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Mississippi Valley Blues Society

Photo of a band playing in Davenport at the Blues Fest

Performer Bios

BANDSHELL STAGE

FRIDAY, JULY 5
Avey5:00 pm - Avey/Grouws Band
Avey/Grouws Band hits hard with their gritty take on Blues, Blues Rock & Americana. After meeting at a blues jam in the Quad Cities, they formed and won the 2017 Iowa Blues Challenge. AGB started 2018 by making it to the semi-finals at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis and releasing their EP, "Road to Memphis". It's been a busy year for the band, including festivals such as Boogie, Blues & Brews in Yuma, AZ, Port Charlotte Chili, Brews and Blues Festival in Punta Gorda, FL, Bowlful of Blues, North Liberty Blues Fest, Smokin' in Steele, Blues on the Chippewa and many more. With a deep connection to the Quad Cities and the music of the Mississippi River, AGB is proud to be taking the main stage at this year's Mississippi Valley Blues Festival. Passionate, powerful and always playful, Avey/Grouws Band is here to make music...and to have a good time doin' it. And they just won the 2019 Iowa Blues Challenge!

Heather Gillis6:45 pm - Heather Gillis
Heather Gillis is the TOTAL package as a guitar player, lap steel player, singer, songwriter, and arranger - Heather is an amazingly versatile player and performer. She and her band have the stage presence and confidence to appeal to a variety of musical tastes be it rock, blues, soul, jazz, roots or gospel. At 22 years old, Heather Gillis has not only formed a strong southeastern following, but has played alongside the likes of The Allman Brothers Band, Col Bruce Hampton, North Mississippi All-Stars, and Damon Fowler just to name a few.

In 2015 Heather Gillis was recruited by (legendary Allman Brothers Band drummer) Butch Trucks to be a member of his touring outfit, Butch Trucks and the Freight Train Band (2015-2017). During this time people saw that Butch had a secret weapon in his band and Heather’s name began to get talked about by those in the know. In early 2017, The Freight Train Band had a full touring schedule and Heather Gillis had planned to spend most of her time on the road touring with them throughout the year. That’s when she received the shocking news of Butch’s untimely death and suddenly had to switch gears and come up with a game plan.

She relocated from the Tampa area to Atlanta, put together an all-new band and has not looked back since. The band is a 4 piece band consisting of Guitar, Bass, Drums and B3 Organ. She’s a WINNER and will leave you smiling from ear to ear and screaming for more.

Ronnie Baker Brooks8:15 pm - Ronnie Baker Brooks
AllMusic journalist, Andy Whitman, described Ronnie Baker Brooksas "... a better than average soul singer, a fine blues interpreter, and a monster guitarist with an ample supply of technique and passion."
Ronnie Baker Brooks, 49, has been climbing the blues world’s ladder all his life. Born in Chicago, he started playing guitar around age 6. At 19, he joined his father, Lonnie Brooks, who by then had influenced some of the most well-known bluesman of our history: Jimmy Reed, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Johnny Winter, and Junior Wells. For 12 years the two would tour together, putting Ronnie out front with Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, and Koko Taylor. In 1998, when he was 32, his father told him to go solo.

Since then Ronnie Baker Brooks has started a family, toured North America and Europe, and taken feature spots on the records of other bluesmen. He produced Eddy Clearwater’s West Side Strut and contributed guitar work to albums from Elvin Bishop, the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Review, Billy Branch, and Big Head Todd.

“My whole intention it to be authentic enough for the older generation but have something that the younger generation could latch onto,” says Brooks. “I try to be that bridge. That’s my intention to build that bridge.”

Samantha Fish10:00 pm - Samantha Fish
"You should always get outside of the box," Samantha Fish says. "Challenging yourself is how you grow."
After launching her recording career in 2009, Samantha Fish quickly established herself as a rising star in the contemporary blues world. Since then, the charismatic young singer-guitarist-songwriter has earned a reputation as a rising guitar hero and powerful live performer, while releasing a series of acclaimed albums that have shown her restless creative spirit consistently taking her in new and exciting musical directions.

