Don’t miss one of the first big blues events of the fall, when the Kalamazoo Valley Blues Association offers the annual Kalamazoo Blues Competition on Sunday, September 13, in the Lower Level at Shakespeare’s Pub!

The Jim Shaneberger Band, Winners of the 2014 KVBA Blues Challenge, Band Category

The Jim Shaneberger Band, Winners of the 2014 KVBA Blues Challenge, Band Category

This event offers local and regional blues acts a chance to compete to win a spot on the stages at the 32nd Annual International Blues Challenge (IBC), to be held January 26-30, 2016, in Memphis, Tennessee.  The IBC bills itself accurately as “the largest gathering of blues musicians in the world”, and is an event that has to be experienced to be fully appreciated–over 200 blues acts from all over the world, each performing at the top of its game.

Kev Nichols and Blue Tuesday at the 2014 KVBA Blues Challenge

Kev Nichols and Blue Tuesday at the 2014 KVBA Blues Challenge

The 2015 Kalamazoo Blues Competition will feature two acts in the Solo/Duo Category, and five in the Band Category.  Competing acts perform in the same time format as the acts at the IBC, and the judges use the same scoring system as the judges in Memphis.  The winning band will receive a $1000 donation towards its expenses at the IBC, while the solo/duo act receives a donation of $500.

The Steve Hilger Band at the 2014 KVBA Blues Challenge

The Steve Hilger Band at the 2014 KVBA Blues Challenge


2:00 – 2:30  Amays & Blue: a recently formed duo that pairs popular local musicians Alex Mays and Eddie Blue Lester, of Crossroads Resurrection.

2:45 – 3:15   Bluesy Suzy:  well-known Kalamazoo singer/songwriter Susan Harrison.


3:30 – 4:00 The Gator Blues Band: Jim Kline, Tom Elliott, and Bryon Taber, three highly experienced and talented musicians with an outstanding approach to rhythm and blues / jazz.

4:15 – 4:45 The Steve Hilger Band:  original progressive blues and jazz.

Jim Klein of Gator Blues

Jim Klein of Gator Blues

Kathleen and the Bridge St. Band at the 2014 KVBA Blues Challenge

Kathleen and the Bridge St. Band at the 2014 KVBA Blues Challenge

5:00 – 5:30 Kathleen & The Bridge Street Band:  longtime Lansing songstress Kathleen Walters teaming up with a great group for blues, soul, rock and r & b.

5:45 – 6:15  Kevin Nichols & Blue Tuesday:  6 times a semi-finalist at the IBC, Kev appears with Blue Tuesday, a “rockin’ blues band you’re gonna love”.

6:30 – 7:00 The Jim Shaneberger Band:  2014 winner of the Kalamazoo Blues Competition, the Jim Shaneberger Band brings its mix of blues, rock, gospel and funk back for a second time.

Don’t miss this great afternoon of blues, excitement, and fun! Doors open at 1:00, the music starts at 2:00 and runs till 7:00 pm, and the door charge is $8.00.

See you there!

Join the KVBA board of directors!


Big news, folks: the Kalamazoo Valley Blues Association board of directors is looking for good people who love the blues and live music, and want to see both continue to flourish in our area.

The KVBA has been around for over 20 years and just staged its 22nd Annual Kalamazoo Blues Festival (one of the longest continually running festivals in town). In addition, the KVBA promotes blues music and culture in countless ways, including sponsoring local blues acts each year at the International Blues Challenge (IBC) in Memphis; offering the Boogie-Woogie Bob Peters Musical Scholarship annually to an area high school senior; presenting Blues in the Schools programming to local educational institutions; promoting live music and musical acts through its weekly calendar, band membership benefits, and many other ways; and generally working to help as many people as possible have the chance to hear a great variety of the best of the blues whenever and wherever possible.

