If you hang around long enough, someone will notice. It has taken more than four decades, but the National Endowment for the Arts this year is finally recognizing The Holmes Brothers with its prestigious National Heritage Fellowship awarded for lifetime achievement in traditional arts.

The award, also given to artists in traditional crafts, dance, story-telling, and visual arts, will be presented to them in September in Washington D.C. and was announced this summer. Past recipients include Bill Monroe, John Lee Hooker, Clifton Chenier, Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, B.B. King, Koko Taylor, Mavis Staples, and Del McCoury.

“I guess we’ve been around so long, it was just our turn,” said Wendell Holmes, with a mix of humility and pride. “We are very blessed to receive it.”

But don’t get the wrong impression. This blues trio may be aging in years but can still rock out a stage. Just last summer, The Holmes Brothers, had the North Atlantic Blues Festival crowd in Rockland partying and churching at the same time. Their performance came on the heels of an intense recording session that resulted in their latest album “Brotherhood,” released on Alligator Records earlier this year.

“Age is just a number,” said Holmes. “I feel like as long as you have the fire in the belly, it only gets better. I would say that older musicians are seasoned like good stew.”

The Holmes Brothers are definitely seasoned and steeped in the American musical traditions of blues, country, gospel, and R&B. And they are back in Maine, ready to roll on the campus of Bates College.

“I’m thrilled to be able to see the show myself,” said Olin Arts Center Manager Seth Warner, who booked the band for Bates. “You never know quite what they are going to bring musically or otherwise — that’s part of the fun and attraction of live performances.”

Wendell Holmes, his brother Sherman, and Popsy Dixon, who is like a brother, still love the touring, the performing, and writing new music. Their latest album with eight new songs and six carefully selected covers testify that the blues, born out of gospel, can get anyone on their feet.

The first track, “Stayed at the Party” written by Wendell Holmes, jumps in with a Las Vegas Elvis-like intro and launches into Ray-Charles-like vocals. Holmes said the lyrics sprung from his younger days but added that he “absolutely likes to still party.”

The album goes through blues songs in the Chicago, Delta, St. Louis, and Memphis styles. Holmes called the album their “bluesiest in a long time.” The album was almost called “Back to the Basics.”

“This new album was born out of the idea to go back to our roots a little more,” said Holmes, who grew up in the traditions of church and juke joint music. One of his favorite Bible references is the story of Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding party.

“There’s nothing wrong with talking about religion and partying,” said Holmes. “We like to say that the blues will rock you on Saturday and save you on Sunday.”

“Brotherhood” closes with the signature Holmes Brothers gospel rendition of “Amazing Grace,” requested so often that they wanted to record it again. It has become their anthem of praise, thanks, spirit, and life. When crowds hear The Holmes Brothers perform the hymn live, they react like believers in a tent revival.

The Holmes Brothers concert is one of three free summer performances in the Concerts on the Quad series presented by Bates College.

What: Concert on the Quad at Bates College

When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday, July 31

Where: Coram Library porch, Historic Quad, Bates College Campus, College Street and Campus Avenue (in case of rain: Gomes Chapel)

Admission: Free to the public; lawn chairs and picnics encouraged


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