The changing season means more than just a shift in sports and sunshine. For thousands of people, spring means it’s time for festivals, and Tacoma is getting a jump on the competition with the annual Gray Sky Blues Music Festival happening April 5 at The Swiss Restaurant and Pub, The Harmon Brewery and Stonegate Pizza and Bar.
The festival starts at 1 p.m. that Saturday immediately after the Daffodil Parade and continues all the way through 1 a.m. Sunday morning.
“I can always get great musicians because the Pacific Northwest is loaded with them,” Gary Grape, director of events for the Tacoma Events Commission, said.
Cee Cee James will headline the festival at the Swiss Restaurant and Pub at 6 p.m. James made waves in 2013 when she won “Song of the Year” from Blues Blast Magazine for “I Gotta Right To Sing the Blues.”
Born in the Pacific Northwest, James moved to Nashville where she took the scene by storm. This year’s Gray Sky Blues Music Festival marks her homecoming to the Pacific Northwest. Along with best song, James was recognized as the “Best Foreign Singer” in Poland and was awarded a “Top Ten Song” award from the John Lennon Songwriting Contest. With the nickname “The Vocal Volcano,” James delivers roots rock, blues and soul with a vocal kick.
Opening for James is the Arthur Migliazza Trio. Migliazza is a long time piano player who takes cues from classic pianists such as Otis Spann, Champion Jack Dupree, Jimmy Yancey, Professor Longhair, James Booker, Jay McShann and Katie Webster. Throughout his career, Migliazza has earned several awards including being inducted into the Arizona Blues Hall of Fame in 2010, and being a finalist at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis this year. The Arthur Migliazza trio will take the stage at The Swiss at 4 p.m.
The Cody Rentas Band kicks The Swiss into gear at 1 p.m. Rentas is a 21-year-old artist who has been a staple of the Tacoma music scene since 2008. Taking cues from performers like Santana and Stevie Ray, Rentas excited crowds with his electric personality and mix of new and old school jams.
“He’s pretty much a seasoned pro now, I’m not thinking of him as a kid,” Grape said.
One of the youngest stars at the festival is 16-year-old Nolan Garrett, a guitarist, singer and songwriter who has been playing in the Tacoma scene for the last four years. With influences ranging from Jimi Hendrix and John Mayer, to Alice In Chains and The Black Keys, Garrett has become a rising star and will be playing at the Harmon Brewery at 4:30 p.m.
“When you see Nolan Garrett, he’s not just playing to you, he’s putting on a show,” Grape said. “One of these days, I won’t be able to touch that kid; he’s destined to be a star.”
Opening for Garrett is Colorado resident Jack Gaffney, another young singer-songwriter who was chosen by the South Sound Blues Association to perform at the festival, after winning a youth showcase in Nashville. Gaffney has been involved in the music scene since he was a child, releasing his first album when he was 12 years old, produced by influence and mentor Carter Pann, a Grammy award winning classical composer. Gaffney will take that stage at Harmon Brewery at 3:45 p.m.
But the Gray Sky Blues Music Festival isn’t just a young person’s game. Seasoned vet Mark Riley will take the stage with The Mark Riley Trio at The Harmon Brewery at 1. Described as roots rock and blues to heal the soul, Riley brings a nice counterpoint to the younger performers with his wealth of experience.
The festival will close at Stonegate Pizza with a 21-and-over after-hours party at 8:30 p.m. starting with live blues upstairs in the loft with Steve Cooley and the Dangerfields. Starting at 10 p.m. downstairs, listen to great blues with Junction 61-49. The party will be in full swing until 1 a.m. with a special appearance by Cee Cee James and other festival performers.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Grape said, referring to the format of the successful festival.
The Swiss Restaurant and Pub (1904 S. Jefferson Ave.)
1-2 p.m. The Cody Rentas Band
2:30-3:30p.m. Brian Lee and the Orbiters
($10 cover charge starts at 3:30 p.m./$8 for Blues Association/Society members and active military)
4-5:30 p.m. Arthur Migliazza Trio
6-7:30 p.m. Cee Cee James, Festival Headliner
The Harmon Brewery (1938 Pacific Ave.)
Noon–12:45 p.m. Fistful of Dollars (Puget Sound Music for Youth Association)
1-2 p.m. The Mark Riley Trio
2:30-3:30 p.m. Maia Santell and House Blend
3:45-4:15 p.m. Jack Gaffney (Boulder, Colorado)
4:30-5:30 p.m. Nolan Garrett
Stonegate Pizza and Bar (5421 S. Tacoma Way)
8:30 p.m. to Midnight Steve Cooley and the Dangerfields (upstairs)
10 p.m. to 1 a.m. Junction 61-49 (downstairs)