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San Diego Blues Fest to rock Embarcadero Saturday

September 7, 2016 GMT

With three Grammy Awards, nearly two-dozen albums and thousands of performances under their collective belt, the members of Los Lobos should have no trouble inspiring the audience at Saturday’s sixth annual AimLoan.com San Diego Blues Festival to shimmy, shake and gyrate with abandon.

With: Los Lobos, Bobby Rush, Nikki Hill, Watermelon Slim, Bey Paule Band with Wee Willie Walker, Chris Cain, Billy Watson & Junior Watson, The Holla Pointe, Big Jon Atkinson When: Noon to 8 p.m. Saturday Where: Embarcadero Marina Park North, 500 Kettner Blvd., downtownTickets: $25 general admission; $125 VIP; $250 super VIP, which includes private Friday night concert with Watermelon Slim at House of Blues. Festival attendees are asked to donate two cans of food each, with all proceeds benefiting the Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank.Phone: (858) 863-5142Online: sdbluesfest.com

With: Los Lobos, Bobby Rush, Nikki Hill, Watermelon Slim, Bey Paule Band with Wee Willie Walker, Chris Cain, Billy Watson & Junior Watson, The Holla Pointe, Big Jon Atkinson

When: Noon to 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: Embarcadero Marina Park North, 500 Kettner Blvd., downtown

Tickets: $25 general admission; $125 VIP; $250 super VIP, which includes private Friday night concert with Watermelon Slim at House of Blues. Festival attendees are asked to donate two cans of food each, with all proceeds benefiting the Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank.

Phone: (858) 863-5142

Online: sdbluesfest.com

But the veteran Los Angeles band has long had at least two goals each time it takes the stage.

Or, as Los Lobos co-founder Louis Perez once told the Union-Tribune: “We want to make people dance. But more than being just a good party band, we want to make them think.”

By coincidence, providing food for thought — as well as food, period — have been the twin goals of the AimLoan.com San Diego Blues Festival since its inception in 2011. Attendance at last year’s edition was about 5,500, up from 2,850 in 2011, and 3,303 pounds of food was donated by attendees.

In its first five years, the all-ages festival has raised $435,000 and brought in 12 tons of donated food for the nonprofit Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank. During that time, the event has showcased dozens of blues stars and young breakout acts, as well as such Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees as Booker T. Jones, Elvin Bishop and Eric Burdon & The Animals.

This year’s edition marks a period of retrenchment for the festival at downtown’s Embarcadero Marina Park North. After two years of being held for two consecutive weekend days, this year sees the event being streamlined to Saturday only.

Yet, if the budget-saving reduction means one day less of music, this year’s lineup — like its predecessors — is packed with musical riches.

“We’re aiming to present the blues in many, if not all, of its many shades,” said festival producer Michael Kinsman. “The lineup goes from down-home blues and Delta blues to to rocking blues and soul. Los Lobos is not a blues band; they’re a roots-rock band. But their music is rooted in blues and they have a great affection and affinity for it. People will be surprised at how bluesy they are.

“That’s one way to reach out, broaden the palette and bring in people who might not otherwise go to a ‘blues festival.’ We’re not the largest festival around. But, pound for pound, we want to be the best blues festival in the country.”

Here’s a look at five of the likely highlights at Saturday’s festival. The schedule of performances appears at the conclusion of this article.

Formed in 1973, Los Lobos began as a bluesy rock band. In 1977, it morphed into an all-acoustic group that specialized in accordion-driven conjunto (also known as Tejano or Tex-Mex) music and cited San Diego’s Los Alacranes as a major inspiration. By 1980, Los Lobos was a full-on electric band again, whose rootsy sound earned favor on the Los Angeles punk-rock scene, despite not being remotely punk-oriented.

Fame came after the band topped the U.S. charts in 1987 with its charged version of the 1959 Ritchie Valens classic “La Bamba,” the title track from the Golden Globe-nominated music bio-film of the same name. But that hit single, one of only two in Los Lobos’ 44-year career, was a fluke. Its real strengths can be found on such classic albums as “How Will the Wolf Survive?” (1984), “Kiko” (1992), “The Town and The City” (2006) and last year’s “Gates of Gold,” all of which showcase the band’s singular blend of vintage and contemporary American music styles.

The festival’s senior performer at 82, this unabashedly bawdy Louisiana-born singer is equally comfortable with blues, funk and New Orleans-styled R&B. His gritty vocals and harmonica playing are matched by his exuberant showmanship and sometimes risqué lyrics and stage moves.

A vital mainstay for decades on the chitlin’ circuit of nightclubs across the American South, this 2006 Blues Hall of Famer will release his latest album, “Porcupine Meat,” on Sept. 16. “Chicken Heads: A 50-Year History of Bobby Rush” came out last year and features 74 songs that he cut for more than 20 record labels, including such gems as the raucous “Gotta Have Money,” the tart “What’s Good for the Goose Is Good for the Gander,” and the oh-so-slinky “Bowlegged Woman, Knock-Kneed Man (Part 1).”

The festival’s third-oldest performer at 67, singer, harmonica player and slide guitarist Watermelon Slim (real name: Bill Homans) is a U.S. Army veteran who fought in Vietnam. Once a roommate of future Canned Heat guitarist Henry Vestine, Slim first recorded in 1973. Although he has played music for more than half a century, he earned a living as a forklift operator, political investigator, watermelon farmer and, in his words, “small-time criminal.”

A full-time trucker until 2004, Slim is probably one of the few acclaimed blues artists who has a master’s degree in history. His two most recent albums, “Escape From the Chicken Coop” and “Ringers,” both have a pronounced country-music feel, but Slim shines in any setting.

Now 30, this rising dynamo from North Carolina has come a long way since her youth, when she sang in gospel choirs and in a punk-rock band. Drawing from blues, rockabilly, soul and rock, she has a combustible voice that at times evokes Etta James and Barbara Lynn. With a look inspired in part by the young Little Richard, Hill has charisma to spare. Her growing repertoire mixes her original songs with classics by Richard, Sam Cooke and Otis Redding.

The festival’s youngest performer at 27, the Florida-born, San Diego-based Atkinson sounds like he just stepped out of a time machine from mid-1950s Chicago. Together with his musical partner, ace harmonica player Bob Corritore, he revels in the raw, raucous styles of Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Slim Harpo and other blues giants. Singled out for praise by Fabulous Thunderbirds’ front man Kim Wilson, with whom he has collaborated, Atkinson is well worth keeping an eye on as he develops.

Saturday, Sept. 10

10:30 a.m. Saturday: Big Jon Atkinson, Front Gate

Noon: The Holla Pointe, Baker Electric Solar Stage

12:45 p.m.: Billy Watson & Junior Watson, BCS Stage

1:30 p.m.: Chris Cain, Baker Electric Solar Stage

2:30 p.m.: Bey Paule Band with Wee Willie Walker, BCS Stage

3:30 p.m.: Watermelon Slim, Baker Electric Solar Stage

4:30 p.m.: Bobby Rush, BCS Stage

5:30 p.m.: Nikki Hill, Baker Electric Solar Stage

6:30 p.m.: Los Lobos, BCS Stage