Sept. 14 2011 12:00 AM

Lansing musicians featured alongside regional blues players


Back in 2005 Keith Richards of The
Rolling Stones offered up some simple musical advice during a BBC
interview – in short: learn the blues or go home. 

“If you don’t know the blues,” Richards
said, “there’s no point in picking up the guitar and playing
rock’n’roll or any other form of popular music.” 

Lansing musician Andy Wilson, who will
perform with his duo Andy Wilson & Johnny D at Old Town BluesFest
2011, shares similar thoughts on the blues.   

“I’m a professional musician, I play a
lot of different styles, but the blues is really the foundation of all
the styles,” Wilson said. “Any good jazz player has a lot of blues in
their playing. I’d say the same for a rock‘n’roll player, even folk
music. You got to have the blues in it to have a solid foundation for
your musicianship.”

Along with other Lansing-blues fixtures
like The Green Door and The Capital Area Blues Society, the Old Town
BluesFest showcases local talent like Wilson, putting them on the main
stage alongside regional and national acts. The free, two-day fest this
weekend is outdoors and spread across four stages in Old Town. 

This year’s fest includes performances
from The Hawktones, Mighty Medicine, Kerry Clark Blues Company, Johnnie
Bassett & the Blues Insurgents, The Hoopties featuring Twyla
Birdsong, Jackie Scott & the Housewreckers, Paul Miles, and
Benjamin Hall, to name a few. 

Produced and booked by the Michigan
Institute for Contemporary Art, BluesFest took shape in 2002 and draws
roughly 15,000 people to Old Town. Mike Skory, a MICA coordinating
committee member attributes some of this success to the accessibility
of the genre.   

“It’s easy to identify with,” Skory
said. “Like country music, the topics are pretty straight forward.
-You’re in love, or out of love. They’re story songs so people can
identify with them quickly.” 

Skory is also a Lansing-based
keyboardist and member of Freddie Cunningham & the Root Doctor
Band, which is performing at this year’s fest on Saturday. He said the
blues is a diverse style and the MICA committee does its best to cover
all bases at the festival.   

“We try to get a mix of local, regional
and touring acts,” explained Skory. “We try to bring in different
aspects, like traditional country blues with slide guitars,
electric-Chicago blues, modern and contemporary blues with a funky
edge. We try to bring all elements to it.” 

Andy Wilson & Johnny D bring the
Chicago-style element to the fest’s lineup. Wilson, who specializes in
the harmonica and jazz trumpet, said his duo plays a mix of originals
and old Chess Records blues covers. 

Wilson is a busy performer. He also
plays in local bands Steppin’ In It, Those Delta Rhythm Kings and Bad
Gravy. He said events like BluesFest help pay his bills, especially
since he became a full-time musician 10 years ago. When he’s not
gigging across the state, Wilson plays steady shows every Sunday and
Monday at the Green Door, and even plays jazz trumpet every Tuesday at
Stober’s with the Jeff Shoup Quintet. 

“I left my job at Elderly Instruments
back in 2002,” Wilson said. “I’ve been playing for a living ever since
then. You have to work a lot. I have to play five or six nights a week
in order to get by. I also teach lessons and things like that to make a
little extra money during the day. Studio work helps a lot, too.”  

Another local band on the roster is the
Kathleen Bolthouse Band. Dubbed “Lansing’s own Queen of the Blues,”
Bolthouse sings a mix of contemporary and traditional tunes with no
shortage of sultry ballads. 

Since becoming steeped in the scene back
in 1996, Bolthouse said the Lansing blues crowd has become her second
family, and many of the gigging players help make it stronger — and-
events like Old Town BluesFest demonstrates the area’s love of the

“It depends on who you ask, but my
perception of the scene is that it’s pretty strong,” Bolthouse said.
“The Capital Area Blues Society is really involved; they’ve worked
really hard to get national blues acts this way. It’s just a great
group of people. 

“What’s unique about Lansing is there’s
comradery — a connection,” Bolthouse added. “I think part of it is that
a lot of us go back 10 or 15 years. We encourage each other. There’s a
lot of friendship and encouragement in this scene. You hear Bonnie
Raitt talk about her ‘musical family.’ I feel like I have that here in

Old Town  Bluesfest

FREE. Friday Sept. 16. (4 p.m.-12:30 a.m.) Saturday Sept. 17 (1 p.m.-12:30 a.m.)