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Bands bring cool shade of blue to hot weekend fest

NORTH LIBERTY– Now reappearing: the fifth annual Liberty Centre Blues & BBQ festival, with the help of some new and additional talent.
This Saturday, July 23, the grills will be re-fired, the tents re-staked and the amps rewired, as blues fest organizers prepare for a rescheduled date. Originally scheduled for May 29, morning thunderstorms damaged tents and left inches of standing water on the grassy fields of the event site.
No such weather is in sight for this weekend; just bright sun, smoking hot barbecue and steamy down-home blues. The music, games, beverage garden, food and fun begin at 12 p.m. The evening ends with fireworks at 9:45 p.m.
Most of the musicians originally set to play in May were able to fit July 23 into their busy calendars, with two bands agreeing to play two shows that day in order to remain a part of the Blues & BBQ event. But the lineup has slightly changed, and two new bands were added to accommodate those who have to hurry off to their second gigs.
Kicking things off in a big way, Bob Dorr and the Blue Band take the stage right at 12 p.m. The Iowa Blues Hall of Fame inductee Dorr, appearing at Blues & BBQ for the third year in a row, said he loves the annual event enough to get up early and play for the North Liberty crowd before he and the band take off for another show later in the day.
Also double-booked for the day is Kevin “B.F.” Burt and the Instigators. Burt is a perennial Blues & BBQ crowd-pleaser, an Iowa City-based musician who has appeared every year on the Blues & BBQ stage. He also made room in his busy day for the annual festival, as he will go directly from there to plug in his guitar and play a four-hour set at Bobbers Grill at the Scales Pointe campground outside of North Liberty.
Also returning to the Blues & BBQ bill is Dave Zollo and the Body Electric. Well-known Iowa City musician Zollo is a singer/songwriter, keyboardist and record producer who has been part of the Iowa City music scene since the 1990s. Zollo brings to the stage his unique fusion of blues, rock and jazz.
New to the blues stage– to any stage, actually– is the recently-formed Regina E. and the Disciples, a conglomeration of musicians put together by North Liberty blues guitarist BJ Jaggers. (See related story, page 6).
Brought aboard to replace the originally-scheduled Avey Brothers will be another Quad Cities-based favorite, the Ellis Kell Band.
This will be Kell’s first Blues & BBQ event. His band rarely performs too far outside the Quad City area, as most of the members have family and job commitments that make doing traveling shows difficult. But having heard so many good things about the community festival, Kell said he will be happy to make the trip.
“Life on the road and living out of a suitcase just doesn’t have a lot of appeal,” said Kell. “We have done a few big music festivals, in Tempe, Ariz., around Chicago and in Des Moines, but we’ve also done four shows opening for B.B. King, right here in the Quad Cities.”
The Ellis Kell Band has, in fact, shared the stage with huge musical names besides the King of blues, including Robert Cray, Leon Russell, Willie Nelson, Etta James, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Bachman Turner Overdrive, the Neville Brothers and John Lee Hooker, Jr.
The band is a well-established Quad Cities favorite. Since forming in 1990, the Ellis Kell Band has been named the Quad Cities Times Readers’ Choice for favorite band four times, and has been awarded the River City Reader’s Best Award for blues band nine different years, among other recognitions, as well as twice appearing on nationally syndicated radio shows featuring the blues.
The Ellis Kell Band is comprised of Rick Stoneking on keyboards, John Burchett on bass, drummer Terry Hanson, Kell on guitar and lead vocals, and the well-known Detroit Larry Davison, who plays harmonica.
“Everybody knows Detroit Larry,” said Kell. Enough said.
Besides being drawn by the good reputation the North Liberty festival has gained in area music circles, Kell said he and the band members also enjoy the atmosphere at smaller, community-oriented festivals such as Blues & BBQ.
“For us, it’s like being home in the smaller communities. People at blues festivals treat you like you are the folks next door. There’s a lot to be said for that. You can kind of get swallowed in the sea of people at big festivals where you don’t know anyone,” he said.
On Saturday, the band will be ready to give this community its own unique brand of music.
“Our music has a shade of blue, no matter what we do,” Kell said. “We do some cover songs, but we do them our way. Everything sounds like us doing it. We’re not scared to do blues mixed with rock, mixed with country, and even something a little jazzy.”
Kell said the world of blues music has opened up, has become more free to include individual flavors brought by new musicians.
“When I was growing up, you were categorized,” he said. “You either were a blues musician, or you weren’t. People don’t do that anymore, so it gives you a wider pallette to choose from. We play a good blend of songs people will know, as well as our original blend of rock, blues, country, funky style of music we have developed by playing for over 21 years.”
The Blues & BBQ festival has opened up a little this year, too. Previously, the festival has featured Iowa-based musicians. The Ellis Kell Band members hail from the other side of the river, in Illinois.
Kell said he is honored to be included in this year’s festival and to be in such esteemed company.
“This is a great lineup. I’ve known most of the people forever, and they all are the best in Iowa. Of course, we are from Illinois, but we’ve always joked about asking if we could get a waiver so we could maybe get into the Iowa Blues Hall of Fame.”
Nomination or not, Kell said he looks forward to Saturday’s event.
“We are really excited about coming to North Liberty,” he said. “We don’t travel a lot, but we’ve heard nothing but great things about the festival; how it’s grown, and it’s a down-home family festival. We are all family people, so that’s very important to us. It’s an honor to come and play, and we’ll play a good show for you.”
For more event information, visit www.northlibertyiowa.org/bluesandbbq.