The New York Times called Fish "an impressive blues guitarist who sings with sweet power" and "one of the genre's most promising young talents." Her hometown paper The Kansas City Star noted, "Samantha Fish has kicked down the door of the patriarchal blues club" and observed that the young artist "dis lays more imagination and creativity than some blues veterans exhibit over the course of their careers."
As far as Samantha Fish is concerned, her musical future is an open road. "I'm never gonna be a traditional blues artist, because that's not who I am," she asserts. "But it's all the blues for me. When Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf came out, what they were doing didn't sound like anything that had been done in blues before. You've gotta keep that kind of fire and spirit. I'm never gonna do Muddy Waters better than Muddy Waters, so I have to be who I am and find my best voice.”

 

SATURDAY, JULY 6
Robert Kimbrough Sr. Blues Connection2:00 pm - Robert Kimbrough Sr. Blues Connection
Robert Kimbrough Sr. Blues Connection is led by Robert, the youngest son of the Original Cotton Patch Soul Blues Boy, Junior Kimbrough. He continues the music of his late father. The band’s hypnotic sound is a combination of traditional Cotton Patch Soul Blues, rooted hypnotic rhythms with smooth soulful vocals.

The Kimbrough name, along with the Burnside name, is part of a blues dynasty that remains strong today, bringing people from all over the world to see and hear them play. The Cotton Patch Soul Blues style that Robert plays is a straight link to the music that his father originated in North Mississippi. It is a deep soul sound that can be linked back to his ancestors coming from the cotton fields, singing and ‘hollering‘ as they worked in the tall rows of Mississippi cotton. This distinct and somewhat underground style of blues is rooted in hypnotic, rhythms and dance-able grooves.

Robert Kimbrough Sr. Blues Connection can be seen on the Mississippi blues series “Mojo Hands and Moonshine,” Episode 2: Paul MacLeod Has Left The Building. In this episode, blues impresarios Roger Stolle and Jeff Konkel visit the site of Junior Kimbrough’s burned down Juke Joint and interview Robert Kimbrough about Junior Kimbrough’s music and the music tradition that Robert is carrying on.

Lizzie Neal3:30 pm - Lizzie Neal
Lizzi Neal Band takes decades of combined experience and love of all genres to create a paralyzing contemporary Blues sound.
Influenced at an early age by Blues, Soul and Jazz, power house Lizzi Neal displays mad ranging vocals and the ability to co-write songs with Dave Neal that range from a witty, upbeat jazzy number, to a sultry heart wrenching soul song.

Dave Neal on guitar plays melodic rhythm mixed with smoking leads. On the bottom is Alan Shupp on bass and John Brown on Drums. Alan's clean sound on bass displays his amazing artistry, while John holds the whole band together with a solid funky beat. In 2017 Steve Bunton joined and has helped really take their sound to another new place, playing a mixture from piano to organ, and even awesome horn section sounds.

Regionally touring in the last several years, winning consecutive Blues awards and state recognition for their hard work, has them on the brink of success. Their first full length release won Album of the Year in Northern Illinois. Lizzi Neal has shared the stage with many great artists such as Ronnie Baker Brooks, Bernard Allison, Bobbie Rush, Joe Bonamassa, and many more.

Victor Wainwright5:00 pm - Victor Wainwright
Victor Wainwright is an award winning musician and producer in the world’s blues and roots music scene.
“Savannah, GA native Victor Wainwright is all about boogie woogie piano, deep soul, and a voice that recalls Dr. John at his best. He is a blues star, a tremendous player.” -Chicago Blues Guide

Though his career began over a decade ago with genuine rock n’ roll honky-tonk, Victor Wainwright has broadened his artistic scope over the years to include music representing virtually every corner of the blues. His insatiable interest in music discovery, sheer love for entertaining and curiosity have led him all around the world, and the resulting perspective is a reflection of his passion for entertaining and creating progressive roots music in an effort to move the art-form forward. Composer, producer, vocalist, and award winning entertainer and piano player; Victor Wainwright is a raucous high-octane, dynamic performer and crowd pleaser with soul to spare.
Just a partial list of Victor Wainwright’s accomplishments include: BMA Pinetop Perkins Piano Player of the Year; BMA BB King Entertainer & Band of the Year; Blues Blast Contemporary Blues Album of the Year and Blues Blast New Artist Debut Release.

