When the Fargo Blues Festival opens today, there will be a mix of old and new faces at Newman Outdoor Field.
The one face longtime Blues Fest attendees won’t see is founder Dan Bredell who died in February.
After hearing that Bredell’s family was not interested in keeping the festival going themselves, Brad Thom, President and CEO of the Fargo-Morhead RedHawks stepped in and purchased the event.
Having worked with the RedHawks, whose home is Newman Outdoor Field, for two decades, Thom was familiar with the festival.
“We just wanted to make sure it didn’t go away,” Thom says. “We loved having that event here. The fans are fantastic and even clean up after themselves.”
He credits Bredell with creating a strong foundation and fanbase for the festival, but says there is room for the event to grow.
“We upped the game a little this year with acts,” he says. “Dan liked the hardcore, old school blues acts a lot. We know you’ve got to attract a lot of new people if you want this festival to continue.”
“There’s quite the female presence at Blues Fest this year,” says Bryan Shinn, publicist for this year’s event and a longtime attendee.
Fish seems to be generating the most buzz on the lineup. Recently named as one of the best blues guitarists by Guitar World magazine, Fish is already making waves after announcing her new album, “Faster,” out Sept. 10, is a collaboration with producer/songwriter, Martin Kierszenbaum, known for his work with Lady Gaga. Though labeled a blues artist, her work often shows roots in rock, country, funk and bluegrass.
Thom is also excited about a pair of young female artists. Singer Vella, who plays today at 3:30 p.m., works in R&B and soul styles into her music to sound more mature than most 17 year olds.
Though only 22, singer/guitarist Ally Venable already has four albums of blues rock under her belt. She plays at 3 p.m., Saturday.
Fargo’s Deb Jenkins Band opens the day at noon, followed by the New Orleans-style jazz stylings of Miss Myra and the Moonshiners at 1:30 p.m.
Thom anticipates bright futures for both and is excited that local fans will get to see exciting acts as their stars rise. Similarly, he’s happy to welcome back fan favorites like Mayall, who helped shape blues rock in the 1960s, including his work with Eric Clapton, as well as Chicago bluesman John Primer, who goes on at 7 p.m., just before Mayall.
New this year is the Budweiser stage in the picnic area on the left field side of the stadium. Acts will play there between mainstage sets.
Shinn says the lineup is pretty strong compared to other years, especially since Thom just bought the festival in April and putting a festival on during a pandemic isn’t exactly easy.
“We have a very limited budget. We’re putting together in three months what normally takes a year,” he says.
Shinn served as the emcee during last year’s festival and says from the stage the crowd looked a little sparse.
“The crowd was definitely down and it was a somber atmosphere,” he says.
Thom says he hasn’t looked over Berdell’s records, most of which were handwritten notes on scraps of paper, too see what attendance was last year. He says with the border currently closed with Canada, the festival will lose between 25 and 30 percent of attendees.
“My main concern is just getting Blues Fest going,” he says.
That said, he’s already started working on the Winter Blues Festival, booked for Feb. 12 at the Ramada.
Another thing he was determined to do was to honor Bredell in the festival’s program and from the stage.
“He did a lot of good things for the blues and we want to continue growing that,” Thom says.
If you go
What: Fargo Blues Festival
When: Friday and Saturday
Where: Newman Outdoor Field, 1515 15th Ave., N., Fargo
Info: Tickets are $40 per day or $60 for both days and $130 for VIP tickets, https://fargoblues.com/tickets
2 Blue Wailers
5 Mississippi Heat
7 Jeremiah Johnson Band
9 Samantha Fish
Noon Deb Jenkins Band
1:30 Miss Myra and the Moonshiners
3 Ally Venable
5 Rocky Athas
7 John Primer
9 John Mayall