Feb. 12, 2004 – Three veteran blues artists return to the territory and a gospel/R&B legend makes her first appearance in the islands Saturday night on a stage next door to the Agriculture and Food Fair for a return of the once-annual St. Croix Blues and Heritage Festival.
Mavis Staples of the famed Staple Singers and her band will open the show at 7:30 p.m. They'll be followed by Jimmy Thackery and the Drivers, Deborah Coleman and the Thrillseekers and "Queen of Boogie Woogie" Wendy DeWitt.
Thackery has been playing professionally for three decades and doing so in the Virgin Islands for two. His music blends blues/rock, urban blues, acoustic blues and "a splash of contemporary zydeco," according to a biography.
In 1972, he and harmonica player Mark Wenner formed the Nighthawks, which became one of the most popular blues groups in the country; he stayed with the group 'til 1987. His first album with the Drivers, the 1992 "Empty Arms Motel," wowed critics and became one of the top blues titles of the year. Their latest, "True Stories," came out last spring. Thackery says his idea of a good audience is one that's on its feet dancing.
Coleman, a Virginia-based guitarist, songwriter and leader singer in her band, has been nominated a number of times for W.C. Handy Awards — the Grammys of the blues biz — and is up again this year for Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year. In 2001, she won the Orville Gibson Award for Best Female Blues Guitarist, presented by the Gibson Guitar people.
Her voice, mostly low in register, ranges from gritty growl to husky smile to a sweetness that's both smoked and honey-cured. Her most recent CD, "Soul Be It!", is her first one recorded live, in 2002 at the Sierra Nevada Brewery in Chico, Calif.
DeWitt is a San Francisco Bay Area singer/piano player/songwriter into "deep blues and boogie" who has previously toured in the Virgin Islands. According to a fan who has a Web site devoted to her, she "is a melodic miracle worker — from blues to rock and roll and back to boogie woogie, those magic fingers blur like hummingbird wings and move the most jaded of souls to sweet appreciation."
She has six albums in release, the most recent a traditional-style boogie/blues CD featuring songs by her favorite influences as well as her own writing.
Staples, the former lead voice of the legendary Staple Singers gospel group, recently won standing ovations opening for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and is featured in a duet with Bob Dylan, "Gonna Change My Way of Thinking," on the new CD "Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan." She also tours in a Tribute to Mahalia Jackson.
Charlie Campbell on St. Croix is bringing the artists to the territory for both Sunday's jam and the return of his once-annual St. Croix Blues and Heritage Festival, which is set for Saturday right next door to the annual Agriculture and Food Fair.
The opening act, he said, will be the local island-inspired blues and soul group Thaddeus Toad, fronted by David James and Steve Katz.
Tickets are $20 in advance — available at GNC Endurance Sports in Sunny Isle, Solitude Store, Mile Mark Charters in Christiansted and Lost Dog Pub in Frederiksted. Admission will be $25 Saturday at the gate, which will open at 5 p.m. Children under the age of 12 are admitted free.
The festival is a presentation of Project St. Croix and Witsend Productions. For further information, call the Project St. Croix office at 773-4470.
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