NORTH LIBERTY– Things will be heating up on the west side of the city this weekend; and not just the weather.
North Liberty Blues & BBQ, presented by South Slope, gets underway at noon on Saturday, July 12, at Centennial Park, near the intersection of Jones Boulevard and St. Andrews Drive in North Liberty. While the free festival is now in its eighth year, holding plenty of traditional favorites, there are some new things to look forward to as well.
First, the venue has changed. Formerly held in the center of town at Liberty Centre Park and Pond, the area surrounding Liberty Centre was becoming increasingly developed, leaving even less room for the ever-growing event. Since the city purchased 40 acres of land slated for green space development, Centennial Park became Blues’ new, potentially permanent home. Also changed is the date. Historically Blues & BBQ was held during Memorial Day weekend, but previous years of poor weather, which caused the event to be both rescheduled and postponed, prompted the planning committee to move the festival to July to– hopefully– avoid future meteorological mishaps.
Second, some fresh faces will take the stage this year, along with some perennial festival favorites.
Returning to the Blues & BBQ lineup is Iowa City blues musician Kevin “BF” Burt, the only musician who has played the event every year. Burt kicks everything off at noon, with his own heart-and-soul take on the classic blues style. Native Iowan Burt said he keeps Blues & BBQ on his annual itinerary because he appreciates the way the festival honors local musicians.
”I love it,” said Burt. This event matters to the community. It’s a family friendly event that is free. I’m humbled and honored to be invited back every year.” Burt will be backed up by Big Medicine, featuring Eric “The Greatest Man Alive” Madison on drums, and Burt’s brother Shawn on bass. Find more of Burt’s music on reverbnation.com/kevinbfburt.
Also returning from a truncated festival last year– cut short by extremely rainy, windy conditions– are the FunkDaddies, headed by drummer and lead vocalist Ken Duncan.
“Due to last year’s bad weather situation, the Blues & BBQ organizers were extremely generous to bring back the excellent lineup of bands for this year’s event,” said Duncan. “We are honored to return, and look forward to putting on a great show for the fans.”
The five-piece funk masters from the Midwest have a combined 40 years of experience, and with Skeeter Louis on tenor sax and keyboards and organ by Denny Ketelsen, the FunkDaddies lay down a sound that includes covers of funk and soul artists from the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, like Earth, Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder, James Brown and Wild Cherry, along with some of the band’s original music from band member and songwriter Craig Erikson. The FunkDaddies begin their set at 2:30 p.m.
“We continuously add new original material, and work on creating fresh, new arrangements of top hits in order to keep our performances fun and exciting,” Duncan added. “FunkDaddies is looking forward to playing for this great annual event. May the Funk be with you.”
Next on the University of Iowa Community Credit Union main stage are the Sidewinders, a National Guard combo that will play a shortened set beginning at 4:30, and at 6 p.m., the Curtis Hawkins Band makes its first appearance at North Liberty Blues & BBQ.
The Curtis Hawkins band is Manuel Lopez III on vocals and keyboards, with Jamie Hopkins on drums, Ian Johnson on guitar, and Curtis Hawkins on bass. The band’s set is rich with crowd-pleasing familiar tunes from bands like Steely Dan, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Ray Charles and Freddie King, for example, but TCHB gives them a unique and decidedly bluesy flavor all their own.
Rounding out the night at 8 p.m. will be Hal Reed, who also is returning from last year’s event; though he never actually got on stage in 2013. Since the festival was cut short by rain, Reed carted his equipment and his backup musicians over to Red’s Alehouse and gave the smaller crowd a full taste of his signature Mississippi Delta-style blues.
As always, North Liberty Blues & BBQ will host a variety of food vendors in the Adam Schechinger State Farm Food Vendor Alley, who will be serving up sweet and sassy BBQ, with other choices for different palates as well.
Once again, there will be a People’s Choice award given to the vendor with the highest number of votes cast by festival attendees throughout the day from noon until 4 p.m. At 4:30 p.m., a panel of expert judges will take their places and plates at the contest table and sample the best of the goods from those vendors competing in the Press Citizen BBQ Cook-Off.
The 2014 Blues & BBQ beverage garden, sponsored by Veridian Credit Union, will be another opportunity to sample the best Iowa has to offer. Craft beers from Confluence Brewing, Millstream, Peace Tree Brewing, Sutliff Cider, Toppling Goliath, and, new to the brew roster this year, Bent River Brewing, will be cold and on tap from noon until 10 p.m. The beverage garden is for all ages, but only those showing proper identification will be able to purchase tickets for brews.
Blues & BBQ has always been family-friendly, with plenty of free stuff for kids to do from noon until 7 p.m. This year, the fun begins a little earlier, with the North Liberty Community Pantry’s Turkey Trot 5K and 1 mile run fundraiser starting at 8 a.m. At noon, the Rage Grafix Inflatable Playground opens with inflatable rides and an interactive petting zoo.
Committee member Christina Erbe said the action will be wilder than ever, with a new zoo coming to town.
“This is a bigger and better petting zoo, coming from Illinois,” said Erbe. “They promise to bring between 25 and 35 animals, including some babies. It’s free for kids to go into the fenced area and interact with the animals.”
Also free– and new– is the Shive-Hattery Everyday Arts Pavilion, where a number of local organizations will offer a variety of hands-on arts and craft activities, also from noon until 7 p.m.
“Blues & BBQ has always encompassed the arts, with its focus on food and music, and we wanted to give the community a chance to interact even more with the arts,” said Erbe. “We brought in organizations that will use arts- and education-inspired activities to give families another way to enjoy the day and incorporate even more activities for children.”
The pavilion will be staffed by volunteers from the Iowa Children’s Museum, Iowa City STEAM Room’s Fab Lab, North Liberty Community Library and Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature, the Herbert Hoover Library and Museum, University of Iowa Arts Share, Shive-Hattery and the North Liberty Food Pantry, who will be giving kids a chance to create, decorate, design and explore with a range of materials and mediums.
“It allows us to let families engage with the arts, which has always been one of our goals for the festival,” said Erbe. The Everyday Arts Pavilion will have something for kids of all ages, from preschoolers up to middle schoolers, Erbe said.
At the end of the music, food and action-packed day, the Eastern Iowa Airport will light up the night with the Up-In-The-Air Fireworks Spectacular at 9:45 p.m.
It’s sure to be another satisfying smorgasbord of food, music and fun at this year’s Blues & BBQ festival, and planning committee chair Nick Bergus invites everyone to take it all in.
“Blues & BBQ has been a great event and is a growing tradition,” said Bergus. “As we head into its eighth year, we’re excited to have the community experience how we’ve built on past favorites to begin this new, exciting chapter.