"Victor Wainwright is a world champion piano player, two times over! Not only is Victor one of the greatest blues piano players in the business, he’s also a world class entertainer and vocalist." - Blues Revue Magazine

Tab Benoit7:00 pm - Tab Benoit
Tab Benoit is Louisiana’s No. 1 roots export – a Cajun man who’s definitely got the blues. Born November 17, 1967, he grew up in Houma, Louisiana. A guitar player since his teenage years, Tab Benoit hung out at the Blues Box, a ramshackle music club and cultural center in nearby Baton Rouge run by guitarist Tabby Thomas. Playing guitar alongside Thomas, Raful Neal, Henry Gray, and other high-profile regulars at the club, Tab Benoit learned the blues first-hand from a faculty of living blues legends.

The nightly impromptu gigs were enough to inspire Tab Benoit to assemble his own band – a stripped down bass-and-drums unit propelled by his solid guitar skills and leathery, Cajun-spiced vocal attack. He took his show on the road in the early ‘90s and hasn’t stopped since.

More than just an acclaimed bluesman, he is an indefatigable conservation advocate. Tab Benoit is a driving force behind Voice of the Wetlands, an organization working to save Louisiana’s wetlands. In 2010, he received the Governor’s Award for Conservationist of the Year from the Louisiana Wildlife Federation. Tab Benoit also starred in the iMax motion picture Hurricane on the Bayou, a documentary of Hurricane Katrina’s effects and a call to restore the wetlands.

As a thriving blues musician, Tab Benoit has rightfully earned his share of honors and awards. In 2006, he received a GRAMMY nomination for Best Traditional Blues Album for Brother to the Blues, collaboration with Louisiana’s LeRoux. In 2007, Tab Benoit won the dual awards of B.B. King Entertainer of the Year and Best Contemporary Male Performer at the Blues Music Awards in Memphis. He was inducted into The Louisiana Music Hall of Fame (LMHOF) in 2010, and in 2012, Tab Benoit won three separate Blues Music Awards: Contemporary Blues Male Artist; Contemporary Blues Album (for 2011's Medicine); and for the second time, B.B. King Entertainer of the Year. And again in 2013, Tab Benoit thrived in the blues awards by receiving his second Blues Music award for Contemporary Blues Male Artist of the Year.

North Mississippi Allstars9:00 pm - North Mississippi Allstars
North Mississippi Allstars is an American southern rock/blues band from Hernando, Mississippi, founded in 1996 by brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson. The now venerable band is entering their third decade of paying homage to country blues legacy while simultaneously pushing it into contemporary relevance with fatback funk, electronic innovation, slippery soul, and pure unadulterated rock 'n' roll.

"This is a very exciting time for North Mississippi Allstars," Cody Dickinson says. "There's been this explosion of creativity lately and it's encouraging that for a band that has been around for twenty years now, our music is as vital and fresh as ever. It's like the opposite of burnout."
"The blues is not children's music," Luther Dickinson says. "We get better at it, the older we get. We're so fortunate to be able to do it."

"We have always identified with other second and third generation artists," says Cody Dickinson and to be sure North Mississippi Allstars have long allied with the families of Hill Country icons like R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. "I think it's our responsibility to the community that brought us up to protect the repertoire," Luther Dickinson says. "To keep the repertoire alive and vibrant. That's what folk music is about. It's an oral history of America. It's important for us to write songs and do other things, but playing our community's music in a modern way is what Cody and I do best. I think it's what we were meant to do."

While keeping true to their roots, they have continued to develop their music - keeping it brand new. Luther Dickinson joined the Black Crowes as lead guitarist and has appeared on three of their albums. He currently devotes his time to both the Black Crowes and the North Mississippi Allstars. Cody Dickinson has also started a side project, Hill Country Revue, featuring Daniel Coburn, Kirk Smithhart, Doc Samba and Ed Cleveland. They are sometimes joined by Luther Dickinson and members of the Burnside family, and have released two albums.

The band backs and tours with John Hiatt and released an album with him, Master of Disaster. All the members of the Allstars have also teamed up with Robert Randolph and John Medeski to form the Word.

