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Recordings from the River

By Jeff Eason (

Article Published: Aug. 28, 2013 | Modified: Aug. 28, 2013
Recordings from the River

The New River Blues Festival, now in its 11th year, has been the site of many great performances by some of the best blues artists in the country.

Sadly, some of those performances were among the last for many of these historic artists.

Etta Baker, Jerry McCain, Robert Lee Nelson, Carey Bell, Nappy Brown, Howard Colbert and Neal Pattman played and sang on the New River Blues Festival not long before departing for that great blues gig in the sky.

This year, Rob “Hound Dog” Baskerville of The King Bees, host of the festival from day one, put together a collection of live tracks from previous festivals, with an emphasis on paying tribute to those artists who have “done gone on.”

The result is the 12-track CD, “New River Blues Festival: Bringing Blues Luminaries and Lifeblood to Appalachia.”

While one might think hearing performances of blues legends in the twilight of their careers might be a depressing listen, the album proves otherwise.

Etta Baker grew up in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, not far from the High Country. A left-handed guitar picker who played instruments strung for right-handed players, she developed a unique finger-picking style where she used her thumb to play melodies on the high strings, while playing bass notes with her pinky and ring fingers.

Baker’s two instrumental tracks, “Carolina Breakdown” and “One Dime Blues,” are treasures and remind the listener of how pure the blues can sound when in the hands of a master.

Howard Colbert’s “Step It Up and Go,” on the other hand, is a raucous stomper, full of pep and vinegar.

Roy Roberts’ “Gypsy Woman” is an example of the New River Blues Festival’s regular nod to Chicago-style blues, with extensive electric guitar, harmonica and saxophone breaks.

The album closes with Nappy Brown’s live version of “The Night Time is the Right Time.” Written by Brown in the 1950s, it was a huge hit for Ray Charles and helped buoy Brown’s career with royalty checks. Brown’s incredibly strong and soulful voice gives the song its due and brings out the boogie in the tune.

This collection of 12 live blues songs help keep the Southern blues tradition alive, while giving the listener a slice of one of the great music festivals in Western North Carolina.


The 11th annual New River Blues Festival 2013 will be held at the River House Inn in Grassy Creek on Sunday, Sept. 1. Gates open at noon, and the music starts at 1 p.m. and ends at 6 p.m.

The lineup includes Doctor Dixon, Ironing Board Sam, Gaye Adegbalola, Big Ron Hunter, The King Bees and Friends and more.

Guests are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and picnic blankets. No coolers or pets are allowed. Food, mixed and soft drinks, beer and wine will be available for purchase.

Tickets are $15 in advance, $18 at the door and free for all children ages 12 and younger.

For more information, directions or to reserve tickets, visit

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