Bernard Allison , son of the late bluesman Luther Allison will be one the the artists performing at the Bourbon Street Bluesfest this weekend.
(Photo: Courtesy of Lisa Gray)
Bill Nutt, Correspondent Published 10:47 a.m. ET May 18, 2017 | Updated 9:08 a.m. ET May 19, 2017
Music aficionados with long memories may recall trekking to the Fields at Waterloo in Allamuchy to hear Bob Dylan, Bob Weir, the Allman Brothers, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and other rockers who owe their sound, in part, to the blues.
The concert field has been closed for more than a decade. But this weekend, the blues is coming back to Waterloo.
The Bourbon Street Blues Fest, which started as a daylong event in Lebanon Borough, is celebrating its 10th anniversary at Waterloo. Saturday and Sunday, the field will echo with the sounds of such artists as Robert Cray and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.
Bernard Allison (son of the late guitarist Luther Allison) and the band Bonerama are also on the bill. Billy Hector, Bob Lanza and the Above Ground Blues Band are among the local acts that have a following in the greater New Jersey area.
The move to Waterloo is the latest step in the evolution of the Bourbon Street Blues Fest, according to John Kennedy of Lebanon-based Point Mountain Entertainment.
SEE ALSO: State officials like the sound of blues in Waterloo
“We had nine wonderful, successful years in Lebanon,” said Kennedy, who is co-producer and co-promoter of the event with his business partner, Greg Starr. “We wanted to do something special for the 10th anniversary and Waterloo is the perfect place.”
As part of the preparations for the festival, the original stage on the site has been replaced, and Point Mountain Entertainment is arranging for a new sound system.
“We’ve always wanted to go to two days,” added Kennedy. “When we heard that the State Park Service (which controls the Fields at Waterloo) was looking to bring music back to the concert field, we knew that this was a great opportunity.”
In addition, this year’s festival will offer a Blues Heritage stage sponsored by WBGO radio station in Newark, with musicians Mike Esposito and Robert Ross playing solo sets between the main stage acts on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
“The idea is that they will perform and talk about the history of the blues,” said Kennedy. “We want people to walk away from this having learned something.”
The event’s name is not a reference to the fabled thoroughfare in New Orleans. When the festival was first held, the main sponsor was Bourbon Street Wine and Liquors in Lebanon. The name stuck.
Kennedy noted that bringing the blues back to Waterloo is particularly appropriate. The first concert held at the field was a performance on July 4, 1977, by Muddy Waters, arguably the greatest male blues singer of all time.
Tradition is important to the blues, according to Bernard Allison, who traced his appreciation for the music to his father. Before his death in 1997, Luther Allison played with a who’s who of bluesmen, including Howlin’ Wolf and James Cotton.
“I grew up with all that music, being the baby of the family,” said Bernard Allison. “I carry that with me, with some gospel, some funk, some R&B. But I pretty much always knew I’d play the blues. I wanted to do what my dad did.”
Still, Luther Allison encouraged Bernard to hone his own sound. “He told me to go out and be me. He said, ‘You have Allison blood, but you have to be who you are.’ ”
Allison said he is looking forward to the Blues Fest for the chance to play and also for the opportunity to meet some friends and fellow musicians. He noted that the last time he saw Kenny Wayne Shepherd, for example, was more than five years ago.
“We really appreciate the invitation to perform in New Jersey,” Allison said. “It’s a chance to do what we love to do.”
Kennedy said he and Starr hope that the Bourbon Street Blues Fest will have found a long-term home at the Fields at Waterloo. “We have a beautiful site. We have a great event,” he said. “Our goal is to make this a destination for music lovers.”