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Publication: Syracuse New Times
Author: Novak, Jessica
Date published: April 11, 2012
Language: English
PMID: 58875
ISSN: 0893844X
Journal code: SYNT

Bluesheads of Central New York and beyond will coalesce over the weekend of Friday, July 13, through Sunday, July 15, when the New York State Blues Festival returns to downtown Syracuse's Clinton Square. Blues Fest's last downtown event took place in July 2009, when Blues Brother Dan Aykroyd shook his moneymaker before an adoring crowd, although lack of funds squelched a planned 2010 edition. A revived Blues Fest, under the leadership of producer Todd Fitzsimmons, attracted sizable crowds last July at the Inner Harbor.

Acts will span blues masters including Anders Osborne and Matt Schofield along with the up-and-coming group MonkeyJunk, fan favorite Carolyn Wonderland and more than a dozen others throughout the weekend. The recently deceased and much loved local bluesman Kelly (K.J.) James will be recognized with a special performance by the Soul of Syracuse (S.O.S.) band on Sunday night. Also during the fest's closing night, a commemorative $1,000 scholarship will be given to a young blues player, who will also get to perform with S.O.S.

"Kelly James was the most encouraging guy," Fitzsimmons recalled. "He'd tell you what you did well. He'd go out to shows. He was at the heart of the blues. It's a fitting tribute for the scholarship and I hope it encourages the next generation of blues players."

The blues will fill Clinton Square by day, then after 10 p.m. some acts will migrate to "Club Crawl" locations including the Westcott Theater, 524 Westcott St., and two rooms in the Crowne Plaza Hotel, 701 E. Genesee St. Daytime and nighttime sets will each be $10 for general admission, a first in Blues Fest history, unless fest-goers purchase a $25 badge in advance for the entire weekend's activities. Clinton Square will be fenced around the perimeter to accomplish this, so expect listeners to line up near surrounding sidewalks to get an earful. VIP packages, available for $100 per day or $150 for the entire weekend, feature a special seating area during the daytime sets, plus food, beer and admission into all Club Crawl shows.

The festival moved from the cozy and well-received 2011 Inner Harbor location because of recent development plans to change the Harbor from a park and ideal festival location, to office, retail and residential buildings.

Fitzsimmons bubbled with enthusiasm regarding the 2012 bookings. "I'm most excited about Anders Osborne," he explained. "I got involved with Blues Fest because of him." Osborne was supposed to play the 2009 fest, but failed to show. Fitzsimmons tried again in 2011, but the bluesman was booked solid. This year, he's scheduled to play both acoustic and electric sets with blistering harmonica player Johnny Sansone.

"It's very rare for him {Osborne} to play an acoustic set," Fitzsimmons said. "But I think he's the best singer-songwriter out today. Anders is my favorite musician on the planet."

Other notables include MonkeyJunk, a band out of Ottawa that has begun accumulating Canadian music trophies, including the Maple Blues and Juno awards. "Steve Marriner {vocals, harmonica, keyboards, guitar} is touring internationally and entering the realm of guitar god," Fitzsimmons added.

Deanna Bogart, the Brooks Family Blues Dynasty, River City Junction, Kenny Neal and others will also play throughout the weekend.

For more information on the festival performers, schedule, tickets and the K.J. James scholarship competition, visit

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