For the fifth straight year, the Big Muddy Blues Festival returns to Laclede's Landing on Labor Day weekend, Sept. 1 and 2. After experimenting with three days of music in 1999, then going to six music stages last year, the Big Muddy has apparently found its niche. Five stages will be in use this time around -- the main Budweiser stage at the empty lot at First and Lucas streets; the Regional Arts stage in the parking lot at Second and Lucas streets; the smaller President Casino stage at Second Street and Morgan; the Embassy Suites stage at First Street and Martin Luther King Drive; and the small acoustic Fox2 stage behind Planet Hollywood. This year, there's an even greater emphasis on local acts, in addition to nationally known artists with strong local ties. All the stages except the Budweiser stage will feature three local acts per day, ranging from Rich McDonough, Leroy Pierson, Keith Doder and the Blue City Band, and Tom Hall to Big Bad Smitty, the Bel-Airs, Bennie Smith, David Dee, and Big George and the House Rockers. Saturday's main-stage lineup concludes with Little Milton Campbell from 8-9:30 p.m., with up-and-coming national talents Eric Sardinas and Eddie Cotton as opening acts. Sunday's lineup concludes with Coco Montoya, preceded by Fontella Bass at 5:30 p.m. and Chicago blues-harp legend Snooky Pryor at 3 p.m.Looking for specific recommendations? Just about everything on the main stage is worth checking out, and never, ever miss a chance to hear Fontella Bass (pictured). With any luck, Little Milton will be joined onstage by longtime musical buddy Oliver Sain. Cotton, who played BB's Jazz, Blues & Soups back in May, deserves to be a star, Pryor is a true blues master who can still play, Montoya is always solid and Sardinas plays Stevie Ray-style on electric Dobro. Plus, the whole thing's free. For more information, see www.lacledeslanding.org.
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