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Big Lick Blues Brings Delbert McClinton to Elmwood Park

Delbert McClinton
Delbert McClinton

The third annual SunTrust Big Lick Blues Festival takes over Elmwood Park this Saturday from 2-9 p.m., with a lineup that includes three-time Grammy winner Delbert McClinton, plus boogie-woogie piano player Rev. Billy C. Wirtz, accompanied by fellow pianist Victor Wainwright, and blues/jazz songstress Stacy Brooks. Waynesboro’s The Mo’ Hippa Band, winner of the 2009 Blue Ridge Blues Society competition, will open the show.

Event Zone stages the SunTrust Big Lick Blues Festival. Executive director Larry Landolt says the “blues festival world is exploding across the country. We hope to join that momentum.” About 2,000 festival-goers showed up last year and Landolt plans to build on that number.

This time, Big Lick Blues, which succeeded the Taste of the Blue Ridge Blues and Jazz Festival three years ago, is being presented under the banner of the Roanoke Arts Festival, which will showcase all sorts of cultural events this weekend. There is also a rib cook-off, featuring a handful of local restaurants: Bastian’s, Pit Boss, Martin’s, Blue 5 and Blues Barbecue. They will be selling samples of their food again this year, always a popular attraction.

Get there early for the rib cook-off; in past years the ribs have disappeared before the headliner – McClinton this time around – has taken the stage.  There’s also a rib-eating contest, which was good if somewhat greasy fun to watch last year.

Landing McClinton was a coup for Big Lick Blues says Landolt, who has seen tickets being purchased from elsewhere in the country. “We wanted to step it up just a notch, and I think we did that with Delbert.”  McClinton, who crosses into a number of music genres, has just released a new CD, “Acquired Taste.” “He has a very loyal fan base,” notes Landolt, who says ticket sales “are way up.”

Landolt was in South Dakota this summer, where a blues festival drew 90,000 over two days, so clearly he has his sights set on larger numbers. “I don’t know if we’ll ever draw 90,000 people but I’m looking forward to growing this thing.”

The Rev. Billy C. Wirtz (not really a pastor) combines piano playing with humor on stage, and will be accompanied by Victor Wainwright.  Landolt calls it a “vaudeville-kind-of-ish, rockabilly, blues, dueling piano thing…quite irreverent.” Wainwright does a rendition of the Ray Charles tune “Georgia” that Landolt says will “blow people away.”

Brooks sings gospel tinged blues and jazz and was nominated for best new artist in the DC area recently. The Mo’ Hippa Band won the local Blue Ridge Blues Society competition in Roanoke. “They’re terrific,” says Landolt, who calls the blues music scene in the area “exploding” these days.

Event Zone stages numerous events, including the Party in the Park series, held at Elmwood Park every year. The sluggish economy presented “a lot of challenges this year,” says Landolt, “[but] festivals are doing well.”

Landolt also wants to make sure Event Zone has a seat at the table regarding any decision on a new amphitheater. He says it was only recently that local festival organizers and music promoters were asked for their input. “A lot of city leaders are now seeing that a community amphitheater … needs to be for the community. Local producers of festivals and music need to be able to use this [facility]. We don’t necessarily need to have someone come in from out of town [i.e. Charlottesville’s Red Light Management] to share with us how to do things. There’s a lot of talent here locally.”

Landolt worked with Kirk Avenue Music’s Gary Jackson on this year’s SunTrust Big Lick Blues Festival. Tickets for Saturday (Oct. 3) are available at all regional SunTrust Bank locations or through the Event Zone website, or at the door. For more information about the SunTrust Big Lick Blues Festival, visit

By Gene Marrano
[email protected]

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