These days, folks with the blues can be found loitering under bridges all across America, but festivals are harder to come by. So when Blues Under the Bridge debuted in 2007 with headliners Robert Belfour and the Soul of John Black, expectations weren't particularly high.
"They were hoping to get 300 people," recalls local promoter Amy Whitesell. "Instead, 800 showed up. There was beer and one food vendor, and they ran out of everything. I was there as a volunteer and saw the potential for a full festival."
Sure enough, with Whitesell onboard and longtime presenter KRCC staying the course, the festival kept a-rollin', establishing itself as one of the Front Range's premier summer events.
With the West Colorado Avenue bridge above and railroad tracks just beyond the stage, the event evokes an archetypal blues atmosphere, especially when the sun goes down and spotlit performers are cast in silhouette against a passing train.
As the festival's reputation has grown, so has attendance: 2010's Blues Under the Bridge, featuring Charlie Musselwhite, Corey Harris and Candye Kane, drew nearly twice the crowd of 2007. For this weekend's concert, an even bigger turnout is anticipated.
"This year, the perimeter has been enlarged," says Whitesell, noting how last year's fenced-off event was finally maxed out. "There will not be any vendor tents under the bridge, and there will be room for people to sit out in the sun and under the trees."
Given the quality of this year's lineup, the extra space is obviously a good idea. The headlining Holmes Brothers are among the most acclaimed bands touring the festival and concert circuit, while Boulder-based bluesman Otis Taylor makes the blues sound like it was born to be played on the banjo, which he does with passion and political awareness.
Meanwhile, Big Sandy & His Fly Rite Boys can be relied on to crank up the rockabilly quotient, while Mississippi pianist Eden Brent will justify comparison to pioneering blueswoman Memphis Minnie and queen of soul Aretha Franklin. This year's local flavor will come courtesy of the Gospel Choir of America, as well as the Colorado Springs Conservatory and the Broadmoor Academy of Music.
Factor in beer and bourbon (with appropriate ID, of course) — as well as peach-wood smoked ribs, blackened fish wraps, veggie gyros, sausages, and tri-tip steak sandwiches — and this year's festival should satisfy most appetites, musical and otherwise.
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