Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Big 4 to watch at Big Lick Blues fest

Shemekia Copeland, Ana Popovic, Jimmy Thackery and Hamilton Loomis will perform Saturday.


Big Lick Blues Festival

  • When: 2 to 9 p.m., Saturday
  • Where: Elmwood Park, downtown Roanoke (rain location: Roanoke Civic Center’s special events building)
  • How much: $15 advance (online); $18 at the show
  • Info: biglickblues.org, myspace.com/tobrbluesandjazz


Main stage

  • 2:30 p.m. Mike Westcott’s Blues on Board
  • 3:35 p.m. Ana Popovic
  • 4:40 p.m. Martin’s rib-eating contest
  • 5 p.m. Hamilton Loomis
  • 6:05 p.m. Jimmy Thackery
  • 7:20 p.m. Rib cook-off awards
  • 7:45 p.m. Shemekia Copeland

BlueSkool Stage

  • 2 p.m. Chickenwings & Gravy
  • 3:15 p.m. BlueSkool program with Chickenwings & Gravy
  • 4:40 p.m. BlueSkool program with Amy Alls
  • 5:45 p.m. BlueSkool program with Mike Westcott

After-Festival Blues Jam

  • When: 9:30 p.m. Saturday (doors open at 9 p.m.)
  • Where: Blue 5 Restaurant, 312 Second St., Roanoke
  • How much: $5
  • Host: Hamilton Loomis
  • Info: blue5restaurant.com, hamiltonloomis.com

It's not anywhere in the advertisements, but Saturday's Big Lick Blues Festival could easily be subtitled "rockin' blues women."

Headliner Shemekia Copeland and Ana Popovic are at the top of their respective games, musically, and should provide some killer sets.

Copeland, a Grammy nominee and multiple winner of W.C. Handy (now International Blues) awards, has a huge, soulful voice. Popovic, a native of Belgrade, Serbia, is already a big blues-rock name in Europe, and her guitar playing disproves any idiot's hypothesis that a woman can't rock the six-strings.

Nighthawks co-founder and Roanoke-area favorite Jimmy Thackery is also on the bill. And Hamilton Loomis, a protege of the late, American roots music icon Bo Diddley, will devote part of his set to a Diddley tribute.

Mike Westcott's Blues on Board -- this year's Blue Ridge Blues Society contest winner -- as well as Roanoke songstress Amy Alls and New River Valley bluesmen Chickenwings & Gravy complete the bill.

Here are some more details about the big four:


It's been 11 years since the 18-year-old daughter of bluesman Johnny Copeland made her national debut with "Turn the Heat Up." Since then, Copeland has been on several national television shows and has been recognized with numerous blues awards, a Grammy nomination and respect from her peers.

Her latest record, "The Soul Truth," was produced by famed Stax-era guitarist Steve Cropper, and it definitely has a Memphis vibe. Lots of horns, funky guitar and Copeland's authentic soul and blues voice tie it all together.


He co-founded the Nighthawks and played with them for 15 years, but has been on his own for the nearly 20 years since. He also paid dues as a sideman to blues legend Muddy Waters. But what is really fascinating is his guitar playing. Thackery is a master, and his playing seems effortless, even as he rips.

Thackery's drummer-singer of 15 years, Mark Stutso, recently left the band to spend more time with family. Hendersonville, N.C., drummer-bandleader Russ Wilson has stepped in, according to restaurateur and local bluesman Kerry Hurley.


The 32-year-old performer brings a mix of blues, rock, jazz and soul, which she spices up with nasty guitar licks aplenty. Her Serbian-accented voice is an underrated and authentic instrument. After growing up in a musical family, she studied jazz guitar in the Netherlands before turning to full-time performing by 1998.

Former Prince drummer David Z has produced or co-produced two of her records, including her most recent, "Still Making History" -- a stylistically diverse affair. Popovic's touring band includes Roanoker James Pace on keyboard.


It's been about 16 years since Loomis went backstage at a Bo Diddley show in Houston to get an autograph. He wound up playing some Diddley ditties for the master, and the blues-rock pioneer wound up calling the 16-year-old Loomis on stage to jam the next set. That began a valued friendship that lasted until Diddley died earlier this year.

"He gave me a lot of spotlight when he didn't have to," Loomis said. He took to heart Diddley's motto: "Innovate. Don't imitate."

Among Diddley's last musical endeavors was co-writing and recording "You Got to Wait" with Loomis.