Festival guest Joan Osbourne produced fellow guests the Holmes Brothers' latest release.
For Santa Cruz Blues Festival co-founder Bill Welch, putting together the lineup each year is part alchemy and part music science. He’s always loved booking acts at the festival who have some kind of history together, whether the audience is aware of it or not. “We try to book a headliner, and then complement it with some stuff that works well, and then some things that are going to make it really interesting. That’s kind of a wacky theme I’ve had over the years,” he says.
This year, of course, one of the main themes was the festival’s 20 years, and he devoted an entire day to it. “Everyone on Sunday has played the festival before,” he says. “That’s our big party day.”
That includes headlining guitar star Jonny Lang; Texas blues-rockers Los Lonely Boys; Chicago blues legend Elvin Bishop, who teams up with harpist James Cotton; festival poster boys Coco Montoya and Jimmy Thackery; and blues-gospel act the Holmes Brothers. The Holmes Brothers just put out an album produced by Joan Osbourne, who performs on Saturday (and has her own blues album, as well), thus creating another connection. Headlining Saturday are the Doobie Brothers, who Welch has wanted to bring to the festival for years. He booked two of his festival favorites for Saturday, too: Los Lobos(of whom he says, “They’re the chameleons of the music business to me. They can do anything well. There’s so talented, and so crazy too”) and Tommy Castro. Also performing Saturday is the up-and-coming Big Sam’s Funky Nation, paying tribute to the huge influence the New Orleans sound has had at the festival with acts like Trombone Shorty, Dr. John and the Neville Brothers over the years. (For more on this year's lineup, click here.)
One sad note was the passing of Michael Burks, who was set to perform with Montoya and Thackery, but who passed away this month from a heart attack at age 54. “I talked to Coco and Jimmy,” says Welch. “We’re not going to replace him. But we are going to do a little tribute.”
SANTA CRUZ BLUES FESTIVAL
Saturday, May 26 and Sunday, May 27, 11am-7pm
Aptos Village Park