GRASSY CREEK — By promoting the natural beauty of the High Country, along with the soulful sounds of the blues, the 19th annual New River Blues Festival once again drew in hundreds for a day of sunshine and music on the afternoon of Sept. 5.
Each year the festival is produced by Ashe County blues and American roots act, the King Bees, which is comprised of Rob “Hound Dog” Baskerville on guitar, Penny “Queen Bee” Zamagni on bass and Jim Gillon on drums. Unlike other festivals in Appalachia which typically present old-time and traditional bluegrass music, this event is unique in that it showcases the iconic sounds of the blues.
“This is the only event in the North Carolina mountains that brings in real deal, authentic blues, and celebrates our beautiful scenic outdoors,” said Zamagni.
This year’s event kicked off around 1 p.m. at the River House Inn and featured performances from national renowned acts such as Boogie Woogie blues master Daryl Davis, South Carolina’s First Lady of R&B Wanda Johnson and fan favorite Donald Ceasar the Blues Emperor, a veteran performer of the festival.
“It’s like family, and that’s the good thing about blues is that it does bring people together, old, young, it’s all about a good feeling man,” said Ceasar about the New River Blues Festival. “You can forget about your troubles and let the blues take you away.”
Concert goers also witnessed a lively, unrehearsed performance by seasoned Costal Virginia bluesman Bobby Blackhat. This year marked Blackhat’s first appearance at the New River Blues Festival, an occasion which he noted had been delayed in the past due to the national pandemic.
“This is so cool, it was a challenge getting here because GPS doesn’t like this neck of the woods,” Blackhat joked. “But we got here, and everybody has been so hospitable and just so friendly. Music is one thing that unites so many people, and right now we’re just here in the moment enjoying the music and watching people dance and smiling and socializing. It don’t get no better than that.”
Other acts included Mountain bluesman Lynn Foddrell, and the King Bees themselves who provided a backing band for many of the visiting musicians. Others involved in the festival include event sponsor Celtic Force Productions, Kristin’s Hooked on Smoke who provided food, the River House Inn who provided the space, as well as beverages and volunteers such as the local Lions Club who parked cars.
According to Zamagni, this year’s festival looked slightly different due to the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases. In order to ensure ample room for people to socially distance, the festival promotors made the decision to sell less tickets.
“We have a limited number of people, because these days you have to. We’re about 200 tickets fewer,” Zamagni said. “We sold out. You know, there’s a lot of mad people out there upset that they couldn’t get their ticket but we warned everybody. COVID-19 has changed things, and we wanted to make sure that there’s room for everybody to socially distance.”
Despite the changes, Zamagni noted that the people in attendance did not seem to mind.