Published: July 11, 2010
Wailing harmonicas, thudding bass, melancholy guitar riffs and, of course, sunglasses.
The Sedalia Blues Society’s 13th annual Blues Festival brought a few hundred spectators to Big Island on Saturday.
Some danced or swayed to the tunes as eight bands competed for two spots at the 2011 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, in February.
Tom Hunter, of Minneapolis, who played the event’s second set with his partner Jon Gunvaldson, said for him the festival was a way to get back on the road after taking a break from touring while his kids were in school.
“I was talking with one of the organizers, and he said ‘Why don’t you come down and play this thing? It’ll be good for you.’”
Hunter said win or lose the competition, just throwing himself into the music was the best part.
“I love the blues, so it’s nice … to go to a place where you can just play the blues.”
The event was headlined by country blues singer Rory Block and William “Big Bill” Morganfield, son of blues legend Muddy Waters.
Dave Richardson, of Bedford County, said he’s been into blues music since he was a kid.
“I’m a big blues fan,” Richardson said. “My mom grew up in Memphis. I kind of got exposed to that stuff at an early age.”
He said Block was a big draw for him, citing her rendition of the gospel hymn “Ain’t No Grave” among his favorite songs.
“That’ll just grab you by the heart strings,” he said.
Though many of the songs Saturday were melancholy or downright mournful, with plenty of string-bending and wailing, Hunter, who sings and plays keyboard, said part of the draw of blues music is that there’s plenty of room for variation, lyrically and musically.
“It’s really just expressive as heck. You can play happy, funny. It just doesn’t matter. The blues covers a lot of things,” he said.
“It’s just a really broad umbrella.”
Judges announced the competition’s winners after the last set, before Morganfield took the stage.
First place among the full bands went to Richmond-based band “The Bush League.”
Hunter and Gunvaldson won the duo artists competition. Hunter also won the Ree Breeden Outstanding Performer award, said organizer Harry Turner, who sits on the Sedalia Center’s board.
Turner also noted that nearly 1,000 people showed up for Block and Morganfield’s performances.
“Everybody’s very excited. We had another very successful event,” he said.
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