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A weekend of nothin' but the blues

St. Clair Productions has cooked up a weekend full of music for the eighth annual Rogue Valley Blues Festival. The main events will be held Friday, Jan. 18, through Sunday, Jan. 20, at the Historic Ashland Armory, 208 Oak St., Ashland.

Each evening of this all-ages family event will begin with a barbecue dinner sold on-site by Geppetto's Restaurant. Wine and beer will be sold by Creekside Bistro. Doors open at 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 5:30 p.m. on Sunday.

Corey Harris headlines Friday evening's acoustic concert. As the star of Martin Scorsese's segment of the PBS series, "The Blues," Harris traveled to Mali to play with Ali Farka Toure, a voyage he repeated for his album of field recordings called "Mississippi to Mali," which explores the connections between African music and the blues. Harris was one of 24 recipients of the 2007 MacArthur Awards for excellence. The Awards, known as the "Genius Awards," include a gift of $100,000 per year for the next five years. Harris' latest CD, "Zion Crossroads," is an album of original roots-reggae music that has been dubbed the Rasta Blues Experience.

Harris performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival, London's Royal Albert Hall, New York's Lincoln Center, Washington, D.C.'s Kennedy Center, Nashville's Ryman Auditorium and Tennessee's Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival.

He has shared the stage with B.B. King, Tracy Chapman, Natalie Merchant, the Wailers, Burning Spear, The Dave Matthews Band and Ben Harper, among many others. In addition to extensive touring, Harris has composed music for the HBO series, "The Corner," as well as for the PBS documentary, "The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow."

Also appearing Friday evening is the duo Nathan James and Ben Hernandez, first-place winner of the 2007 International Blues Challenge in Memphis. The duo's specialty is pre-war acoustic blues styles performed on harmonica, kazoo, jug, washtub bass, spoons, guitar and harmonica.

Paul Sprawl opens Friday's show with his combination of bottleneck and percussive guitar techniques, tapping, harmonica, insightful songs and stories of being on the road. Sprawl performed in Ashland last June at the Briscoe Art Wing's Midsummer Art and Music event.

Saturday evening's dance begins with the local band AnnieMac. The band draws on old-school R&B riffs, deep soul, and emotion-inspired lyrics for hard-edged originals and highly danceable covers.

Next up is the Ty Curtis Band from Portland. A fairly new band headed by 20-year old Ty Curtis, the band has opened for Curtis Salgado, the late Paul DeLay and Lloyd Jones, among others, has performed at the 2007 Waterfront Blues Festival and has had its debut CD "Stubborn Mind" picked to represent the Cascade Blues Society in the 2008 Blues Foundations Best Self-Produced competition.

Headlining Saturday evening's dance is Sugar Pie DeSanto, cousin of Etta James. DeSanto made her recording debut with Johnny Otis in 1955. In 1959 she recorded "I Want To Know" on Bob Geddins Sr.'s Veltone label. The song rose to the No. 3 slot in Billboard Magazine charts and earned her a contract with Chess Records, one of the great blues labels of that era.

DeSanto toured with James Brown in the 1960s as his opening act. She also performed with Jackie Wilson, Gladys Knight, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas, Patti LaBelle and many more. In 1999, she received a Bammie for Outstanding Blues Artist. In 2003, DeSanto was honored as a Blues Legend by the California Music Awards. Far more than just a blues singer, DeSanto is a soul singer, a jazz stylist, a comedienne and a show-stopping dancer.

Sunday evening the young people hit the stage in a showcase of the Next Generation of the Blues. The Ben Rice Blues Band returns for a third performance at the Rogue Valley Blues Festival. Also performing will be the band Yesterday, from Wilderville, who won last year's Under 21 Band Contest. The band also came in second at the Jackson County Fair's band contest last July. Opening the evening will be guitarists TJ Moore (age 13), Gunnar Roads (age 13) and Jumpin Josh (age 10) with members of the Ben Rice Band backing them. All three guitarists have been performing solo and in bands for several years, and have performed at several West Coast blues festivals.

Tickets are $55 for a weekend pass that includes all shows and workshops; $30 for Friday evening only; $30 for Saturday evening only; $20 for each workshop without a weekend pass; $10 for adults or $5 for 17 and under for Sunday evening only. The barbecue dinner, wine and beer will be charged separately. Tickets are available at the Ashland Chamber of Commerce office and Music Coop, Ashland; Magic Man, Medford; Heart Song, Grants Pass; online at www.stclairevents.com; or by calling 535-3562.

In addition to the evening performances, on Saturday and Sunday there will be workshops at the Historic Ashland Armory.

Corey Harris kicks off the Rogue Valley Blues Festival on Friday, Jan. 18, with music that explores the connections between African music and the blues.