ARLINGTON — The Byrnes Performing Arts Center will be in a bluesy mood on the evening before Arlington's Hometown Holidays, as the Arlington Arts Council partners with the Washington Blues Society to present the Legends of the Blues concert on Friday, Dec. 6, starting at 7 p.m.
Armed with hotel/motel tax grants from the city of Arlington, the Arlington Arts Council contacted local blues harp player Jeff Nicely and expressed their interest in promoting both the blues genre and the Byrnes Performing Arts Center as an arena to showcase performers who could draw audiences from throughout the region.
"Randy Norris and I have played the blues together for a number of years, and have represented Washington state at the annual International Blue Challenge," Nicely said. "So we contacted the Washington Blues Society's Tony Frederickson, who's promoted Blues Hall of Fame shows, and he was interested in what the Arlington Arts Council was doing here."
Nicely agreed with the Arlington Arts Council that drawing regional audiences could gain greater exposure for the Byrnes Performing Arts Center, which he sees as a sorely under-utilized venue that deserves the community's investment.
"We thought that an all-star lineup of blues musicians could make this more of a regional event, so we set out to see how many Hall of Fame and lifetime achievement award-winning blues musicians we could recruit from around the state," Nicely said. "As it turned out, almost all of them who are still living were able and willing to do it, in no small part because of the mutual respect they have for each other. We don't even really have a house band for this event, since they'll all be backing each other's performances."
The Legends of the Blues concert will feature nearly 20 Washington Blues Society Hall of Fame and lifetime achievement honorees, the most prestigious of the Best of the Blues, or BB Awards, voted on each year by the Washington Blues Society membership over the past 20 years. These living legends of blues musicians from the region will share the same stage, take turns on vocals and trade licks during the show, which Nicely noted will also include special guests in categories that he feels are under-appreciated, such as bass players.
"It's a really rare opportunity to be able to see this many blues musicians of this caliber performing on the same stage, as part of the same show," Nicely said. "It may be that the wonderful Byrnes Performing Arts Center has never been rocked like this since being established in 2007 on the campus of Arlington High School."
Among the evening's performers will be Little Bill and the Blue Notes, honored several years as the state's Best Traditional Blues Act, with the BB Award now presented annually in their honor. Each member of the band individually is a multiple award-winner, with Little Bill Engelhart on bass, Dick Powell on keyboard and harmonica, Tommy Morgan on drums and Billy Stapleton on guitar.
Leading ladies of the blues will put in prominent appearances as well, among them vocalist Patti Allen and the roots music singer-songwriter and guitarist Alice Stuart, who will be backed up by Leslie Milton and Chris Leighton on drums. Leighton won the BB Award for blues drummer so many times that the Blues Society finally named the award after him.
Nick Vigarino, Jack Cook and Fat James will be featured on guitars, along with special guests Rod Cook and Mark Riley. Buck England and Mark Whitman will share keyboard duties.
World-renowned recording artist Lee Oskar will be featured on harmonica along with Paul Green, who's had the annual BB Award for blues harmonica named in his own honor. Other special guests are set to include Patty Mey and Hank Yanda on bass, and Mike Lynch on harmonica.
"This concert shows that we can draw talent from around the region and enjoy their artistry in this fine facility," Nicely said. "For those who don't often get the opportunity to go to the clubs where these folks perform, this brings the music to the audience. I'm looking forward to it myself."
Tickets may be purchased for $15, in advance online at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/508572 or at the door that night. The Byrnes Performing Arts Center is located at 18821 Crown Ridge Blvd. in Arlington.