It’s that time of year again — tourists are filling the beaches, trade winds are keeping temperatures down and soon music will be taking center stage — the St. John Blues Festival kicks off on Wednesday, March 21, and culminates on Saturday, March 24, at the Coral Bay Ball Field.
Now in its fifth year, the St. John Blues Festival has grown into a premier destination.
“We are extremely excited to celebrate our fifth anniversary — it’s hard to believe we’ve been doing this for five years,” said local musician, recording artist and the man behind the music fest, Steve Simon. “In five short years, the St. John Blues Festival has become the single largest entertainment destination event in the U.S.V.I.”
The festival draws people from around the world who flock to St. John for the top-notch music.
Sells Out St. John
“We sell out every hotel room, villa rental, car rental and it’s the biggest week of food and beverage sales on the island for the year,” Simon said. “We are attracting people from all over the world who come down just for the music.”
The Saturday night show is back in Coral Bay this year, after taking place in Cruz Bay’s Winston Wells Ball Field last year.
“We’re back in Coral Bay because the St. John Blues Fest really belongs in Coral Bay,” Simon said. “We really feel that Coral Bay is the heart and soul of St. John and the Blues Fest is the heart and soul of Coral Bay.”
In addition to a number of recordings to his credit, Simon is also a member of the Blues Foundation’s board of directors.
A non-profit organization dedicated to the celebration of blues excellence, the preservation of blues history and the support of blues education, the Blues Foundation was founded in 1980.
Supporting HART Fund
The organization also supports the HART Fund, which this year’s St. John Blues Festival proceeds will support, explained Simon.
“The HART Fund was set up to assist some of the older blues artists in the country with their medical bills,” he said. “The average blues artist doesn’t make a lot of money. They play in small clubs all over the country — there is no retirement plan or health insurance and the pay isn’t big.”
“We have literally hundreds and hundreds of elderly blues musicians who are in dire need of medical assistance and, in some cases, their families can’t even afford funeral expenses,” Simon continued. “The HART Fund takes care of their needs and its a very worthy cause.”
A number of well-known people in the blues community are heading down to Love City for this year’s festival, added Simon.
Bill Wax, the blues boss of Bluesville, the top rated blues show on XM satellite radio; Chip Eagle, the publisher of Blues Review, a leading blues magazine; Jay Sieleman, executive director of the Blues Foundation; and Paul Benjamin, president of the Blues Foundation and producer of North Atlantic Blues Festival in Maine, will all be in Love City for the Fifth Annual St. John Blues Fest.
“These are the type of folks who are acknowledging that we are a top blues festival,” said Simon. “It’s an honor to have these people on island.”
Jon Cleary Headlines
New Orleans-native Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen are headlining this year’s main concert on Saturday night, March 24. In addition to selling out shows with his band, Cleary also plays piano for the renowned Bonnie Raitt.
Love City is nothing new to Cleary, who opened for Dr. John at the Second Annual St. John Blues Festival in 2004.
“Since 2004, Jon has been back every year with his wife and they really love St. John,” said Simon, who is close friends with the Clearys. “I’ve been a big fan of Jon’s for years. It’s a joy to be able to present such fabulous talent.”
Love City’s T-Bird To Open
The opening act at the big show this year is St. John’s own “queen of the blues,” and a perennial crowd favorite, T-Bird. The singer will be accompanied by her band that includes Gregg Jones on guitar, Les Burnside on bass and Lazzie Liburd on drums.
Joey Gilmore and his blues band will take the stage following T-Bird.
Gilmore, who residents might remember from the Love City stop of the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise in January, won the International Blues Challenge in 2006 and is sure to be a crowd pleaser yet again.
The Billy Gibson Band will follow Gilmore at the Blues Festival main event.
Prince of Beale Street
“Billy is from Memphis and he’s known as the ‘Prince of Beale Street,’” said Simon. “He has all types of accolades from the Memphis community, who are serious about their music.”
After all that warm-up music, the vibe in the ball field should be just right for Cleary and his Absolute Gentlemen to take the stage.
While the main attraction is the big night, March 24 show in the Coral Bay Ball Field, free events are scheduled across the island starting on Wednesday, March 21, and running through Sunday, March 25.
Free Shows Across St. John
The music starts on March 21 at the Mongoose Junction courtyard, where the Danny Morris band will perform beginning at 8 p.m.
The fun can be found further up Center Line Road on March 22, when St. Thomas-based 2 Blue Shoes will perform at Compass Rose Restaurant at 8 p.m.
The blues moves to Coral Bay on March 23, when Rob Peck will rock the guitar and harmonica and Dennis Rizzo will tear it up on bass starting at 8 p.m. at Shipwreck Landing.
Shipwreck Landing is actually having a kind blues fest of its own the week of March 19, when Peck will play on Tuesday, 2 Blues Shoes on Wednesday and Slammin’ on Thursday. All shows are free and start at 7 p.m.
Saturday Warm-up at Skinny’s
The St. John Blues Festival moves along to Skinny Legs on Saturday afternoon, March 24, where the main event warm-up session will feature 2 Blue Shoes from 2 to 6 p.m.
The big show kicks off 7:30 p.m. at the Coral Bay Ball Field, where food and beverages will be available for purchase and coolers are not allowed.
The fun is not over on Saturday night. The St. John Blues Fest will wrap up on Sunday afternoon, March 25, at the Beach Bar, the home of Simon’s popular weekly Jazz Islanders jam sessions.
Surprise at Beach Bar
While Simon is not announcing just who will take the stage at Sunday’s closing party, the music is sure to be first rate.
For the first time ever advance tickets for the St. John Blues Fest’s main event will be available at Connections in either Cruz Bay or Coral Bay and Chelsea Drug Store. Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 the night of the show.
Safari buses will be running back and forth from Cruz Bay all night and a late-night ferry will run to Red Hook after the concert lets out, explained Simon.
“We guarantee everyone will get home that night,” he said.
While working tirelessly to ensure a successful event, the show is a labor of love, explained Simon.
Gift to Beloved Island
“The festival continues to grow and the support that we have gotten from the community has been nothing short of overwhelming,” he said. “Performers throughout the world are very anxious to come down and play here and we are thrilled about that.”
“At the end of the day, this blues festival belongs to St. John — it was a gift from my wife and I to our beloved island,” Simon continued. “And it is a gift we will keep on giving.”
For more information about the Fifth Annual St. John Blues Festival check out the Web site at www.stjohnbluesfestival.com, or call Simon at (340)693-8120, or email the man behind the festival at [email protected]