NAPLES — Where do you go to hear the blues in Maine? There is no locally definitive venue or outlet for this music that comes out of a Southern culture, but it manages to draw a strong and vibrant audience wherever and whenever it’s played.

After all, “lots of people have the blues,” said Mark “Guitar” Miller, a huge draw for the annual Maine Blues Festival.

The fifth annual Maine Blues Festival will feature around 50 homegrown blues acts the weekend of June 18-20 at a multitude of locations, including Freedom Cafe, Rick’s Cafe, Sandy’s at the Flight Deck, Bray’s Brewpub & Eatery, The Village Green and the Causeway Marina.

The three-day event started out as an idea to bring a few bands together in a beer garden, according to festival co-founder and blues musician Kevin Kimball. This year, he estimates a crowd of about 4,000 will check out Maine musicians on about a dozen stages.

Kimball remains adamant that the festival is about the music.

The original goal remains to guarantee all performers an outlet for their art and a fair payment. He gives credit to Make Bray, festival co-founder and owner of Bray’s Brew Pub, for making that financial commitment the very first year.

“We also made a commitment that this festival would be about the musicians before any other considerations,” said Kimball. “Additionally, Mike and I share the philosophy that Maine has more than its share of talented musicians, and that we had no need to import out-of-state talent. Mike and I refused to go with the conventional wisdom of hiring one or two national acts to sweeten the pot.”

Miller, who enjoys a loyal following and has opened for blues legends like B.B. King, Johnny Winter and Taj Mahal, said he’s grateful for the festival.

“When you don’t have much of something, it’s a real treat,” said the Houlton-born guitarist. “I’m very grateful to have something of our own. That’s really respectful.”

While Miller has been playing professionally for decades and has been a mainstay of the festival, new acts will add their stamp to the growing event. Teenager Zack Pomerleau and his band, for example, will dispel all stereotypes of the genre.

“He’s modern and traditional at the same time,” said Kimball of the teen harmonica phenom.

Kimball said he always books long established Maine blues artists who have paid their dues and have earned that consideration. But he looks for new acts in clubs and jams, and takes chances.

“To be sure, my hunches don’t always play out,” said Kimball. “But that’s what the blues is about.”

According to Kimball, blues is “hands down the most egalitarian of all musical art forms” and offers the most opportunity for individual expression.

“I appreciate the fact that you can do a note-for-note rendition of ‘Hotel California’ and good on ya,” said Kimball. “But quite frankly, I’m far more interested in hearing how Joe Nobody is going to put his individual stamp on a Muddy Waters standard and make it his own. That’s blues — and that’s art.”

Even though Kimball and Bray stay committed to the festival’s original vision, the nonprofit event has become big enough to require logistical planning all year. To keep the festival family friendly, affordable and enjoyable, a committee was formed to deal with issues like parking, security and sanitation, said Ken Uiker,Naples Blues Committee.

Festival attendees can be assured that free bus shuttles from overflow parking areas on each end of the causeway will stop at each of the live music venues, said Uiker. Port-a-potties and extra law enforcement for the weekend have also been arranged.

Uiker describes the festival as “tremendously popular and growing exponentially.” Uiker owns the Songo River Queen II, which is offering two-hour blues cruises with live music each of the event’s three days.

Advance tickets are $10 online at www.mainebluesfestival.com and at Bull Moose stores. They may also be purchased at several businesses in Naples. Tickets are $15 the day of event, with each day being a separate purchase. The festival is free to kids 12 and younger. Tickets get you a wristband that is good at any venue for the day, with the exception of the blues cruises (for which wristband holders receive a discount), said Kimball.

To make Maine Blues Festival more enjoyable, co-founder Kevin Kimball offers these recommendations:

Bring good walking shoes.

Don’t bring booze. (lots of venues available for that.)

Bring the kids – it’s family oriented. (Kimball notes that “grown-up” time usually gets going around 9 p.m.)

Leave pets at home. (Pets are not prohibited, but Kimball doesn’t see the festival as being enjoyable for the pets or those without pets.)

Annmarie Smith

Big Chief

Blind Albert

Blind Lemons

Blue Sky Project

Blue Willow Band

Blues Challengers

Blues Hounds

Bonnie Edwards and the Practical Cats

Boondocks Blues Band

D.W. Gill and the Blues Prophets

Dave McKelway

Dave Mello

Deja Blue

Delta Knights

Denny Breau

Drew Heinonen

I.C. Waters Band

Jessica and the Two Timers

Jimmy and the Soulcats

Juke Joint Devils

Kevin and the Steeldrivers

Kevin Midgely

Luther James

Mark “Guitar” Miller

Mark Persky

Mary Murphy with Steve McManus

Matt and the Barnburners

Meantone

Mr. Smooth and Blue News

Myron Samuels and Eleanor Ellis

Off-Mission Blues Band

New Blues Revue

Pam Baker and the SG’s

Paradise Alley

Pat Pepin

Poke Chop

Preservation Blues Band

Rick Miller & Gate Street Blues

The Blue Jets

The Colwell Brothers

The Don Brewer Blues Project

The Eric Green Party

The Mojo Mamas

The Pinecasters

The Roy-Hudson Band

The Sensations

Trailer Trash

Zack Pomerleau Blues Band


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