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Billtown Blues Festival

(HUGHESVILLE, PA )  …what began as a discussion among friends in a local Williamsport, Pennsylvania bar in May of 1990, would 30 years later be the reason for a three-day celebration of the art form. The Billtown Blues Festival has never lost its stride year after year and has become an annual landmark event in Central Pennsylvania.  Thirty consecutive years of producing great blues festivals is reason to celebrate, and so it will, be June 14,15 and 16 at the Lycoming County Fairgrounds in Hughesville. Pennsylvania.   

With a starting kitty of just $300, the event has experience measured and gradual growth, now luring blues fans from all over the United States and beyond with its impressive lineup year after year and its 100% focus on the blues art form. 

It was a magical beginning when in 1989 three unique circumstances occurred at the same time.  First, a local couple traveled to Memphis TN and attended workshops presented by the struggling Blues Foundation. The Foundation’s mission at that time was to find ways to draw like-minded people into their fold, hoping that by presenting speakers knowledgeable about topics such as how to get blues music played on the radio, how to start a non-profit organization and form a blues society, and how to create a festival, would create a world-wide network of blues fans. And it was so.

One can visit the billtownblues.org website and marvel at the talent that has presented great blues music on this rural Pennsylvania stage. Luther Allison, Levon Helm, Johnny Clyde Copeland, Sista Monica, Saffire the Uppity Blues Women, Slick Ballinger, Hubert Sumlin, Pinetop Perkins, represent just a tiny sampling of the talent that have thrilled Billtown Festival attendees over the years.

The local Williamsport couple flew back from Memphis anxious to get started! After several months of rejections by most commercial radio stations, the couple finally landed a program on a new start up station anxious to present something “different.” At the same time, a small independent radio store was started to get requests for music their customers were hearing on the radio and elsewhere, and increased their blues inventory, and once in the store one could hear great blues from the local internal sound system. Then a local bar owner started booking touring blues bands in his venue.  People in Williamsport, PA were now hearing blues on the radio, buying blues “vinyl” and supporting live blues music. 

Shortly, after a couple successful blues “picnics”, the organizers decided to form a non-profit organization and became affiliated with the Memphis Blues Foundation. The first three festivals brought to the “back yard” the great William Clarke, Jimmy Rogers, A.C. Reed, Cephas and Wiggins, Saffire – the Uppity Blues Women… the newly formed Billtown Blues Association (BBA) was sending a message loud and strong – they were serious about the blues! 

The crowds were growing beyond the capacity of the “backyard” and the organization moved to the Lycoming County Fairgrounds where it remains today.

In addition to presenting an annual blues festival, the organization now produces other smaller blues events, including the audition concert for the annual International Blues Challenge. Over the years the BBA has supported sending over 230 Pennsylvania based musicians to the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. Several entries have advanced to the final round during the elimination process and in 2019 one of the entries, Gabe Stillman, was awarded the prestigious Gibson Guitar Award. Through the work of the Billtown Blues Association and the affiliation with the Blues Foundation, life changing, career-changing opportunities exist for those with a deep passion for blues music.

2019 is shaping up to be a very special celebration for the Billtown Blues Association. The three-day event will offer three days of blues music and onsite camping, a first in its 30-year history. Five of the artists on the Billtown bill are recipients of 11, 2019 Blues Music Award nominations. They are:

  • Nick Moss with four nominations: Traditional Blues Album and Album of the Year for High Cost of Low Living; Traditional Male Blues Artist, and Band of the Year
  • Lindsay Beaver was nominated for the Koko Taylor Traditional Female Blues Artist and Emerging Album of the year with her Alligator release Tough as Love.
  • Vanessa Collier was nominated for Contemporary Female Artist and Horn Player of the Year
  • Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials was nominated for The BB King Entertainer of the Year Award and Band of the Year.
  • Dennis Gruenling was nominated for Harmonica Player of the Year.

Also on the Billtown Stage will be McKinley James, a 17 year old coming in from Nashville TN, and Mulebone an eclectic duo from New York State. Ray Fuller from Ohio is returning from 2018 by popular demand and Miss Freddye Stover, a 2017 Emerging Album nominee is traveling East from her Native Pittsburgh to “belt the blues.” Americana and roots based hi energy band, The National Reserve are closing out the Saturday Night festivities.  Sunday will slide in with a local assembly of talented musicians presenting a salute to the gospel side of blues, The Gibson Guitar Award recipient and his band, Gabe Stillman, will deliver an IBC encore. The Uptown Music Collective, a local non-profit music school whose founder believes in the value of teaching blues to the enrolled students, will offer how the blues influenced rock icon, the late Tom Petty. The BBA will present its 2019 Audition winners prepping for their IBC trip to Memphis in January, Mini Mojo and the Benjamin Vo Band… and rockin’ out as we say goodnight to thirty years of Billtown Blues Festivals will be the Craig Thatcher Band with special guest G.E. Smith. 

The event offers Craft Alley and a wide variety of food selections. Attendees are permitted to bring their own cooler. The festival is designed to be a relaxing, restful, day gathering with friends and family to soak in the country’s best blues music and its makers.                      

All detail is available at the website  


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