PICS: 2017 San Diego Blues Festival

The 2017 San Diego Blues Festival hit Embarcadero Marina Park North on Sept. 9 with good times and incredible performances by Mavis Staples, California Honeydrops, Joe Louis Walker, and more.

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Steve Covault
Staples (pictured) wasn't the only incredible act scheduled to perform though: California Honeydrops, Joe Louis Walker, Rick Estrin & the Nightcats, and more wowed the San Diego crowd!
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Steve Covault
Founded in 2011 with a missions to provide great blues music and raise money to support the battle against hunger, San Diego Blues Festival sponsors and festival-goers have helped contribute 12 tons of food and more than $585,000 to help the Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank in San Diego County. (Joe Louis Walker pictured onstage)
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The ever-popular California Honeydrops were a big attraction at the all-day fest.
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From the San Diego Blues Festival website: "The force-of-nature Mavis Staples no longer needs a last name. She falls into that category that includes Aretha, Madonna and Oprah -- women who created their own orbits.
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It may seem a bit odd that a member of a family band -- the Staple Singers -- should establish a singular identity, but the truth is that was there from the beginning. Even at age 10 Mavis stood out when Roebuck “Pops” Staples gathered his four children and organized them into a family choir. (Guitarist Rick Holmstrom pictured)
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Her voice and her personality had their own identity. She was the youngest child, but that didn’t stop her from stepping into the spotlight.
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The band went from Chicago churches to recording studios and onto to become the voice of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wanted the Staples' next to him at every watershed moment of the movement. Their songs such as “I’ll Take You There” and “Respect Yourself” have a continuing legacy in the music world.
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Age, life issues and death, ended the family band long ago. But Mavis has spread her wings and today is a commanding figure in music. (Drummer Stephen Hodges pictured)
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She’s won a couple of Grammy Awards, played at the White House, is in the Rock 'N' Roll and Blues halls of fame -- and last December was a Kennedy Center honoree, the highest arts accolade in the country. And, she has a voice that only Mavis possesses.
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Hailing from the Bay Area, California Honeydrops mix Southern soul, R&B, and a healthy dose of New Orleans second-line street music together for a truly unique sound.
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Lech Wierzynski (pictured), frontman for the California Honeydrops, was born in Warsaw, Poland, but grew up listening to the very un-Polish sounds of Louis Armstrong and Sam Cooke.
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“When my dad was growing up in communist Poland in the ‘40s and ‘50s, old American music was illegal and therefore very cool,” he says. “He passed on the love of the old stuff to me.” (Wierzynski pictured)
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A stint at Oberlin College studying music, a move to Oakland in 2004 where he became a street musician, and then club opportunities to play blues and soul became his guiding lights. Little did he realize what was brewing inside of him as he studied and incorporated various aspects of music into his own sound. (Guest guitarist Kid Andersen -- from Rick Estrin & the Nightcats -- pictured)
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Wierzynski matched his soulful vocals and trumpet with the West African and New Orleans-inspired drumming of Ben Malament and the sax of Johnny Bones (pictured) to start the California Honeydrops.
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The trio eventually rounded out its sound with piano, bass and additional percussion. (Wierzynski pictured)
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One of the fest's main attractions: Joe Louis Walker!
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With first-hand musical connections to Freddie King, Otis Rush and Earl Hooker, Walker’s fiery guitar and emotionally wrenching vocals have become staples of the blues world since his debut blues album “Cold Is the Night” in 1985. (Drummer Byron Cage pictured)
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“I guess you could say I’ve been on a musical journey my entire life,” said the Grammy Award winner in an interview. “I’ve tried a lot of things musically, but the fact is that blues is my mother tongue. I also know that what I play can best be described as Joe Louis Walker music. It’s no one else’s but mine.”
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NPR has described him as "Powerful, soul-stirring, fierce and gritty ... a legendary boundary-pushing icon of modern blues." (Bassist Lenny Bradford pictured)
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In 2013, Walker was inducted to the Blues Hall of Fame. In addition that same year, he was nominated in four Blues Music Award categories. His latest album, "Everybody Wants a Piece," was released in 2015.
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During the festival, organizers and sponsors presented the Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank with a donation of $50,000! Well done!
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Chris James, Patrick Rynn, and Aki Kumar and their band played the Baker Electric Solar Stage at 3:30 p.m.
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James and Rynn (both San Diegans by the way) are world renown as keepers of the Chicago blues flame. Several years ago though, they met Aki Kumar, who was then a systems analyst for a Silicon Valley tech company. At that time, he was a young bluesman, singing and playing harmonica at night and on the weekends.
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Steve Covault
Eventually, Kumar decided to trade a highly lucrative tech career for one rooted in the blues instead. “Every couple of months we see Aki and he’s a better musician than he was the last time we saw him,” James has said. “As a harmonica player, he’s among the top players anywhere. It’s amazing the way he has progressed.”
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The afternoon featured a set from Rick Estrin & the Nightcats. The band consists of Estrin on harmonica/vocals, the aforementioned Kid Andersen on guitar, Lorenzo Farrell on bass, and drummer J. Hansen.
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Estrin was born in San Francisco in 1949, and fell in love with blues after his sister presented him with Ray Charles’ "The Genius Sings The Blues" when he was 12. He began playing harmonica at age 15, and by age 18 was beginning to work professionally. Early in his career he played with Lowell Fulson, Z.Z. Hill, Travis Phillips, and Fillmore Slim.
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Estrin won the 2013 Blues Music Award for Best Instrumentalist–Harmonica in 2013. He won the 1994 Blues Music Award for Song of the Year for his composition "My Next Ex-Wife."
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The Philadelphia Inquirer once wrote about Estrin: “He’s one of the great characters in blues – a sharp-dressing, smooth-talking harmonica-playing hep-cat. He’s also a deceptively subtle writer who can cloak pointed or sobering messages within the band’s good-time vibe.”
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Thanks for the memories, San Diego Blues Festival! Can't wait until next year's!
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