Monday, July 24, 2017 This Week's Paper

Make a Scene: Big weekend for the blues

This will be a big weekend for the blues in Tacoma, with two popular events returning on back-to-back days.


The 20th annual Old Town Blues Festival takes place on July 14. Mike Mitchell, a co-organizer of the event, said that this year he and the other organizers decided to book as many bands as possible that have performed at the festival in the past.

There are some well-established acts on the bill, including Little Bill & the Bluenotes, Mark Dufresne Band and Blues Power Revue with their popular tribute to the Blues Brothers.

A newer act that Mitchell is excited to have playing is Champagne Sunday. The band is based in the Southern California beach town of Ventura, but has played a number of shows in the Tacoma area the past few years. Lead singer Jessi Reems-Terrell is the daughter of Mitch Reems, who performs the role of Elwood Blues in Blues Power Revue.

Mitchell said she and her band mates like the music scene up here. He recently did an interview with Reems-Terrell on TV Tacoma to promote this event and she announced on live television that the band will be relocating up here.

“They feel inspired up here,” Mitchell said.

Hot Rod Holman is on the bill. He performs on Sunday blues nights at the Spar from time to time.

“All of the acts are very good,” Mitchell remarked.

A major change is that this year there will be no stage in Old Town Park with bands playing during the day. In the past, about five or six groups would play outside, then the action would move into several indoor venues.

For many years the festival has been a fundraiser for Breast Cancer Resource Center. Mitchell and several others involved with organizing this event got into a well-publicized dispute with Metro Parks over fees the agency charges to the festival for use of the park, specifically over fees related to beer sales in the outdoor beer garden.

The dispute had simmered for several years and escalated to the point last October that protestors gathered outside Metro Parks headquarters waving signs.

“We decided not to work with Metro Parks again,” Mitchell said.

Another change is the unavailability of the Mountaineers Hall. The old building was torn down and a replacement is rising on the site. Mitchell said the Mountaineers hoped to have the building complete in time for the festival but that will not be the case.

To compensate for the loss of the other stages, two downstairs rooms of Slavonian Hall will be used, along with the main room above. In the past only the upstairs room was used. The rest of the action will take place at the Spar.

The activities will begin with a “bluesberry” pancake breakfast in the Slavonian Hall starting at 9 a.m.

Breast Cancer Resource Center recently announced it would have to shut down due to financial difficulties. Mitchell said proceeds from this year’s event will be donated to Carol Milgard Breast Center.


The other big event happening in Tacoma this weekend is a fundraiser for Friends of the Holidays at the Swiss Pub on July 15. The organization provides meals to needy families at Christmas. It holds two fundraising shows at the Swiss each year, one in December and one in the summer. The nonprofit organization has been in existence for 14 years.

“I never thought we would get this far,” said co-founder Jon Sybert.

Sybert selected the bands to play this year based on groups he has seen playing various venues in the area.

Billy Farmer started a Rolling Stones tribute band about a year ago. Sybert said they do much material from the band’s early era.

High Ceiling is a band of white guys from Shelton who play reggae. They impressed Sybert when he caught them at Jazzbones.

Blues Redemption is on the bill. They just won the battle of the bands organized by South Sound Blues Association at Freedom Fair on July 4, which means they will compete with bands from around the world at the International Blues Challenge. The band will be joined at the Swiss by guest musician Mark Riley.

Other acts playing are Rod Cook and Toast, Billy Roy Danger & the Rectifiers and Bump Kitchen.

As usual, local artist Tweed Meyer will do paintings of the bands while they perform.

There will a raffle at the events. Prizes include movie passes, meals at restaurants, services at hair salons and an ice cream cake from Cold Stone Creamery.