By Jeremy Essig
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The Big Muddy Blues & Roots Festival is gradually becoming a major musical event in the St. Louis area. The event, which expands this year from two days to three, kicks off at 7:30 p.m. Friday with a double bill of the Soulard Blues Band and rockabilly wildman Ronnie Dawson.
The Main Stage acts booked for Saturday and Sunday offer a cross section of musical talent but a heavy emphasis on blues, with styles ranging from Chicago to Mississippi Delta to New Orleans with some rockabilly and fusion thrown in for good measure. Saturday's lineup begins at 3 p.m. with Springfield, Mo., bluesman Clarence Brewer, better known as King Clarentz, His 1998 debut album on HMG featured the Skeletons backing him up, and he'll be joined at the Big Muddy by guitarist Donnie Thompson of the Skeletons and the Park Central Squares. At 5:30 p.m., rock guitar legend Link Wray performs. He's now in his mid-60s, but Wray can still crank out the distinctive fuzz-tone guitar sound he invented back in 1954. Wrapping up Saturday at the Main Stage at 8:30 p.m. is John Mooney and Bluesiana definitely my recommendation as Saturday's highlight. Mooney is one of the finest slide-guitar players you'll ever hear, and he's blended Delta and New Orleans R&B and rock influences into a unique style.
Sunday, Chicago blues belter Shemekia Copeland probably the hottest young blues vocalist around opens things up at 3 p.m., followed by bassist extraordinaire Victor Wooten; if you've ever heard Wooten's amazing work with Béla Fleck & the Flecktones, you won't want to miss him leading his own group. The final act Sunday was stated to be R.L. Burnside, a Delta-blues legend, but he was hospitalized last week for heart surgery. At press time, no substitute has been announced.
Throughout the weekend, a stage located in the parking lot on the southwest corner of Second and Lucas will feature a host of local blues acts presented by the St. Louis Blues Society, including groups led by Bennie Smith, J.R. Reed, Tommy Bankhead, Erskine Oglesby, Ann Grant and Keith Doder. Other highlights of the weekend include rockabilly legend Rudy Grayzell, Webb Wilder and the Nashvegans, and Ann Rabson of the group Saffire. There's no admission charge, but don't even think of bringing a cooler or glass containers.