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Ashland gets the blues

Things have changed a lot since the Rogue Valley Blues Festival was first presented in Ashland.

"For a couple of years we mixed acoustic and dance music over the three days," says Ariella St. Clair of St. Clair Productions. "But while some people like to sit and listen, others want to dance. So now we've slated the acoustic artists for Friday night and the dance music for Saturday night. Also one year, we tried a band contest. But it was a disaster."

St. Clair and blues artist Michael Hawkeye Herman co-founded the blues festival as a way to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, St. Clair says.

"We also wanted to give Ashland an event that could be held during the off-season," she says. "We chose blues music because it's originally a black music style and the first true American music. It just seemed to fit."

The ninth annual Rogue Valley Blues Festival will be held Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 16, 17 and 18, with its main shows at the Historic Ashland Armory, 208 Oak St.

The doors open at 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 5:30 p.m. Sunday. A barbecue dinner from Geppetto's Restaurant will be available all three nights, along with beer and wine from Creekside Bistro. Music starts at 7 p.m. Friday; 6:30 p.m. Saturday; and 6 p.m. Sunday.

Harry Manx headlines Friday's acoustic show. Manx calls his music "Mysticssippi blues" and plays a Mohan Veena, an instrument with 20 strings that is used in Indian classical music. Manx creates musical short stories that blend the blues with classical Indian ragas. He also plays lap steel, harmonica and banjo.

"He makes it work," St. Clair says. "He'll be the head-turner this year. He's an incredible guitarist and has a beautiful voice."

Songs-in-the-round with Pete Herzog of Butte Falls, Jerry Zybach of Eugene and duo Rick Di Dia and Aireene Espiritu of San Francisco will start the show Friday. Also Mac Potts, formerly of Ben Rice and the Youth of Blues, will present a solo show on keys and saxophone.

Too Slim and the Taildraggers will headline Saturday at the festival. The Northwest group will perform its award-winning downhome blues, funky blues rock, Americana and Southern swamp rock. The band has earned Best Regional Act 11 times from Portland's Cascade Blues Association, plus numerous other awards. Its founding member, Tim Langford, has been recognized for best guitarist, best slide guitarist and best songwriter.

Also, The Insomniacs of Portland will present original blues, swing and jump blues, and Ashland's own blues chanteuse Karen Lovely will open Saturday night's show.

"They'll take us into our ninth year," St. Clair says. "Each festival is a little different. Last year, it was Sugar Pie DeSanto that turned out to be the highlight. She was a dynamo. She jumped off the stage and was dancing in the aisles. She and her band used to open for James Brown, and she could do all of Brown's moves."

"The next generation of blues musicians takes the stage Sunday," St. Clair says.

On Sunday, the blues festival will present its Under 21 Band Showcase and Dance Concert, featuring Mac Potts and the Portland Blues Juniors and the Rogue Valley-based Gabe Young and Friends, led by sax player Young, who attends Ashland Middle School as a seventh-grader. Joining Young are vocalist Sophie Javna, drummer Logan Shrewsbury and keyboard player Rafferty Swink of Ashland High School, along with bassist Kristina Meyer and guitarist Wes Wade of South Medford High School.

Everyone should support these young performers, St. Clair says. The show's tickets will be cheaper to encourage younger people to come out.

"All those great blues artists that folks pay high-priced tickets to see, all started out as 17-year-old musicians," she says.

Suited to that idea, the Rogue Valley Blues Festival is educational as well as entertaining; several hands-on workshops with the professional musicians will be available to all ages and abilities.

The blues festival also features free performances Saturday and Sunday at Standing Stone Brewing Company, Alex's Plaza Restaurant and the Hardware Cafe in Ashland and the Avalon Bar and Grill in Talent. A schedule is available at stclairevents.com and mailtribune.com/tempo.

Tickets to the Friday and Saturday night shows cost $30. Tickets to Sunday's show cost $10 for adults and $5 for kids ages 12 through 17. A weekend pass costs $55 and includes all three shows and the workshops. Tickets are available at stclairevents.com; the Music Coop and the Ashland Chamber of Commerce in Ashland; Magic Man in the Bear Creek Plaza in Medford; and Heart Song in Grants Pass. Call 535-3562 for more information.

Harry Manx headlines tonight at the Rogue Valley Blues Festival. - St. Clair Productions