 

PEDIGO-JONES STAGE

FRIDAY, JULY 5
Hal Reed6:00 pm - Hal Reed & Mississippi Journey
Mississippi bluesman Hal Reed & Mississippi Journey deliver an entertaining show based primarily on the influence of their Delta blues and Chicago urban blues upbringing. It’s a perfect partnership of band colleagues.

Though Blues harpist, singer, and educator, Hal Reed is currently living in Davenport, IA, he was born just a few miles from the Mississippi Delta and grew up surrounded by legends of blues music. His playing brims with the stamp of authenticity, having a triple-fisted influence of Mississippi, Gospel and Chicago style blues pumping through his heart.

His first exposure to blues music was when he heard his grandfather Lucius Smith play—a southern folk-blues artist who taught Reed insightful glimpses into early 20th century African-American music culture. Also passing down generational natural talent was his father, James T. Reed, and his grandmother, who was a devout member of the local Pentecostal Church, and his uncle, the great Lester "Big Daddy" Kinsey.

While listening to these and other blues musicians, Hal Reed became infatuated with the music and fell in love with the genre. Though blues has never had a wide-mass appeal, Reed never compromises on his passion for playing and has done so for over 40 years.

The band, Mississippi Journey, consists of some of the “best of” Quad City based musicians: Zach Harris (guitar); Roger Alexander (bass); and Ethan Good (piano). These bluesmen are passionate about the history of their art form and striving to keep the blues alive by sharing their vast knowledge of America’s musical roots.

Blues Rock-It7:45 & 9:30 pm - Blues Rock-It
Blues Rock-it is a high energy blues and soul band featuring the timeless music of days gone by with authentic appeal and flare for showmanship. This class act will fill your appetite for musical sensationalism young and old alike.

Form in the Quad Cities, members include Boogs Malone (lead vocals, lead guitar), Josh Green (guitar, piano), Detroit Larry Davison (harmonica), Jim VanHyfte (drums), and Ian Farmer (bass).

SATURDAY, JULY 6
Grand Avenue Ruckus1:00 pm - Grand Avenue Ruckus
It was early 2016, when a group of musicians from central Iowa went looking for an exciting new musical experience. Classically trained musicians steeped in academia, they sought a fresh vehicle through which to express themselves. Taking inspiration from Tower of Power, Youngblood Brass Band, Jackson 5, and any music from New Orleans, the Grand Avenue Ruckus set out to put something together that would be as much fun to lay as it was to listen to. Grand Avenue Ruckus brings boogie from the bayou here to the heartland. They are a bombastic, get­down­and­dance, funk-filled show.

Grand Avenue Ruckus covers your favorite tunes with a powerful, horn­driven performance. Screaming trumpets, wailing saxophones, and a big bottom end give Grand Avenue Ruckus their one­of­a­kind sound. Grand Avenue Ruckus is always a party, and it's definitely one you won't want to miss!

“Although we're from Des Moines, our hearts are in New Orleans. When you hear us play, you won't be able to resist getting up and dancing!”

Nic Clark3:00 & 4:30 pm - Nic Clark
Nic Clark’s passion for the blues began at age 11 when he saw a photo of Howlin’ Wolf on a book at Barnes & Noble. “I begged my dad to buy me that book, it came with a CD and a harmonica, I was hooked from that moment.” Since then he has been described as a young James Cotton, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Paul Osher, Junior Wells, or even Little Walter.

Nic Clark received a Hohner endorsement when he was 15 years old – just 3 years after he began playing, making him one of the youngest endorses Hohner has ever had. He is listed as one of the Top 5 Young Harmonica Players in the Country, a list that circulated the web in 2016, voted by musicians and fans.
Now at 23 years old, Nic Clark has many more honors to boast about. He was often featured as a special guest with Rick Estrin, John Nemeth, Charlie Musselwhite, Mark Hummel and many other popular harmonica players when they would come through his home area, Denver, Colorado.

Nic Clark has added the guitar in recent years to make his talents a triple threat combined with his harmonica playing and his genuine vocal. Clark has also lead Blues in the Schools programs. He currently teaches all the harmonica courses at Swallow Hill Music Academy in Denver, CO.
Nic Clark will perform at the MVBS Blues Festival with Quad Cities musicians Curtis Hawkins (bass) and Manny Lopez III (drums).

