Award-winning musicians kick off River City Blues Festival

MARIETTA – Two award-winning blues musicians – one with almost 50 years experience and another credited for rocking out with Grammy award-winning musicians – took the stage with their respective bands as the 23rd River City Blues Festival kicked off Friday evening.

Tee Dee Young and the Chris O’Leary Band played to a full house Friday evening, just as predicted by the Blues, Jazz and Folk Music Society, the event’s sponsor.

Tee Dee Young, a five-piece band from Lexington, Ky., kicked off the weekend festival a month after winning the River City Blues Competition in Marietta in February.

“Tee Dee Young is awesome. He will play for 75 minutes straight without stopping, and it gets the crowd going,” said Jerry Felter, who comes annually from his hometown of Lima, Ohio, for the festival.

The competition winners were followed up by the Chris O’Leary Band, which hails from New York.

“We’ve all been playing together for 20 some odd years,” said Chris O’Leary, front man and vocalist for the band. “We play with a strong New Orleans and Chicago influence.”

O’Leary’s claim to fame is as a bandmate to Grammy-award winning folk musician Levon Helm for six years. The several years he spent in New Orleans permeated into the band’s musical style.

“I started college in upstate New York, but eventually college got pushed to the side and music got pushed to the forefront,” said O’Leary, who is a New York native and retired Marine.

Now working as a federal police officer, O’Leary said his love for music drives his dedication.

“All my vacations and switch days go toward this band, and it takes away all my free time, but I make it happen,” he said.

The audience was an excited crowd that filled the Lafayette Hotel’s Grand Ballroom, with a couple or two every now and then taking the dance floor.

“There’s always a lot of dancing going on throughout the weekend, and we always expect a good crowd,” said Helen Holt, a member of the Blues, Jazz and Folk Music Society.

Some fans were there for the first time, while some were veterans of the decades-long tradition.

“We came here for years, left and came back as a tribute to John,” said Jim Biersdorf of Powell, Ohio, speaking of the late “Cobbler” John Bolen, longtime president of the Blues, Jazz and Folk Music Society who passed away just weeks ago. “And we’re here to support the local, regional and national music scene.”

Felter helps coordinate a similar festival in his hometown of Lima.

“It’s my weekend to be down here, play, relax and enjoy great music,” he said. “I come every year, and I’ve only ever missed the first one they had. I tell you, it’s like magic, coming to Marietta every year is like coming to a family reunion. I don’t know names, but I see their faces, and you know you’re among kindred spirits.”

Today’s matinee line-up will include The Hoodoo Men, Blind Boy Paxton and Thornetta Davis. Beginning at 8 p.m. today, Long Tall Deb & The Werewolves of Alabama will take the stage, followed by the Victor Wainright Band.

In between the two finale performances, the winner of the raffle will be announced, which includes a package of tickets to various musical events, with proceeds going toward Blues in the Schools, an educational project sponsored by BJFMS.

Early today, a group of about 16 students will perform from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. during the festival as part of Schools That Rock, a collaborative effort between students sixth grade and up and students from the Washington State Community College Music Club, under the direction of retired teacher Mark Doebrich.