Azalea City musicians and music lovers could be considered some of the most charitable individuals in the city. Each year, the calendar is filled with benefit shows for various organizations and individuals, and they are usually very well attended by those who not only love music, but also love their cause.
Celebrating its second year, The Blues & Grooves Festival is one such philanthropic event that has quickly grown in size and popularity. Every dollar collected at this event goes to the Down Syndrome Society of Mobile. In turn, the money goes to both their budget and a major fundraiser known as the Buddy Walk, which will be held at The Hank on Sat., Oct. 19.
Behind the scenes, organizers Robby and Pam Field could not be happier to see this event in its second year. When Robby met Pam, he also met her son Elijah Zade (E.Z.). Robby was quickly bitten by what he calls the “Down Syndrome Love Bug.”
“Before I met Pam and E.Z., I had not been associated with anyone with Down syndrome,” Robby said. “Pam will tell you that I fell in love with E.Z. first and then her. Then, we got married.”
Robby is a seasoned musician in his own right. Over the years, Pam has watched as he lent both his guitar and time to successful benefits around the city. Eventually, Pam asked Robby about starting a benefit of their own with the proceeds going to the Down Syndrome Society. This idea grew quickly, and local bands volunteered.
For the first installment of Blues & Grooves, The Blues Tavern acted as the host venue for the event. Blues & Grooves featured two stages that reflected the festival’s name. One stage featured some of the hottest blues acts in town. The other stage played host to local hip-hop and songwriters.
Robby and Pam chose the Malaga Inn as the venue for this year. Robby sees the move to The Malaga as a way to make the festival bigger and better and also a more family–friendly environment. However, the couple will be the first to admit that having the festival at The Blues Tavern was beneficial to their cause.
“We were amazed by the response and the amount of awareness that we were able to raise just having the event where we had it,” Robby said. “We touched people who normally wouldn’t be around at The Blues Tavern. It just made a big mark.”
The Fields are not the only ones lending their time and efforts to making sure that the Blues & Grooves Festival runs smoothly. With the exception of production, all individuals involved with the festival are participating strictly on a voluntary basis. Several councils of the Knights of Columbus will be handling food plates. LoDa restaurant Downtowners will also have a booth. Gulf Coast Blues Society President Laura Vendetti will be M.C.’ing the event alongside Brett Butler, Wesley Butler and local hip-hop artist Josh Schock. Schock will also be performing alongside his younger brother J.J. Schock.
“It’s the most important event that I could be a part of,” Schock said. Down Syndrome awareness is my life. My little brother has Down Syndrome, and he is the reason I started making music and continue to keep it clean and positive.”
It was not hard for the Fields to find bands for this year’s Blues & Grooves Festival. In fact, the two have found themselves turning away bands for months now. Ultimately, the line-up will feature 13 bands that will provide a vast spectrum of music for those in attendance.
The audience will definitely get a good taste of local blues. The Gulf Coast International Blues Challenge winners Johnny Barbato & the Lucky Doggs are on the schedule as well as Ric McNaughton Band, Lisa Mills, Meacham Motor Co. and Diedra the Blues Diva.
Musical acts such as Mob Towne Revival, Harrison McInnis Trio, Ryan Balthrop & Friends and Eric Erdman will provide the festival with a grooves infusion.
And this year’s festival is not limiting itself strictly to the blues and grooves.
Local super group DeLuxe Trio (featuring local string masters Phil Proctor, Stan Foster and Steve Varnes) and singer-songwriter Donnie Mills will bring a wave of smooth, organic sounds. Chico & Chris will bring their explosion of rock and funk that tends to whip their audiences into a fury. This year’s Blues & Grooves Festival will also feature a special performance from The Seymour Lively Band, which consists of Wet Willie members Ric Seymour and T.K. Lively. This band will provide a warm-up for Wet Willie’s performance at BayFest.
The night will end with an all-star jam featuring representatives from many of the bands. Last year’s festival provided the opportunity for bands to not only socialize but also experience each other’s sound. Robby is predicting a repeat of this vibe at this year’s festival, and many bands are already making plans to stay beyond their set.
“Ryan Balthrop and Eric Erdman both did it last year, and they had other gigs to go do after that,” said Robby. “They were so bummed out about that they cleared their schedule for the entire day and will probably be a part of the all-star jam later that night.”
“It’s always a real good time when you get to share the stage with a lot of musician friends that you don’t get to see all the time,” Balthrop said. “It’s even better when it’s helping a great cause.”
Of course, the Fields want to see this festival grow in the coming years. The momentum it has displayed since last year almost guarantees its growth.
In addition to expanding this event, the Fields would also like to organize a Blues & Grooves 5K to happen at future festivals. Robby explained that the Down Syndrome Society is quickly seeing The Blues & Grooves Festival could be a major fundraiser for the non-profit group. However, the Fields see the monetary aspect of the event to be a minor one. They want everyone to be bitten by the Down Syndrome Love Bug.
“The awareness is more important than the money,” Robby said. “If we can get more people involved and understand that people with Down syndrome are more alike than they are different.”
Band: Second Annual Blues & Grooves Festival
Date: Sun., Sept. 15 with gates at noon
Venue: The Malaga Inn, 359 Church St., www.malagainn.com
Tickets: $10 adv./ $15 at the door avail. at Downtowners, Butch Cassidy’s, The Brickyard, Praytor Reality, Toomey’s and Coastal Pawn