2015 Kalamazoo Blues Festival Poster

2015 Kalamazoo Blues Festival Poster

So, you ask, what does this mean to me? Well, if you’re an individual with skills and talents (you KNOW you are), a love of the blues, and time to share with the KVBA, the KVBA needs YOU to help continue to make all this great stuff happen. The KVBA is governed by a 12-member (9 voting members and 3 alternates) volunteer board of directors, elected annually to varying terms on the board. Elections are coming up in October (sooner than you think!) and interviews for prospective board members will be held the end of this month. So don’t wait to make your interest known: we need your response by Friday, September 18!

Working with the KVBA is a chance to use your skills to help make something wonderful! Look through the lists below, see where you think you might fit, and tell us why you are interested in being a part of the KVBA board and how you feel you can help.

Submit your information today!

Happy Crowd at the Kalamazoo Blues Festival

Happy Crowd at the Kalamazoo Blues Festival

Skills we need:

  • Organizational and/or Project Management skills
  • Independent/critical thinking skills
  • Self-motivation
  • A positive attitude and a willingness to work on projects independently and with others
  • Connections to resources in the business community
  • Proven/demonstrated leadership skills

Areas where we need help:

  • Technical skills (database management, web design)
  • Accounting/bookkeeping/records management and reporting (experience in non-profit accounting a plus)
  • Blues in the Schools program management
  • Grant Writing
  • Graphic Design
  • Promotion/Public Relations
  • KVBA Historian/Archives/Librarian
Kids' Tie-dye T-shirt Project at the 2014 Blues Festival

Kids’ Tie-dye T-shirt Project at the 2014 Blues Festival

Board Member Time commitments:

  • Monthly board meetings (usually held on the 2nd Thursday of each month)
  • Periodic blues community meetings
  • Second Sunday Blues Series
  • The annual Kalamazoo Blues Festival (2nd weekend in July)
  • Additionally, committee meetings/work is conducted outside the board meeting and can be quite involved at times (depending on the committee)

We want to hear from you! Tell us about yourself, why you are interested in being a part of the KVBA board, and how you feel you can help. Include your full name, phone number and the best times to reach you.

Submit your information today!

Responses must be received by Friday, September 18.

 Interviews will be scheduled for the end of September at the KVBA Office. Prospective candidates will be contacted to schedule specific dates and times.

 Questions can be emailed to kvba@kvba.org or left at 269.381.6514.

 We look forward to hearing from you!

“I Pick Up The Guitar And Forget Everything Else”: Rod “Whitey” Smith of Warren, Michigan Winner of 2015 Kalamazoo Blues Festival Raffle Guitar

Rod "Whitey" Smith

Rod “Whitey” Smith

Rod “Whitey” Smith, who describes himself as a “basement player”, has some extra inspiration for his music these days. He’s the proud new owner of a 2015 Epiphone guitar bearing the signatures of Larry McCray (one of Whitey’s personal favorites), Reverend Payten, Samantha Fish, Tab Benoit, and many others of the blues performers who’ve visited Kalamazoo in the last year. Whitey and his wife visit several blues festivals around the region during the year, and it was on his second trip to the Kalamazoo Blues Festival that he bought the raffle ticket that was pulled from the jar by J. P. Soars of Southern Hospitality on the final evening of the festival.

“We were already in bed watching TV when we got the call,” Whitey says. “We came over Wednesday night and went to Music on the Mall, and then we were at the festival all three days—we were tired! We left right after Larry McCray, and missed the drawing, so the call came as a real surprise.” He went back to the festival site Sunday morning to collect the guitar and the accompanying album of photographs of performers signing the guitar taken by KVBA photographer Dennis Tuttle throughout the year.

J. P. Soars of Southern Hospitality Draws the Winning Ticket

J. P. Soars of Southern Hospitality Draws the Winning Ticket

“I haven’t been in a band since I was 17, but I love the music,” says Whitey. “I sit down to play, and everything else leaves my mind.”  He and his wife, both retirees, spent the festival weekend in their RV at Kalamazoo’s Markin Glen Park, and had a great time. “I’m ‘old school’”, he says of his taste in music, citing Larry McCray and the 24th Street Wailers as two standouts among the many great acts he saw at the 22nd Annual Kalamazoo Blues Festival. He has a long list of festivals and blues events he and his wife have attended over the years, including Delbert McClinton’s Sandy Beaches Blues Cruise and the Madison, Indiana Ribberfest. They’re headed to the East Ports Blues Festival in Port Sanilac, Michigan in a couple weeks, and after that they hope to hit Blues By The Bay in East Tawas at the end of August.

Reverend Payten Signs The Guitar at the 22nd Annual Kalamazoo Blues Festival

Reverend Payten Signs The Guitar at the 22nd Annual Kalamazoo Blues Festival

“We go to lots of festivals,” Whitey says, “and I would definitely recommend the Kalamazoo Blues Festival. It’s run especially well, and the venue is great—couldn’t be better. We especially like the two stages, with no down time between acts. Everyone’s really friendly, and the sound people are incredible. Prices are very reasonable too—it’s a great deal.”

The raffle for the guitar and the accompanying album of photographs of the performers is a popular fundraising event for the festival, offering blues fans an opportunity to win a unique souvenir and support the festival at the same time. Whitey Smith joins a long list of fortunate festival-goers to take home not only excellent memories of a great weekend of music and fun, but a one-of-a-kind piece of memorabilia testifying to one more year of “blues in the ‘zoo”.

“I’ll be back next year for sure,” is Whitey Smith’s final word on the subject of the Kalamazoo Blues Festival. Congratulations to Whitey from the KVBA on winning the guitar, and see you next year!


Located by the Service Gate entrance (southeast corner of the site)

These workshops are free to everyone and last between 45 minutes and an hour. Your instructors are local working blues musicians who are happy to share their knowledge. Even if you don’t play an instrument you will enjoy these seminars!

Dobro Workshop at the Kalamazoo Blues Festival

Dobro Workshop at the Kalamazoo Blues Festival

Friday 6:30pm: DIDDLE IT! DIY Instruments for Jamming on a Budget with Tim Brouhard of Out of Favor Boys, and Doug Beckman, formerly of Big Trouble and Seventh Son
Join the DIY (do it yourself) revolution! Learn how to build and play some of the instruments which have inspired blues legends. Experience Cigar Box guitars, Canjos, Diddly-bos, Boomboards, Wash Tub Basses and more. And get a DIY instrument to take home with you!

Saturday 4:00: BLUES HARMONICA with Dave Hunt of Seventh Son
You’ll be playing songs within the first 10 minutes! Topics include; chords, playing a single note, bending notes, scales, octaves, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd positions, and how to do that train thing. Also, examine Dave’s unique collection of unusual harmonicas. More experienced harmonica players are invited for further discussion and play at the conclusion of the seminar.

Saturday 5:00: BLUES GUITAR with Dave Allemang of Crossroads Resurrection
(Bring your own guitar!) Learn the blues fundamentals for beginning and intermediate level guitarists. Topics include 12 bar blues structure, alternate chordings, and rhythmic grooves.

Saturday 6:00: SLIDE GUITAR/DOBRO with Bryan Blowers, formerly of Bryan Michael Fischer Band. Also a graduate of WMU School of Music and former member of WMU Jazz Band. The sound of a slide guitar is one of the most distinctive in the blues. Learn the classic licks, riffs, and various tunings in this workshop.

Saturday 7:00: BLUES JAMS and OPEN MICS with Danny Ouellette and Joel Krauss, both of the Out of Favor Boys
You’ve been practicing in the basement. You’ve been singing in the car. Karaoke seems kind of silly. Maybe it’s time to get out to a blues jam and play in public with real musicians! You know you want to! It’s totally not hard! Out Of Favor Boys hosted blues jams for over 10 years and have helped countless amateur musicians enjoy the pleasure of playing with others. Learn some basic changes, how to listen to others, when to support a soloist and when to be a soloist.

*Students from KVCC’s Senior Graphic Design class competed to make this year’s festival artwork/design. Check out the 3 designs on display in the Workshop Tent *

** Children’s Tent Activities Saturday noon-5pm (free for kids 12 and under) **

“Everybody Wins”: The Evolution of the Kalamazoo Blues Festival Poster

“It takes a village” is a common phrase describing the group effort needed for difficult and worthwhile efforts. It’s also an accurate description of the process that led to the development of the design work that can be seen on the 2015 Kalamazoo Blues Festival poster, t-shirts, entrance passes, billboards, and everything else that defines the “look and feel” of the Festival. The vibrant, eye-catching images that make this year’s festival instantly identifiable are the result of a collaboration between the Kalamazoo Valley Blues Association, Portage Printing, and Kalamazoo Valley Community College’s Center for New Media. The three community organizations have come together to create the Blues Festival designs for several years now, a process that “has no downside to it”, according to Mark DeYoung, who teaches Advanced Graphic Design at KVCC. “It benefits the KVBA, raises the profile of the Graphic Design program, and helps the students and the community.”

2015 Kalamazoo Blues Festival Poster

2015 Kalamazoo Blues Festival Poster

“It was a lot of fun,” says KVCC student Ross Fuller, of creating the artwork in DeYoung’s Advanced Graphic Design course last winter. Ross was in the process of adding a Certificate in Graphic Design to his degree in Art Education when he accepted the challenge of creating an image that would combine elements of the blues, the Kalamazoo community, and the excitement of the Festival, now in its 22nd year. “I pulled together some ideas from old music posters and new-age festival designs, and fit everything together like a puzzle.” Ross, who has been living in Kalamazoo since 2007, was also influenced by the classic car and motorcycle shows he’d attended with his father while growing up in Allegan. “Blues is a big part of that scene,” says Ross. His design was selected by the KVBA from three submitted by DeYoung’s class to represent the Festival, at which point the work began with Portage Printing to turn the basic design into a signature look that would anchor a successful marketing campaign.

Portage Printing

Portage Printing

Portage Printing, which is just entering its third decade as a locally created and owned business, prides itself on being a full-service print shop that not only creates a variety of products for businesses and organizations, but is unique in also being able to offer design and marketing services to its clients. “There used to be a lot of print shops 30 years ago,” says Craig Vestal, owner of Portage Printing. “No one had computers then, and it was kind of a ‘fast food’ approach to printing: simple, quick, and basic. Nowadays everyone can do that stuff for themselves, so we specialize in going beyond that and doing much more.”1902848_810827738940225_2609605378202357989_n

Craig Vestal, whose grandfather was a mandolin player who came to Kalamazoo to work at the Gibson Guitar Factory, is a musician himself, having played the bass since the age of 14, and his friendship with Annette Taborn and other well-known figures in the Kalamazoo blues community made the collaboration between Portage Printing and the KVBA an easy one. “We began working with the KVBA within a year or two of its organization, and produced a lot of the early posters. There were a few years where we got away from that, and then 4 or 5 years ago they asked me to come back in and help develop a more effective marketing strategy to promote the Festival. We involved the design students at KVCC to create a cohesive “look and feel” for the Festival that would help emphasize and promote the main points of the Festival—and of course, bring in more folks and sell more tickets. It’s worked pretty darn well.”

Craig Vestal of Portage Printing

Craig Vestal of Portage Printing

Vestal and Portage Printing share a philosophy of service to and support for the local community that has lead to involvement with organizations like WMUK, Planned Parenthood, and the ACLU, as well as the KVBA. “Certain organizations in the community just seem to resonate with the mission of our shop,” says Vestal. “This is why I’m in business, to help people like this.” He cites long-time local business Sarkozy’s Bakery as the model for developing Portage Printing’s operating structure. “I modeled my shop after Judy’s operation. I wanted to emphasize quality over quantity, and I wanted to make a difference.”

“I want to see the KVBA and the Blues Festival be successful,” says Craig. “We bring the experience, skill and creativity to the project, and that’s what makes it effective. Anybody can throw together a poster on a computer, but here’s the thing: having a computer is like having a guitar. You may be able to play it, but if you want quality entertainment, you’re going to hire a professional musician for your party.”

There’s universal agreement among everyone involved in the KVBA design project that it’s been a “win-win” across the board. KVCC’s DeYoung, who’s initiating a new program at the Center for New Media that will allow design students to work directly with clients in the nonprofit sector as a way to gain hands-on experience, cites the KVBA project as “a nice test run” for the new class. “The KVBA was one of the best organizations I’ve ever worked with,” he says. “Ross was able to get additional production experience working with Craig at Portage Printing—it was almost like an internship for him.” Ross himself describes his experience with the KVBA and Portage Printing as “excellent”, and both Mark and Ross are looking forward to attending this year’s Festival.

The KVBA considers itself the real winner in the long run, having had the rewarding experience of working with the great folks at Portage Printing and the Center for New Media, not to mention ending up with an outstanding design and marketing plan for the Kalamazoo Blues Festival. Thanks to Ross Fuller, Craig Vestal, Mark DeYoung, and everyone else who had a hand in getting this done. It’s been great—hope to do it again next year!

“You’ve Got To Follow Your Dreams”: Shelby Lentz of Plainwell High School Wins 2015 Boogie Woogie Bob Peters Music Scholarship

“Music has always been part of my life,” says Shelby Lentz, the third winner of the award jointly created in 2013 by the family of well-known local musician “Boogie-Woogie” Bob Peters and the Kalamazoo Valley Blues Association. Shelby, who will enter the Music Business Administration program at Belmont University in Nashville, TN this fall, has always loved what she regards as “the universal language of people”. Although she’d been singing for some time, Shelby was galvanized by the response to her winning performance in a 6th-grade talent show. “I started singing in grade school,” Shelby remembers, “but the fantastic feeling I got from the enthusiasm and applause that day helped me know that this was what I wanted to do with my life.”

Shelby Lentz

Shelby Lentz

Shelby’s come a long way since that time. Self-taught on the guitar, the young singer began booking gigs and playing in local clubs at the age of 15. She’s since performed in some impressive settings, such as the Palace of Auburn Hills and the KWings Stadium, when she sang the National Anthem before thousands of people. She has appeared on stage at the Kalamazoo State Theater as the opening act for country artist Frankie Ballard’s 2012 Christmas show, opened the show for local Idol Matt Giraud, and last summer warmed up the crowd at the District Square’s Summer Blues Series for 2013 Kalamazoo Blues Festival headliner Joanne Shaw Taylor. She also stood in line for hours for the chance to have her name drawn from a hat at the famous Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, winning the chance to perform in one of country music’s storied settings.

Seven years of singing in school choirs, three years of vocal lessons, and five years onstage in high school musicals (including this year’s exhilarating presentation of “Footloose”) have all helped Shelby develop her talent and add to her skills. She gives credit as well to her involvement in the Chilipepper Songwriting Club, a local organization that has provided support, inspiration, and collaboration for a number of local performers starting out in their careers, including Frankie Ballard and Shelagh Brown. “Shelagh introduced me to the Chili Peppers two or three years ago,” says Shelby, “She and all the rest of the folks there have been a huge help.”

Shelby has several original songs to her credit, including “Mirror Mirror”, a heartfelt message to girls struggling with issues of self-esteem, and “Mascara”, an enthusiastic celebration of a man who’ll “mess up your lipstick, but not your mascara” that was developed with Shelagh Brown, Dani Jamerson, and other members of the Chili Peppers. Shelby’s big, powerful voice has a quality of warmth and intimacy that connects with listeners, sending her message, pleasing the ears, and making it all personal in a way that’s hard to forget.

