Blues radiates from the New River Blues Festival

Article Published: Sep. 1, 2011 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Blues radiates from the New River Blues Festival

In 2003, Rob Baskerville and Penny Zamagni planted a jewel in the mountains of North Carolina that, at least for one day out of the year, outshined the dominating Appalachian, bluegrass and old-time sounds of the area.

Nine years later, the New River Blues Festival is still gleaming like a sapphire. This year's event will be held on Sunday, Sept. 4, at The River House Inn in Grassy Creek.

Featuring performances from Logie Meachum, Beverly "Guitar" Watkins, Wanda Jackson and the Shrimp City Slim Band, Roy Roberts and The King Bees, the festival presents blues artists of cultural and historical significance.

Baskerville and Zamagni, also known as blues group The King Bees, established the festival to bring attention to what they consider "the most expressive and wonderful of all American roots music."

The King Bees have toured internationally over the past two decades. In that time, they've established relationships with many blues greats.

"Through the many years, real-deal blues folks have generously shared their gifts and mentored us," Zamagni said. "On this special day, we celebrate, promote and thank the African-American legends, elders and luminaries who have lighted the way."

The River House Inn serves as the site of the festival for the second year. Set in a scenic mountain meadow on the edge of the New River, there's plenty of room for hundreds of fans to dance or just kick back and enjoy music. A full-service restaurant, The River House also has drink and food available at the event. Baskerville said it is a spectacular setting for the festival.

"The festival has grown, and we got a lot of interest from it being at the River House," he said. "They hosted the event so well the first year, so we're going to do it with them again."

Zamagni agrees that the festival fits beautifully in the mountains. She said it has become quite the magnet for those who want to both see the area and hear the blues.

"Many people have found that this festival is a life-changing experience," she said. "A lot of people have never been exposed to the soulful and joyful experience the music creates. We have people come back every year that are sold on it, that are converts to the blues."

Those results are exactly what The King Bees intended when they started the New River Blues Festival. The feeling they get from the blues is something they want to think everyone should experience.

"It's real," Baskerville said. "It's the truth. It cuts right into the soul, into real life."


The New River Blues Festival will have music all afternoon from artists known worldwide for their powerful conveyance of the blues.

"All of the artists are known internationally through touring and recording, so in effect we have five headliners," Baskerville said.

Long-time blues artists Beverly "Guitar" Watkins and Roy Rogers will be the last performers of the event, an arrangement that is meant to be a nod of respect, Baskerville said. The King Bees are backing both artists during their performance, to which Baskerville is really looking forward.
"Both of them have an extremely fascinating history," he said.

Roy Roberts

In the 1960s, Roy Roberts cut his teeth as Solomon Burke's guitarist. Before long, he was picking up gigs backing up Stevie Wonder and Otis Redding. His warm and emotional vocals and incendiary guitar have taken him on a solo career spanning 40 years.

"Roy Roberts is one of my main guitar influences," Baskerville said.

Roberts has also been named Living Blues' Producer of the Year. A true American blues treasure, he has thrilled audiences over the globe. Roberts lives in Greensboro and owns and operates Rock House Records. For more information, visit

Beverly 'Guitar' Watkins

A consummate blues lady who can play her guitar behind her head, belt out songs and roll over to sweet gospel, Atlanta's Beverly "Guitar" Watkins is a real crowd-pleaser.

"She's a really bad guitar player," Baskerville said, and bad in the good way. "We're bringing the real deal to the mountains."

Active for more than five decades, she's worked with James Brown, B.B. King, Ray Charles and Piano Red. She is the recipient of the Georgia Music Legend Award. For more information, visit

Wanda Johnson and The Shrimp City Slim Band

With passionate vocals, powerful stage charisma and great original songs, South Carolina's Wanda Johnson has a knack for connecting with her audience. From Europe to China and all over the States, Johnson's performances have garnered rave reviews.

"Wanda is an extremely talented singer and songwriter," Zamagni said. "She is the new voice of blues in the South."

The Shrimp City Slim Band's music is just as steamy and sizzling as the South Carolina Low Country from which they hail.

For more information, visit

Logie Meachum

A musician, storyteller and educator, Greensboro native Logie Meachum has been spreading the blues for more than 30 years.

"He's a proponent of keeping the flame of African-American culture alive through humor, music and history," Zamagni said.

Along with veteran guitarist Terry VunCannon, Logie will put on an electrifying performance. For more information, visit

The King Bees

For 24 years, The King Bees have traveled the globe performing on festival stages and in juke joints. They have several internationally acclaimed albums. In the 1980s, The King Bees traveled to the Deep South to be mentored by blues masters whom they had always revered. This led to profound friendships that thrive to this day. They've played with Bo Diddley and were a part of B.B. King's 80th Birthday Tour.

The King Bees will be joined by friends Big Mike Kincaid (saxophone), Juke Joint Johnny (harmonica) and others. For more information, visit


The New River Blues Festival opens its gates at noon on Sunday, Sept. 4. Music starts at 1 p.m. and continues through 6 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance and $18 the day of the festival. Children 12 and younger are admitted free.

The River House Inn is located at 1896 Old Field House Road in Grassy Creek, Ashe County.
The New River Blues Festival is presented by Celtic Force and Mellow Down Productions.
For more information on the New River Blues Festival, visit

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