Joe Marcinek6:15 & 8:15 pm - Joe Marcinek
Joe Marcinek Band is an experience you will never forget. That is because each show features a different lineup of musicians creating a different set of music every night. The music is equal parts Chicago Blues, New Orleans Funk, Grateful Dead psychedelia, and Jazz Fusion! 

Joe Marcinek tours nationally from New York to LA and everywhere in between. Most of the lineups will only happen one time making every night a can't miss show. The group has featured many prominent special guests including musicians from P-Funk, Talking Heads, Jerry Garcia Band, The Meters, Dumpstaphunk, Umphrey's McGee, Dave Mathews & Friends, Kirk Franklin, the Disco Biscuits, Buddy Guy, String Cheese Incident / EOTO, and many more!

 

BlueSKool 2019

Wonter Blues2:30 – 3:30 -- Ellis Kell Winter Blues All-Stars
Every December the Mississippi Valley Blues Society and the River Music Experience conduct the Ellis Kell Winter Blues Camp at the RME. The camp was named after the late Quad Cities blues legend Ellis Kell after his unfortunate early demise.

The annual Winter Blues program features vocal and instrumental workshops (guitar, bass, harmonica, keyboards & drums), as well as concentration on blues composition and improvisation. Sessions are open to area musicians from 8-18 years old.

Workshops and rehearsals run in December after Christmas and conclude with a blues jam in the Redstone Room.

These sessions were led by RME’s Bret Dale with Hal Reed of the MVBS and featured other veteran blues musicians from the region as special guests for these workshop sessions. The focus was on sharpening one’s individual skills and expressing oneself through the blues roots form - by learning how to improvise, and also through the composition of original blues lyrics and music.

The best of the program are chosen to be The Ellis Kell Winter Blues All-Stars. This year’s stars are Quinn Fitzgerald – Keys, Anastasia Burmeister – Bass, Lauren Ladson – Saxophone, Charlotte Boyer – Vox and Guitar, Alexa Mueller – Vox and Guitar and Dylan Dankert – Drums

These young advocates of America’s unique musical art will perform in the BlueSKool at 2:30 p.m., Saturday, July 6.

David Berntson4:00 – 5:00 -- David Berntson, Free harmonicas & lessons for the kids!
Ever since the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival introduced BlueSKool twenty years ago, David Berntson has been giving free harmonicas and lessons to the children at the Festival. His lively lessons have become the most popular part of BlueSKool. By interacting with his young students and using his sense of humor, extensive knowledge of the harmonica and the blues David gives the kids a good start on playing an instrument of their own.

Nic Clark5:30 - 6:30 pm - Nic Clark
Nic Clark’s passion for the blues began at age 11 when he saw a photo of Howlin’ Wolf on a book at Barnes & Noble. “I begged my dad to buy me that book, it came with a CD and a harmonica, I was hooked from that moment.” Since then he has been described as a young James Cotton, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Paul Osher, Junior Wells, or even Little Walter.

Nic Clark received a Hohner endorsement when he was 15 years old – just 3 years after he began playing, making him one of the youngest endorses Hohner has ever had. He is listed as one of the Top 5 Young Harmonica Players in the Country, a list that circulated the web in 2016, voted by musicians and fans.
Now at 23 years old, Nic Clark has many more honors to boast about. He was often featured as a special guest with Rick Estrin, John Nemeth, Charlie Musselwhite, Mark Hummel and many other popular harmonica players when they would come through his home area, Denver, Colorado.

Nic Clark has added the guitar in recent years to make his talents a triple threat combined with his harmonica playing and his genuine vocal. Clark has also lead Blues in the Schools programs. He currently teaches all the harmonica courses at Swallow Hill Music Academy in Denver, CO.
Nic Clark will perform at the MVBS Blues Festival with Quad Cities musicians Curtis Hawkins (bass) and Manny Lopez III (drums).

 

AFTER-FEST JAM
Saturday, July 6 at Event Center at The Bend
Hosted by Avey/Grouws Band

 

Photo of three musicians playing at the Quad Cities Mississippi Valley Blues Festival