“Boogie-Woogie” Bob Peters, a popular figure on the local music scene for many years who passed away in March of 2010, was dedicated to using music to communicate and connect with others on many levels. He left behind a legacy of music and relationships that has been kept alive by his family and friends, including his wife Martie Peters, sister TJ and brother Mike, who teamed up with the KVBA to create and fund the scholarship program. The scholarship is awarded to an area high school senior based on his or her school and community involvement in music.
“Bob was incredibly passionate about music,” says Martie Peters.  “It means so much to me to know that through this scholarship we’re helping to keep Bob’s memory alive in the hearts and minds of so many people.”
“My parents taught me that it was important to follow my dreams when I was young,” says Shelby Lentz. “I’ve always had their love and support. Winning this scholarship has meant so much to me—it tells me that others believe in me, and helps me go forward and follow my dream.”

Finding the Blues in Kalamazoo

Kalamazoo, Michigan sits midway between Chicago and Detroit, 2 hours in either direction from the great urban centers that have been the birthplace of so much of the great music of the 20th century. From the Motown and soul sounds pouring out of Detroit to the rise of the powerful style known as Chicago blues, American music has never been the same.This lively midwestern city has a blues tradition of its own, as the thousands of attendees at the Kalamazoo Blues Festival over the years (22 and counting!) can attest. The Festival was first staged in 1994, but the music, blues and otherwise, had been going on in and around Kalamazoo for a long time before that.

Tab Benoit at the State Theater

Tab Benoit at the State Theater

The year between last year’s 2014 Kalamazoo Blues Festival and this has seen some big changes in the local club scene. To the great sorrow of local audiences, Kalamazoo’s only venue dedicated to the blues, the 411 Club, closed its doors in October 2014, ending a 6-year run that saw some of the greatest names in blues, as well as a long line-up of local and regional acts, take its stage. And yet the music goes on, as bars, clubs, and other entertainment spots continue to feature the blues, whether as a regular or occasional offering.

Crossroads at Shakespeare's Lower Level

Crossroads at Shakespeare’s Lower Level

One popular tradition in the local scene is the blues jam, a gathering of performers eager to get together to make music and see what happens. Probably the most well-known is the legendary Thursday night blues jam, which began at Wonderful’s Funky Basement many years ago, and then regrouped at the 411 Club following the closing of Wonderful’s. The Thursday jam took a 7-month hiatus after the closing of the 411 Club, but has recently resumed on a biweekly basis at Louie’s Trophy House Grill, to the delight of its many fans.

The Old Dog Tavern, one of the newest sponsors of the Kalamazoo Blues Festival, has been offering a Sunday night blues jam for about two years. A rotating roster of blues bands, including Seventh Son, Crossroads, and Gator Blues, among others, hosts the event that’s been drawing an increasing number of participants eager to start the week with a blues fix.

Seventh Son at the Union

Seventh Son at the Union

Shakespeare’s Pub stepped up in late 2014 to become the new “KVBA event home”, hosting the Second Sunday Series of fundraising concerts to benefit the Festival. Shakespeare’s Lower Level will also be the spot for the post-Festival jam, to be held Thursday evening, July 9. The great thing about this jam is the chance to see members of Festival acts jamming on the same stage with local performers, and generating excitement for the rest of the weekend!

In other blues news around town, the Kalamazoo State Theater, long the site for the Budweiser/WRKR Blues Series, has gone through a number of exciting changes, including major renovations to the structure and sound and lighting facilities. It’s also revamped its approach to blues shows, moving from the Blues Series to presenting high-powered, fully-staged individual shows featuring national blues acts such as Gregg Allman, the Tedeschi-Trucks Band, and a powerhouse triple bill including Samantha Fish, Mike Zito, and perennial local favorite Tab Benoit (with local sons the Out of Favor Boys opening). The strategy’s proving to be a huge success, with near-sold-out crowds at all the shows, and the State is planning a follow-up with Buddy Guy in October.

