What are “the blues”? While it may be difficult to define, aficionados will tell you that it’s more of a feeling than a sound, whether it’s the emotion in a vocal performance or the passion in a particularly great guitar solo. The blues genre welcomes many types of artists, all of whom have one thing in common: they aren’t afraid to share their pain.
Since its inception in 1995, the Tampa Bay Blues Festival has hosted legends of the genre, from Buddy Guy to Jerry Lee Lewis to Irma Thomas. This year’s festival continues that tradition of quality, with headliners Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Aaron Neville.
Shepherd, a Louisiana native, began teaching himself to play guitar at age 7 after he met legendary guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan. He released his first album in 1995, when he was 18 years old. Since then, he has released six more albums, all of which have reached the top spot on the US Blues chart. The Grammy-nominated guitarist has toured with the Rolling Stones, Van Halen, Bob Dylan and Aerosmith. He will headline Friday’s lineup at the festival.
Neville, a New Orleans musical icon, scored his first hit in 1967 with “Tell It Like It Is.” Whether performing on his own, with his brothers (as the Neville Brothers), or duetting with Linda Ronstadt, his soulfully sweet vocals have landed his songs at the top of the charts again and again. His career, spanning more than five decades, includes forays into pop, soul, country, jazz, gospel, and, of course, blues. He headlines the Saturday night lineup.
The Tampa Bay Blues Festival will be held April 8, 9 & 10, at Vinoy Waterfront Park in St. Petersburg. Thursday night’s Kickoff Party, featuring Victor Wainwright and the WildRoots, will be held at the Palladium Theater. Purchase tickets for all events at the festival website, tampabaybluesfest.com.
Jessica Wheeler is the music columnist for AliveTampaBay.