The Buffalo-based Western New York Blues Society is looking to revive its annual festival with a dynamic show at the Hemlock Fairgrounds.
The lineup highlights a variety of blues styles and musicians’ experiences as it presents headliner Popa Chubby, along with rising teen musician Veronica Lewis, and Buffalo Music Hall of Famer Patti Parks.
The Sept. 25 concert, which begins at 1 p.m., will raise money to support Society programs that include music therapy, mentoring and education, among others. The fairground venue also allows camping to be offered.
James Shelly, who presents many blues acts at his Fanatics Pub in Lima, is on the board of directors of the Blues Society and sought to bring awareness of the society to a new audience.
“Ninety-five percent of the music I do here is blues,” said Shelly, who has also presented concerts at the Riviera Theater in Geneseo. “The Blues Society is based in Buffalo, so I saw an opportunity to build awareness out this way. I think it will be a good partnership.”
Shelly hopes the upcoming show will become an annual event.
“We’ve been doing the Crossroads Blues Festival and had an amazing year this year. Now I’m trying something different,” he said of the Blues Society show. “I want to get something going on down there.”
The concert brings together a mix of experience and style, but all rooted in the blues. Parks’ music has been described as a bluesy take on Motown, or swampy R&B, and has gained notice from the jazz world. Lewis, who graduated high school in June, is a boogie-woogie piano player praised for writing thought-provoking and humorous original songs, and performing them with the energy of early rockers such as Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. Popa Chubby is a rock guitarist influenced first by the likes of Chuck Berry, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, and Led Zeppelin, before being turned on to B.B. King, Freddy King, Albert King and Otis Rush - where he started to see the connection between them, blues, and rock ‘n’ roll.
Nursing & the blues
Patti Parks is a Buffalo native who harbored Broadway dreams before discovering the blues late in her teenage years. But she then went some 28 years without music and singing before joining with a former band mate to create the her own band around 2003.
By 2006, the seven-piece Patti Parks Band was on its way. They won the Blues Society’s Memphis Bound Competition and traveled to Memphis’ Beale Street where they represented Buffalo in a global blues competition featuring 150 bands.
Awards and acclaimed followed, including induction into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame in 2016, and has continued with the release of her latest album, “Whole Nother World,” in May. The album charted on the Billboard Blues Chart and been praised by a variety of reviewers.
“...Parks spews out James Brown’s ‘Its A Mans Man’s Man’s World’ and she’s as saucy as dry rub Memphis ribs on the sweet and sour ‘I Can’t Think.’ This lady has dirt under her nails!” wrote George W. Harris in Jazz Weekly.
Beyond music, Parks, a nurse by profession, founded “Nurs’n Blues,” an education program developed to help high-risk children at drug rehabilitation centers. The program, supported by the Blues Society, incorporates a board-certified music therapists and blues history and music to help participants express feelings and emotions, improve interactions with others, and develop healthy interpersonal relationships.
Born to boogie
Lewis, 17, was valedictorian of her high school graduation class in Haverhill, Mass. She “is a real young up-and-comer,” said Shelly, who will host Lewis in a solo show at Fanatics Pub, 7281 West Main St., Lima, on Sept. 27.
Lewis started playing piano at age six. She told the Boston Herald that she listened to all kinds of music, but kept gravitating toward blues and early rock ‘n’ roll.
“Part of it was just that boogie woogie and early rock ‘n’ roll are exciting and really fun to listen to and really fun to play,” she told the newspaper.
Lewis released her debut album, “You Ain’t Lucky,” in February. The album, which peaked at number two on the Billboard Blues Charts (and recently re-entered the chart’s top 10), features six original songs and her own contemporary twists on Louis Jordan’s “Is You Is My Baby” and Katie Webster’s “Whoo Wee Sweet Daddy.”
“Call the tunes rock or jump blues or R&B (and they are all of these things and more), they show off skills a teen shouldn’t have: Lewis sings with a sweet, booming soul voice and plays piano like Dr. John doing Jerry Lee Lewis and Hadda Brooks all at once,” wrote the Boston Herald.
In September, at the New England Music Hall of Fame’s Rhythm and Roots festival Lewis was presented with the Best Young Artist award. At the Boston Music Awards she was named Blues Artist of the Year in 2020.
Pushing the limits
Popa Chubby presents an imposing portrait: shaven head, numerous tattoos, a goatee and a New York City attitude. But he makes a variety of impressions with his music, including the pandemic-inspired “Tin Foil Hat,” released on March 31.
“We got off the road on March 12, 2020. Last show was in Key West, Florida. We barreled home in my Chevy van, 1,000 miles no stopping. It seemed the world was on the verge of shutting down,” Chubby wrote on his website. “So I was home in isolation with a bunch of guitars, drums, amps, microphones, losing my mind. I started writing songs. I wanted to make people feel better.”
“There was a never ending flow of ideas that stemmed from what was going on in America and the world,” he wrote.
The album features songs humorous, angry and political. The record, he said, was “birthed from love, desperation, fear, frustration, pain, joy, sorrow and resolution.”
“Like you, I have been pushed into the limits of my humanity by the pandemic,” he wrote. “But music, sweet music, has set me straight once again.”
Popa Chubby has forged a three-decade career in the blues that began with a stint in a punk rock band. His career, he told The Livingston County News in a 2018 interview, is the result of “being in the right place and the right time, working real hard with a modicum of luck,” he said. “The one thing that doesn’t change is that if you write great songs, people will want to hear them.”
Sharing the blues
The Blues Society of Western New York was founded in 1992. Its goal has been to preserve and support blues music through educational endeavors and promotional events.
The society’s education efforts include Blues in the Schools, which introduces blues music to students from pre-kindergarten to college. The programs are interactice and include concerts, lectures, and lessons on storytelling, lyric writing and history. Some workshops give students an opportunity to build or play musical instruments.
Events include a summertime Blues Cruise along the Buffalo River, monthly concerts, and the Memphis Bound Competition, which sends an area act to the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tenn.
For more information, go to www.wnyblues.org
A Quick Look
WHAT: Western New York Blues Society Festival, featuring the Patti Parks Band, Veronica Lewis and Popa Chubby
WHEN: Sept. 25, begins at 1 p.m.
WHERE: Hemlock Fairgrounds, 1 Fair St., Hemlock.
TICKETS: $35 in advance ($40 day of show). Available through eventbrite.com, Fanatics, and by calling Shelly at (315) 573-2411.
NOTES: No pets or outside coolers or beverages will be allowed. Beer, wine and cider will be available for purchase. For camping information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.