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updated: 6/13/2012 11:36 AM

Fest highlights Aurora's history of blues

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  • Kenny Wayne Shepherd is one of the Louisiana artists headlining this year's Blues on the Fox music festival in Aurora. He takes the stage at 8:30 p.m. Friday, June 15, on the fest's opening night.

      Kenny Wayne Shepherd is one of the Louisiana artists headlining this year's Blues on the Fox music festival in Aurora. He takes the stage at 8:30 p.m. Friday, June 15, on the fest's opening night.
    Courtesy of JeromeBrunet.com

  • The Nevilles are the Saturday headliner for the 16th annual Blues on the Fox music festival in Aurora, playing at 8:30 p.m. June 16.

      The Nevilles are the Saturday headliner for the 16th annual Blues on the Fox music festival in Aurora, playing at 8:30 p.m. June 16.
    Courtesy of Jay Blakesberg

  • Bradley Keven Green, who recorded the album "Songs for Aurora" to mark the city's 175th year, will perform at Blues on the Fox at 5:30 p.m. Friday, June 15.

      Bradley Keven Green, who recorded the album "Songs for Aurora" to mark the city's 175th year, will perform at Blues on the Fox at 5:30 p.m. Friday, June 15.
    Courtesy of the Aurora Historical Society

  • Blues on the Fox organizers try to keep one thing constant in each year's posters and marketing materials: the bluebird logo of Bluebird Records, which began blues recordings in Aurora in 1937. This year, the bluebird is on the label of the hot sauce jar promoting the festival's Louisiana flavor.

      Blues on the Fox organizers try to keep one thing constant in each year's posters and marketing materials: the bluebird logo of Bluebird Records, which began blues recordings in Aurora in 1937. This year, the bluebird is on the label of the hot sauce jar promoting the festival's Louisiana flavor.
    Courtesy of Paramount Theatre

  • Video: Kenny Wayne Shepherd video

 
 

In 16 years of pamphlets and posters and T-shirts and marketing materials for the Blues on the Fox music festival, one iconic image signifying Aurora's blues history has remained constant.

It's a bluebird.

The bird was part of the logo for Bluebird Records, a sub-label of RCA Victor Records, which recorded several prominent blues artists in Aurora beginning in 1937.

The recording sessions took place in the 16th floor ballroom of downtown Aurora's tallest building, then the Leland Hotel and now Fox Island Apartments.

John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson, known for his harmonica stylings, recorded his first 44 songs there in 1937 and 1938, according to Aurora Historical Society Executive Director John Jaros.

"The songs from that session went a long way toward influencing the direction of the genre, particularly as Williamson's harmonica work transitioned that instrument from an accompanying role to that of a lead instrument, joining the guitar and piano," reads the "Blues History in Aurora" page of the festival's website.

"Many of America's most famous blues composers and musicians performed and recorded legendary songs in Aurora between May 1937 and December 1938."

Those artists included Tampa Red, Washboard Sam, Robert Lee McCoy, "Big Joe" Williams, Bill "Jazz" Billium and Yank Rachel.

Keeping the bluebird image somewhere in posters and designs for each Blues on the Fox festival helps pay homage to these and other blues artists of Aurora's past, said Melissa Mercado, marketing manager for the Paramount Theatre, which organizes the festival.

So did the founding of the festival itself, Jaros said. Blues on the Fox began in 1997 to mark the 60th anniversary of the first blues recordings in the City of Lights.

"We try to keep that a constant every year," Mercado said about the bluebird image. "This year, it's on the hot sauce."

A Louisiana theme to this year's headliners made a hot sauce jar on T-shirt designs seem like the perfect place to include the bluebird, she said.

This year's event, set for 5:30 to 10 p.m. Friday, June 15, and 2 to 10 p.m. Saturday, June 16, in North River Street Park, will feature Shreveport, La., native Kenny Wayne Shepherd at 8:30 p.m. Friday and New Orleans band The Nevilles at 8:30 p.m. Saturday.

"We're bringing in some top-of-the-line talent for a mere $5," Mercado said.

Paying each day's admission price earns blues fans the right to come and go from the festival as they please. But Mercado said 13 food vendors, three beverage stations offering drinks such as Bud Light Lime, Bacardi Lemon malt beverages and pinot grigio, and a grassy viewing area to take in the tunes should keep festival attendees happy all day long.

"It's a nice party-like atmosphere to hang out and listen to some solid blues," Mercado said. "You can be at an eight-hour concert if you want to be."

Kicking off the festivities Friday is a blues artist with a bit of an Aurora history of his own, Bradley Keven Green. Green, who has been performing in Aurora for 20 years and recorded the album "Songs for Aurora" as a tribute to the city's 175th anniversary this year, will take the stage at 5:30 p.m.

Backed up by his sons Dylan and Clinton on drums and bass and daughter Brittney on oboe, Green will perform before Shane Dwight at 6:30 p.m. and Kenny Wayne Shepherd at 8:30 p.m. Friday.

Aside from 8:30 p.m. headliner The Nevilles, featuring Art, Charles and Cyril, Saturday's lineup includes Shemekia Copeland at 2:30 p.m., the Lee Boys at 4:30 p.m. and Chicago Blues Legends at 6:30 p.m.

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