May, a respected gospel tenor, taught her 4 and 5 part harmonies that now support the vocal arrangements that can be heard on her song, “Broke Down Up The Road or Deep Inside.” May is recorded giving a chilling performance of The National Anthem during the inauguration of the U.S.S. Cole that is archived in The Library of Congress. Memphis, Tennessee guitar prodigy, Khari Wynn, recorded May’s debut album, A Long Time Comin’, that is set to be released in 2023.
Born in Los Angeles on Sonny Terry’s birthday (October 24,) Tom began playing guitar at the age of eleven and took up harmonica two years later. A teenage member of the Yerba Buena Blues Band in the mid-1960’s, he played Love-Ins and Sunset Strip nightclubs before leaving the country for most of the ’70s. In 1978 he came back to the U.S. and in ’79 he teamed up with guitarist Kenny Sultan – a partnership that still flourishes today after 40 years and has resulted in eight duo CDs (most with Flying Fish/Rounder,) and literally thousands of concerts and festivals all over the world.
In addition to working with Kenny, Tom has played on nearly three hundred CDs, performed and sung on countless film soundtracks, TV shows and commercials, recorded four solo guitar CDs, written five instructional books and authored a couple of novels.