While Steve Simon has brought the country’s best blues musicians to Love City for the past five years, the local producer will next be bringing the music he loves to the men and women fighting in the Middle East.
Making history as the first ever blues tour to play in a war zone, Bluzapalooza will star blues icon and four-time Blues Music Awards nominee Bobby Rush of Mississippi, two-time BMA contemporary blues female artist of the year Janiva Magness of Los Angeles, Beale Street entertainer of the year Billy Gibson, and Tony Braunagel from the Phantom Blues Band, who will head up the tour’s All-Stars Blues Band.
The first of three Bluzapalooza tours to the Middle East will ship out for Kuwait City on April 1, where the tour will perform its first show before heading to Baghdad.
“We’ll do one show in Kuwait City for the troops and that evening we’ll get outfitted with armored vests and helmets and be put on a C-130 U.S. Air Force transport plane and be flown to Iraq,” said Simon. “We’ll land in the green zone and do two shows in Baghdad the next day, one in the afternoon and one in the evening so we can entertain as many of our troops as possible.”
Hanging With the Troops
Following each show, the performers and producers will spend time with the troops, Simon explained.
“After each of the shows, we’ll be doing a meet and greet where we’ll pose for photographs and sign autographs and give away some merchandise we’re bringing as gifts for the troops,” he said.
Instead of jumping aboard a tour bus after the two shows in the Baghdad green zone, the Bluzapalooza tour members will catch a ride on a Black Hawk helicopter to the next gig.
“After the first day in the green zone, we’ll suit up and get in a Black Hawk helicopter and be transported to a second base in Iraq where we’ll do another two shows the next day followed by another meet and greet,” said Simon.
Then it will be back in the Black Hawk helicopters to a third base where the tour will perform another two shows before stopping by a veteran’s hospital, Simon added.
“We’re going to a hospital on a base where we’ll spend time with some of our wounded troops before they’re transported to a hospital in Germany,” said the producer. “We’ll probably do an acoustic set in the hospital because we can’t set up all of our equipment in there.”
Wrapping up their nine day tour, the Bluzapalooza performers will head back to Kuwait City before flying home on April 10.
Two more Bluzapalooza tours are set for October and January, when the blues performers will play for troops in Kuwait, Qatar, Germany and Afghanistan as well as Iraq.
While the ongoing war in Iraq has become a divisive issue, the Bluzapalooza tour is not about politics for Simon.
“For me, it’s just a way of saying thanks to our troops,” said Simon. “It’s an apolitical thing for me. It has nothing to do with politics.”
“It’s just an opportunity to tell the men and women over there defending our country, ‘we thank you, we care about you and we love you,’” Simon continued.
Images of the troops overseas inspired the local producer to launch Bluzapalooza in the first place.
“The tour came about after just seeing pictures and videos of our troops overseas in Iraq the past few years,” said Simon. “You don’t see many smiles anymore. And we’re recognizing the fact that we have mostly 19 to 24 year old men and women serving over there for very long periods of time.”
“I thought it would be a pretty cool thing to go over there and take some of the St. John Blues Festival and share it with them,” he added.
Simon contacted the head of Armed Forces Entertainment at the Pentagon who adored the idea, according to the Love City producer.
“Armed Forces Entertainment loved the idea and as a result, Bluzapalooza — the first ever blues concert to tour a war zone — was born,” said Simon.
While in the Middle East, Simon will have the opportunity to visit Virgin Islands troops stationed overseas.
“We have a National Guard unit over there comprised of more than 100 men and women soldiers and I’m going to have the chance to visit with them,” Simon said.
Being able to share something he loves with the troops is a great opportunity, Simon explained.
“I’m thrilled and I’m honored,” he said.
St. John Blues Fest March 19-22
The local producer hasn’t forgotten about St. John. Before Simon ships out overseas, he’ll be putting on the Sixth Annual St. John Blues Festival which will kick off on Wednesday night, March 19, at the Beach Bar.
After three nights of performances, this year’s festival will culminate at a Saturday, March 22, concert at the Coral Bay ball field where Tab Benoit, Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band, Waylon Thibodeaux and Sean Carney will rock the crowd.