(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.
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