Cape Fear Blues Festival to showcase acclaimed artists


The Cape Fear Blues Society will host the 19th Annual Cape Fear Blues Festival from July 25 through July 27. The schedule of events includes live concerts, a harmonica workshop and a free all-day blues jam.

Lan Nichols has been director of the festival for the past 18 years. He is currently president of the Cape Fear Blues Society, and host of the WHQR public radio show Front Street Blues. Nichols believes blues is important musically, and also culturally.

“This is an exciting opportunity to see some of the best blues musicians, live in Wilmington,” Nichols said during a July 18 phone interview. “Most forms of American music, no matter what, descended from blues: jazz, folk, Americana, rock. The blues is inherently American because it came from Americans who wanted to tell a story and had no other way to do it.”

The story-telling weekend will kick off Friday, July 25, with the Cape Fear Blues Cruise aboard the Henrietta III. Three bands, The Ricky Godfrey Band, Randy McQuay and RootSoul Project and Harvey Dalton Arnold, will play on all three decks as guests enjoy three bars and a buffet catered by Angie’s of Chris Restaurant. The ship boards at 6:30 p.m. and departs in perfect time to see the sunset, at 7:30 p.m.

Everyone is encouraged to attend the weekend’s events, Nichols explained, because the blues is relatable to all ages.

“Because there are so many different styles of blues, it is malleable, like clay, so it can satisfy a lot of musical tastes,” he said. “People at any age can relate to it, love it all, or focus on one form like Chicago blues, acoustic blues, or jump blues.”

The guest of honor aboard the Blues Cruise will be virtuoso harmonica player and award-winning songwriter Lee Oskar, a founding member and former lead harmonica player of the 1970s funk/jazz band, War. Oskar has performed with Jimi Hendrix, Van Morrison, Ike Turner, Willie Nelson, The Grateful Dead and Santana — to name only a few — and has led a successful solo career. Oskar, whose harmonica playing is well-known and remembered from songs like “Cisco Kid” and “Low Rider,” agrees that the blues genre is about telling a story.

“Playing or listening to the blues is like magic,” he said during a July 18 phone interview. “It triggers certain things in you. Blues is music portraying life. Wherever there is people, there is heart and soul, and blues tells that story.”

Oskar will lead a free harmonica workshop at 11 a.m. Saturday, July 26, at the Hannah Block Historic USO Community Arts Center, featuring his own unique brand of harmonica, the Lee Oskar Harmonica, which he began manufacturing in 1983. His harmonicas were the first to use replaceable reed plates.

Oskar will take the stage Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. at The Art Factory. Local Wilmington musician and finalist performer during the 2012 International Blues Challenge, Randy McQuay, will open the show and then serve as Oskar’s backing band with RootSoul Project.

“I’ve not even shaken Randy McQuay’s hand yet,” Oskar said. “To me, half of the arrangement when you play music is the chemistry of the people. You’ve got to feel it. I live for that.”

Tickets for Saturday night are capped at 200.

“We wanted to keep the night intimate,” said Marcus Rich, co-owner of The Art Factory, during a July 18 phone interview. “Art, blues, and wine. It’s the perfect combination.”

Closing the weekend, Sunday, July 27, there will be a free all-day blues jam at The Rusty Nail starting at noon, and live music from Lawyers Guns & Money, Snake Malone & The Black Cat Bone at 6 p.m.

For a complete schedule of events, or to purchase tickets visit

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