Blues411 had the chance to catch up with Mr. Gene Fontana of the Diamond State Blues Society. We talked about what might be one of the most comfortable and friendly Blues festivals on the East Coast. This year the Riverfront Blues Festival will be held August 5th – 7th, at The Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park in downtown Wilmington, Delaware.
We were there last year and had a blast, so if you are anywhere near Delaware next weekend, come on out !
B411: Gene, maybe a bit of history on the festival – how long has it been running?
GF: The Festival has been running for 15 years now. First as the Cool Brews & BBQ Fest for the first six years and for nine years as the Riverfront Blues Festival.
B411: It seems to work well with the state and city, is that difficult to accomplish? How did the Diamond State Blues Society get involved with it?
GF:The tie-ins with the City of Wilmington came about when the person booking the festival was not getting it together . The city did not know what was going on, and Tina Betz, working for the City of Wilmington was very knowledgeable about Jazz, but did not know enough about the Blues. The Diamond State Blues Society was somewhat involved by having after-parties, and Tina called me and said Gene I thought I would let you know that there will be no Blues Festival this year so I do not think you can have an after-party.
Stunned by what she was telling me after telling me the reason for canceling it four weeks before I said is there anything that we the blues society can do ? Would you like me to book it for you ? Tina asked how much did I want to get paid ? I said I wanted nothing, I just want this festival to keep going. So in two weeks I put together a stellar lineup with Lonnie Brooks , Chris Cain , Bluestime with J. Geils & Magic Dick , Little Charlie and many other fine acts. In the eight years since, the festival has grown to be one of the best on the East Coast if not in the Country. But all in all the City of Wilmington funds the festival while I do all the bookings for both stages and help out with volunteers. I do have the Boss on site at all times, Tina Betz from the Mayors Office of Cultural Affairs, who keeps me calm when it’s needed. Tina is a great leader and she does know how to iron out issues when they arise. Also we need to mention Bev Zimmerman who also plays a huge role in the festival, getting hotel, gate volunteers. and vendors together and Tanya Philips who is in charge of Hospitality, Vending & Tenting and Ground Transportation for the Artists.
B411: Now some of the acts you have had there in the past are quite amazing, I am just starting to get familiar with the fest, so who were some of the outstanding ones to you?
GF: Bernard Allison, Buddy Guy, Johnny Winter, Fabulous Thunderbirds, Charlie Musselwhite, Larry Garner, Marcia Ball, Lonnie Ronnie and Wayne Baker Brooks. Last year alone we had Pine Top Perkins, Bob Margolin, Mojo Buford, Hubert Sumlin, Mike Zito and John Lee Hooker Jr.
B411: Who is on tap for the current festival, I know Super Chikan and The Fighting Cocks, Tab Benoit, James Cotton who else ?
GF: Well, first is Vasti (vast -eye) Jackson from Mississippi. A great performer who goes way back to days of the juke joints. He is a blues guitarist with a sweet soulful sound.
B411: Oh yeh, I saw him last year, what a fun performer !
GF: Then you got that triple threat from New Orleans. Jumpin’ Johnny Sansone, what a harmonica player, Accordion & Guitarist, and his new CD “The Lord Is Waiting & The Devil Is Too” WOW ! It is produced by Anders Osborne. On the release it is Anders, Johnny & a drummer on this CD no bass player. It’s some deep Louisiana sound, something the likes I have never heard before.
B411: Yeh, the drummer is Stanton Moore of Galactic (Cyril Neville plays with them).
Joanne Shaw Taylor is opening the festival Friday right ?
GF: What an up and coming artist she is. Voted Female Blues Artist of The Year, once you see her performance you will agree. Two years ago at the Tampa Bay Blues Festival I had a chance to catch her performance. She got the only standing ovation all weekend. We all looked at one another and said she’s coming to Wilmington.
B411: I am quite excited about seeing the Lowrider Band, this will be great !
GF: Yes, it’s Howard Scott, Lee Oskar, BB Dickerson, Harold Brown along with baby brothers Lance Ellis on Sax , Keith Vinet on Keyboards and Chuck Barber on percussion bringing us the sound fusion from East LA that we all know and love. These are the original composers of the hits: Lowrider, Why Can’t We Be Friends, Spill the Wine, Cisco Kid, Slippin’ Into Darkness, The World is a Ghetto and more. So make their day by flashing the three fingers salute, smile and get your groove on.
B411: Gary Allegretto, native of Wilmington DE., will be there performing and with his ‘Harmonikids’.
GF: Gary is very excited this year winning the “Keepin’ The Blues Alive Award ” for his Harmonikids Project which he takes around the world and thank Hohner for being a big part of his accomplishment.
B411: I even took part in his lesson last year, and I was able to play! He is playing on which of the two stages?
GF: Gary will be performing on what we call the Tweener Stage. Local & Regional Bands doing 30min sets in between the Main Stage Sets. Performing are Kenny Jones & Blues Streak, Randy Lippincott (Former Band Leader for the Late Great Johnny Clyde Copeland), April Mae & The June Bugs , Gary Allegretto, Mikey Junior & Stone Cold Blues (Diamond State Blues Society’s IBC Entry in 2011), Blue Cat Blues, Flamin’ Harry, Venom Blues and Zydeco A Go Go.
Oh don’t forget both Friday Aug 5th, and Saturday Aug 6th we will have after-party jams featuring Travis Haddix on Friday and Victor Wainwright & The WildRoots on Saturday night.
B411: Thanks for doing this talk, and for the festival. Anything else we need to know about the Diamond State Blues Society or their activities?
GF: The Diamond State Blues Society 501c3 is a non profit Organization dedicated to keepin the blues alive in the Tri State Area. Stay tuned to our website (www.diamondstateblues.com) for the line up for September 24th 2011 – Battle Of The Bands: Goin’ To Memphis. and November 10th Blues Harvest 2011 @ J.B McGinnis Pub & Grille.
Some exciting news in mid to late 2012, a new blues club will be coming to Saint Georges Delaware attached to The Saint Georges Country Store this will be the new home for the Diamond State Blues Society. Anyone can become a member of the blues society by sending a check or money order to:
DSBS P.O. Box 863 Middletown , Delaware 19709 $15 single membership /$25 family /$50 Corp.
Let’s all help to keep the blues alive ! See ya the Festival.
Until next time, Love, Peace & Chicken Grease,
photos: Leslie K. Joseph