New Thursday Night Jam at Louie's

New Thursday Night Jam at Louie’s

The list of places to hear blues in Kalamazoo and the surrounding area is long and varied, and growing every year. The Union Cabaret and Bistro, also a Blues Festival sponsor, regularly features blues acts, as do Bell’s Eccentric Cafe’, Webster’s Tasting Room, and Bennucci’s Chicago Oven and Grill. District Square, which hosted its Summer Blues Series in 2014, continues to bring local, regional, and national acts like 2015 KVBA IBC contestant The Jim Shaneberger Band, Kev Nichols and Blue Tuesday, and Joanne Shaw Taylor to its stage. O’Duffy’s Pub (another sponsor) is one of several venues that offer smaller acts like the OFB Trio, while Mangia in Oshtemo, Amore’ Pizza in Paw Paw, and Maude’s in Otsego also make a home for blues duos like Hunt & Gator, also a 2015 KVBA contestant at the IBC in Memphis. The Franke Center in nearby Marshall brings national blues acts like Eddie Shaw and Kim Simmonds and Savoy Brown to its classic facility several times a year, the Kalamazoo Valley Museum recently presented a Blues Night, featuring two KVBA member bands, and for those willing to make the drive further afield to neighboring communities like Grand Rapids, Battle Creek, and Lansing, the possibilities are nearly endless.

So: where do you go for blues in the ‘zoo? To paraphrase the Michigan state motto: if you seek some great blues, look about you!

“A Labor of Love”

by Ralph Yingling, President, KVBA Board of Directors

Welcome to the 2015 edition of the Kalamazoo Blues Festival! On behalf of the Board of Directors of the Kalamazoo Valley Blues Association, I say thanks to each and every one of you who choose to spend some time with the Kalamazoo Blues Family this weekend. There were a number of choices to consider before arriving at the festival entrance – we like to think this festival is a great value in terms of the quality and quantity of music provided and the variety of blues genres we feature in our programming.

Ralph Yingling with Luke Swoboda, 2014 Boogie-Woogie Bob Scholarship Winner

Ralph Yingling with Luke Swoboda, 2014 Boogie-Woogie Bob Scholarship Winner

“The blues was like that problem child that you may have had in the family. You was a little bit ashamed to let anybody see him, but you loved him. You just didn’t know how other people would take it.” – B. B. King

Yes indeed, we sure loved BB and we sure love the blues!

From time to time, people ask me why I do what I do for the KVBA and for the Kalamazoo Blues Festival; my normal and customary response is that I do it for the music. This year I was asked to be a bit more specific, so here goes. I was born into a musical family – dad played trumpet, mom sang in church vocal groups and choir, grandma – who lived with us – played piano (she was really good!). The radio or the record player was always at work in the house. I absorbed that musical passion, took keyboard lessons, sang in choirs (school and church), musicals, and community choirs. My teachers (Tom Kasdorf was one) nurtured and molded (and tested) that passion. Lyrics, rhythm, verse & chorus are still the definition of music (to me).

The pursuits in my life have taken me down a twisty road, but one that ultimately returned to being of service. I was in the military, work at a public university, was active in the scouting program as a youth and an adult, participated in community chorus, and have worn the hats of band dad, cheer dad, football dad. And when the opportunity arose to meld two life driving forces (music and service) into one (serving on the board of the KVBA), it was something I knew I must do.

Blues music is the story of life. It puts to music the laughter, pain, rawness, grief, absurdity, and the irony that occur from time to time. I love a good story!

“The Blues are the true facts of life expressed in words and song, inspiration, feeling, and understanding.” – Willie Dixon

For me….yes, it is a labor of love.


The Canadian Connection

by Dennis Massingill, Festival Coordinator

There are things that you learn after years of booking acts for a blues festival. For instance, consider this one essential fact: summertime is when the touring blues acts make their money. The going rate for an artist or act will often triple in price from what they might get for a winter club gig. So, how do we line up top blues acts with a limited budget? The answer: ROUTING.11244914_847025792037837_6169059706888687773_o

There are three Canadian festivals that occur on the same weekend as the Kalamazoo Blues Festival. Bluesfest Windsor is about two hours down the road, and the Lighthouse Blues Fest in Kincardine is about four hours away. The other is in Toronto. A collaboration began three years ago when promoters from each festival shared who we were interested in, to see if there were acts in common. There are some variables to consider: we all have different budgets to work with; some festivals don’t bring artists back on consecutive years; and some acts have recently been used, and promoters are looking for a fresh name.

