MARIETTA - "Cobbler John" Bolen has been a driving force behind the annual River City Blues Competition since its beginning.
This year because of health concerns, Bolen is sitting this one out.
"His health won't allow him to be involved this year, but he's well respected by music societies all over the state," said Helen Holt, a member of the Mid Ohio Valley Blues, Jazz & Folk Music Society board of directors.
The society is sponsoring the 2014 River City Blues Competition Friday and Saturday at the Lafayette Hotel in Marietta.
"One of the opening acts, Chris Sutton with C&S Railroad from Huntington, W.Va., dedicated his latest CD to Cobbler John, thanking him for all the advice he gave over the years," Holt said. "That's just how these people feel about John."
John Gifford, a former director during the blues competition, has now taken over for Bolen in overseeing the annual event.
"But John Bolen has a lot of background knowledge of folk music and the blues," Holt said. "He always wants the music, whether blues, Celtic, or Zydeco, to be live and authentic. That's why so many people respect him."
Michael Mullen, who helped found the society in the late 1980s, said Bolen has always been "king of the blues in Marietta."
"Cobbler's the real deal," Mullen said. "Coming from the New York City area, he was there when people like Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger were playing in the Village. He knows people who were there first-hand, and John is a great player as well."
He said when Bolen migrated to this area several years ago he brought that musical background with him.
"And he's carried that love of music for many years," Mullen said. "John and his wife, Peggy, have been the soul of our blues and folk music for the last quarter century. When you love something like that with all your heart, it just naturally grows. We can thank John and Peggy for that."
A native of New Jersey, Bolen moved to the Marietta area where he opened a shoe shop called "Cobbler Johns" in the basement of the former Dime Bank building on the corner of Second and Putnam streets in 1977.
He turned the business over to new owner Bill Gossett in 2010, but the shop still bears Cobbler John's name.