Marty Clear

The 2016 Bradenton Blues Festival could be the best yet


Ronnie Baker Brooks is the headlining act at this year's Bradenton Blues Festival. 
Ronnie Baker Brooks is the headlining act at this year's Bradenton Blues Festival. PUBLICITY PHOTO

Johnette Isham thinks the lineup for the fifth annual Bradenton Festival is the best one yet. But there's nothing surprising about that.

"I think every one's the best one," she said.

Isham's the executive director of Realize Bradenton, the organization behind the blues festival, which is Dec. 3 on Bradenton's Riverwalk. She doesn't pick the bands herself -- Paul Benjamin, who's one of the most respected producers of blues festivals in the country, does that -- and it's part of her job to be enthusiastic about the musicians who come to the festival every year.

But when she says every year's festival has been the best, she not just speaking in hyperbole. A lot of people who have paid attention to the first four editions of the Bradenton Blues Festival would agree that each was better than the one before.

One of those people is Bradenton resident Mark Thompson who recently took over as president of the Suncoast Blues Society.

"I'd say this year's lineup is the strongest one, top to bottom," Thompson said. He goes through the list, and it consists almost entirely of musicians whose work he knows and loves.

One act that he's most excited about in this year's lineup is the Golden State/Lone Star Revue, a blues supergroup that includes Grammy-nominated singer and harp player Mark Hummel, guitarist Charlie Baty, the former frontman for the Nightcats (who rocked last year's Bradenton Blues Festival behind harp player Rick Estrin); and Texas blues guitar great Anson Funderbugh.

Baty and Funderburgh are held in equally high esteem among the blues cognoscenti, Thompson said, and their guitar styles complement each other beautifully. Funderburgh's a master of economic phrasing, and Baty, in Thompson's words, "likes to swing."

Isham and Benjamin insist there's no real "headliner" to the

Bradenton Blues Festival, or rather that the whole lineup is headliners who just play at different times. But the act that goes on last in always going to be one of the best, and is always going to get a little more attention than the others.

This year, that's Ronnie Baker Brooks, the great Chicago blues guitarist whose mission is to help attract younger music fans to the blues.

Not only is the festival lineup arguably the strongest ever, Isham said, but the entire "Blues Weekend" is better than ever. The festival will have a free Blues Appetizer concert featuring Damon Fowler the night before and Blues Brunch on Sunday with Doug Deming & The Jewel Tones.

Here's the entire festival lineup, You can get tickets ($30 general, $20 students, $10 children, $75 reserved) and more information at

11 a.m.-noon: Slam Allen Band

12:15-1:15 p.m.: Sugar Ray and the Blues Tones

1:30-2:30 p.m.: Larry McCray

2:45-2:45 p.m.: Jason Ricci

4-5 p.m.: Victor Wainwright & the Wildroots

5:15-6:30 p.m.: The Golden State/Lone Star Revue

6:45-8 p.m.: Ronnie Baker Brookes

Between acts: Ilana Katz Katz

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow