STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
A fiery weekend of live blues is on the way.
Bethlehem’s ArtsQuest at SteelStacks welcomes two-time Grammy nominee Shemekia Copeland, two-time “B.B. King Entertainer of the Year”-winner Tommy Castro, The Heritage Blues Orchestra and John Németh & the Bo-Keys for the 2015 Blast Furnace Blues Festival March 27-29.
The past few years, the festival has been held at different times of the year, and ArtsQuest is hoping that this is the year Blast Furnace Blues Festival finds a permanent home on the calendar, while still fielding the best possible lineup. “It started in September of 2011. Last year, we moved it to wintertime. We’ve been trying to find the right time for it, but we still wanted it to be at the beginning of the (festival) season” said ArtsQuest senior vice-president of programming Patrick Bergen, noting that most American blues festivals occur during summer.
“This area — the Lehigh Valley up to the Slate Belt area, and out west toward Reading, and west New Jersey — these are blue collar towns that have gone through ups and downs with industry. (Blues) really resonates with the region. It’s not pop; it’s not auto-tuned; it’s not pretentious; it’s about life,” he said.
Opening night March 27 is dedicated to local favorites. March 28 headliner Tommy Castro, a Blues Music Award-winner and the blues category winner of the 2012 International Songwriting Competition for the song “Hard Believer,” was a member of The Dynatones and has shared the stage with blues greats Albert King and B.B. King.
Singer/songwriter and harmonica player John Németh will be joining forces with the band The Bo-Keys, whom you may remember from the “Hustle & Flow” soundtrack. Bergen described the concert pairing as uncommon.
He also noted that you should make a point to catch Shawn Holt & the Teardrops, who are led by the son of blues legend Magic Slim.
On March 29, Blast Furnace Blues attendees can enjoy a Blues Brunch, featuring music by local band The BC Combo, with the old Bethlehem Steel blast furnaces in the backdrop. Tickets are $35.
With seven albums to her credit, March 29 headliner, singer Shemekia Copeland, has shared the stage with Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton, and has performed at the White House.
Also taking the stage March 29 is the nine-piece Heritage Blues Orchestra, who blend blues, gospel, country and jazz.
The Freddie King Reunion Band will bring back players that have jammed with King over the years. “We’re one of the first U.S. festivals to have this lineup,” Bergen said.
Inspired by the Heritage Music BluesFest in Wheeling, W.Va., Blast Furnace Blues also features workshops where you can learn how to sing, play guitar, harmonica or piano, or write songs like the musicians that will be performing. For sign up information and availability, check www.artsquest.org.
Three-day festival passes are available, as well as VIP packages that include meet-and-greets and valet parking.
March 27 at Musikfest Café presented by Yuengling: Friar’s Point at 6:15 p.m., Dugan Thomas at 6:45 p.m., James Supra Blues Band at 8:30 p.m., Sarah Ayers Band at 10:30 p.m.
March 28 at Musikfest Café presented by Yuengling: Ed Anderson at 1:20 p.m., Curley Taylor & Zydeco Trouble at 3 p.m., Gaye Adegbalola at 4:30 p.m., Shawn Holt & the Teardrops at 6 p.m., Tommy Castro at 7:45 p.m., John Németh & the Bo-Keys at 9:30 p.m.
March 28 at Fowler Blast Furnace Room Stage: Shawn Holt & the Teardrops at 2:15 p.m., Eric Noden & Joe Filisko at 3:45 p.m., Ed Anderson at 5:30 p.m., Carolyn Wonderland at 7 p.m., Curley Taylor at 8:45 p.m.
March 29 at Musikfest Cafe presented by Yuengling: Blues Brunch with BC Combo (separate ticket required) at 11 a.m., Carolyn Wonderland at 1:30 p.m., Freddie King Reunion Band at 2:45 p.m., Chris O’Leary Band at 4:15 p.m., Shemekia Copeland at 6 p.m., Heritage Blues Orchestra at 7:45 p.m.
March 29 at Fowler Blast Furnace Room Stage: Mike Mettalia & Midnight Shift at 1:15 p.m., Maria Woodford Band at 3:15 p.m., Roddy Barnes at 5 p.m., Freddie King Reunion Band at 7 p.m.
IF YOU GO
What: Blast Furnace Blues Festival.
When: 5 to 10 p.m. March 27, 1:30 to 11 p.m. March 28, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. March 29.
Where: ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks, 101 Founders Way, Bethlehem.
Tickets: $20 for Friday passes; $49 for Saturday or Sunday passes; $5 for children under 6; $95 for three-day passes; $199 for VIP passes.
Info.: Visit www.artsquest.org/festivals/blast-furnace-blues or call (610) 332-3378.