Dennis Massingill at the 2014 Kalamazoo Blues Festival

Dennis Massingill at the 2014 Kalamazoo Blues Festival

In working with booking agencies, we at the KVBA have found that if we can help provide routing for the same weekend, we can get acts at a better rate than working independently … sometimes for 60 – 70% of the quoted price. It’s a win-win for the festival and the artists. This year only one (Larry McCray) of our nine national touring acts isn’t either coming to us from Canada or heading to Canada the next day. That doesn’t mean that they are all Canadian acts. Dawn Tyler Watson w/Ben Racine Band and 24th Street Wailers are from north of the border, while Crystal Shawanda used to be, but calls Nashville her home now. The rest are touring the festivals on both sides of the border, but are from the U.S.

The main thing is we can get more of the great music you want to hear, by negotiating a great price by working together. We hope you enjoy this year’s lineup. It is a product of the Canadian Connection.


“B.B. King was the first blues legend of his generation that grabbed me. Finding him opened up a whole new world of music. From him, I found Bobby “Blue” Bland, Albert Collins, Albert King…not to mention all the fabulous blues women he had duets with – Koko Taylor, Etta James, etc. I remembered him from an episode of “The Cosby Show”, of all things. But his impact on me, as a musician and performer, was strong and lasting. I saw him and Bobby Bland at the State Theatre in Kalamazoo. What an amazing opportunity that was to see two of the masters in action.”

BB King

BB King

Joel Krauss, guitar player for local band Out of Favor Boys, had those words of remembrance for B.B. King, the blues great who passed away May 14, 2015, at the age of 89. Joel’s only one of the countless multitude of folks, musicians and otherwise, who’ve been touched by the mastery and the music of the man widely—and rightly—known as “The King of the Blues”.

For more than half a century, Riley B. King—better known as B. B. King—has defined the blues for a worldwide audience. Since he started recording in the 1940’s, he released over 50 albums, many of them classics.

He was born on September 16, 1925 on a plantation in Mississippi and played on street corners for dimes in his youth, sometimes playing as many as 4 towns a night. In 1947 he hitchhiked to Memphis, Tennessee, to pursue his music career, gaining his first big break in 1948 when he performed on Sonny Boy Williamson’s radio program out of West Memphis. Soon he needed a catchy radio name, and what started out as Beale Street Blues Boy was shortened to Blues Boy King, which in time became B.B. King.

B. B. King became the most renowned blues musician of the past 40 years, playing with his trademark Gibson guitars, each one of which has been called Lucille. Over the years, B. B. developed one of the world’s most identifiable guitar styles. He borrowed from numerous blues masters, integrating his precise and complex vocal-like string bends and his left hand vibrato, both of which became indispensable components of the rock guitarist’s vocabulary. His signature style has been a model for thousands of players, from Eric Clapton and George Harrison to Jeff Beck. He mixed traditional blues, jazz, swing, mainstream pop, and jump into a unique sound.

Farewell To The King Of The Blues

Farewell To The King Of The Blues

In 1968, B. B. played at the Newport Folk Festival and at Bill Graham’s Fillmore West, on bills with the hottest contemporary rock artists of the day, who idolized B. B. and helped to introduce him to a young white audience. He was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1984 and into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, and went on to receive numerous other awards and honorary degrees. In 1991, B.B. King’s Blues Club opened in Memphis, and several other clubs followed. He continued to gain audiences and acclaim over the years, remaining universally loved, and now universally grieved.

Thank you, B.B. Thank you for the memories, thank you for the music, and thank you for the good times. We’ll miss you, man.

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