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True Blue

NORTH LIBERTY– This year’s Blues & BBQ festival has another all-out true blue show ready to entertain crowds in North Liberty this Sunday, from 12 to 10 p.m.
A slight change in the line-up, caused by a garage door accident that resulted in a broken guitar-playing hand, has removed Temporary Blues (featuring BJ Jaggers, Ernie Peniston and Dave Zollo) from the program; however, Zollo and the Body Electric will fill the first set instead. Zollo is a singer/songwriter, keyboardist, manager and record producer who has been part of the Iowa City music scene since the 1990s. A return performer to Blues & BBQ, Zollo is bringing his unique fusion of blues, rock and jazz to the stage.
Following Zollo onstage will be the Avey Brothers, new to the Blues & BBQ festival. Hailing from the Quad Cities, lead guitarist and vocalist Chris Avey is accompanied by brother Mark Avey on bass and Bryan West of Chicago on drums. The Avey brothers, with their mixed backgrounds, blend elements of Cajun swamp with blues and rock. The band was champion of the 2008 and 2009 Iowa Blues Challenge, finalists at the 2010 International Blues Challenge, and have shared stages with musical giants such as Delbert McClinton, Lonnie Brooks, Big Pete Pearson and Blues Traveler.
Blues & BBQ veteran and beloved Iowa City blues artist Kevin “BF” Burt returns to the festival for his fifth consecutive year, bringing along his Instigators and promising another heart-and-soul performance. Burt has been in the music business for nearly 21 years, and he keeps the Liberty Centre event on his itinerary because he respects that festival planners honor Iowa musicians.
“This festival focuses on Iowa-based artists, and I think that is fantastic. There are not a lot of festivals, even within the state, that do so. We have a tendency to think music’s gotta come a few hundred miles from us in order to be quality, but to have folks who live close by, and consistently be part of this event– and to see the other artists they bring in from year to year– keeps me feeling very proud.”
The Iowa City area has always been fertile ground for high quality musicians, Burt continued.
“The first thing that has to happen for anything to move to a higher level is to give it the respect and exposure to give newcomers something to aspire to,” he said. “There are a lot of artists that have come through this area that have given people something to aspire to. We have a solid history of high caliber music: Patrick Hazel, Greg Brown, Dave Moore, Dennis McMurrin, Craig Erickson, the Janey family– all those folks have laid the groundwork for what good is.
“Younger artists benefit from the exposure to those artists. All those folks have been doing music in a big way, for years, and they all are not only quality musicians but quality people in the community. They are out there doing everything they can, every day, to maintain a high standard. Those things make a difference for the next generations.”
Burt said he will be delivering some new music this year, along with some old favorites.
“I’ve been asked to do a lot of different songs that don’t necessarily get classified as blues songs, but everybody has asked me to do them the way I do them.”
And the way he does them is all his own.
“What’s kind of cool about this festival is there is enough different styles of blues. Everybody has their own vision how they think blues should be packaged,” said Burt. “I’m a native-born Iowan, and I embrace the Iowa roots. What I bring is my own influences– it’s not quite Chicago blues, and I am influenced by what they play in St. Louis and Memphis and all the places I’ve been to– and what they mean to me. I just come out and get to be ‘Iowa blues,’ the blues I hear in my head.”
Fortunately for audiences, they get to hear it, too.
Also returning to the BBQ venue three years running is 2005 Iowa Blues Hall of Fame inductee Bob Dorr and the Blue Band.
“We want to be the house band,” Dorr joked. “It’s pretty hard to turn down an invitation to this event. It seems to be a reconnection with a part of our following that started back in the original Crow’s Nest days. To get to see about four generations of people in the Iowa City/Cedar Rapids/North Liberty corridor is rare, since we don’t do many club dates anymore, and we enjoy the opportunity to be outside in this great festival atmosphere.”
The Blue Band is celebrating a landmark this summer as well; June 10 marks the band’s 30th year. The group has several events planned for mid-June, including a riverboat performance on June 3, gigs in Des Moines during the weekend of June 10, and the release of some new video and CD compilations of past performances. More information on the Blue Band’s summer schedule can be found at www.theblueband.com.
With approximately 75-100 gigs each year, rehearsals and the opportunity to try out new original music is rare for the Blue Band.
“But we try to add new songs every once in a while,” said Dorr. “Fortunately, we have built up a 30-year catalog of music, so the shows are never the same. We are kind of like the Iowa weather, if you don’t like what’s going on, just wait a few minutes and it’ll change.”
High energy and a lot of audience-band interaction is always a staple at a Blue Band show, though.
“It’s purely a give-and-take, a simultaneous kind of thing. We play the songs, people get up and dance and applaud, and ask for other songs, so it’s a real exchange of energy back and forth. The audience is 50 percent of our show,” said Dorr.
Accompanying Dorr on stage this Sunday will be Iowa City artists Steve Hayes on drums and Eddie McKinley on sax, as well as Al Naylor, noted Corridor educator and trumpet player, and guitarist Jeff Peterson and bass player Mark Linda.
Whether a dyed-in-the-wool blue blood or completely new to the blues, everyone will find something to love on this year’s Liberty Centre Blues & BBQ music stage. Kevin Burt makes it his personal oath.
“The bottom line is, we have a gathering of people that came out with the intent of having a good time,” said Burt. “Being able to walk away from my part of the event and know, by looking at folk’s faces, that they had a good time; that’s a cool and powerful drug. My job description doesn’t change. It’s my responsibility as an entertainer to make sure I deliver a product that is consistent and serves a purpose. I am here to make sure I feed people’s souls, and hopefully it’s exactly what they wanted. If it makes people smile, then I’ve done it right.
Souls who attend Liberty Centre Blues & BBQ 2011 should find plenty to smile about.
For more information about the event, see story, page 7.