An all-star lineup of blues greats is coming to Bold Point Park Saturday, August 13 when the Backroads Blue Festival rolls into East Providence. Leading the charge is Kenny Wayne Shepherd, who organized the tour featuring blues legend Buddy Guy and recent Grammy Award winner Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, who, at age 21, has taken the music world by storm.

I spoke to Shepherd last week to learn more about the tour.

“Back in 2007, I put out a documentary film that was critically acclaimed and won a few awards,” said Shepherd. “There was also a live album included called 10 Days Out: Blues from the Backroads, so this tour is an extension of that, we’re kind of branding that idea, ‘Backroads Blues Festival.’”

Shepherd recalled the “blues revue” style tours that were popular in the past. “When I was a kid, I always looked forward to the blues festival that was traveling around with B.B. King.  I saw the hottest people in blues, I saw B.B, I saw Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, Etta James, the list goes on and on.”

“The goal of the project was originally about keeping the blues artists today out there in the forefront in front of an audience, helping them get more exposure and providing fans of this music a unique opportunity to hear some cool music,” he said. “This is the inaugural year our intent is to have it be an annual touring blues festival.”

The three acts he’s lined up span the generations of modern electric blues.

“You have Buddy, who by all accounts is the modern day ‘King of the Blues,’ he’s got the direct link to that generation where Chicago Blues music just exploded, with Howlin’ Wolf and all those guys. I’m kind of the next generation, then you have Kingfish who is part of the up-and-coming generation. We represent the three eras of modern blues music,” Shepherd explained.

Blues artists tend to respect the blues tradition, as well as the elder statesmen in the genre. Even though it’s his tour, Shepherd will take the stage after opener Kingfish, “It’s only appropriate that Buddy will be the headliner,” he acknowledged.  

Blues is an American tradition, a part of our history and heritage, yet not as popular as other musical genres. Shepherd shared his thoughts on how to increase appreciation for the blues.

“I’ve always tried to spread the word about blues music and other artists,” he noted. “As people in my generation are getting older we have a responsibility to encourage the next generation and give them opportunities to expand their platform in their fan base and help grow their careers. That’s what was done for me by people like B.B.”

“There’s always an audience for blues music. It’s going to have surges in popularity, as it has done over the years. This festival will be a big part of keeping the genre relevant, keeping people aware that there are musicians out there doing it, and giving people cool opportunities to come and see some of the best of the music,” he added.

Besides an active touring schedule, Shepard has been busy preparing for new releases later this year.

“We’re slated to release some music in celebration of the 25th anniversary of my second album, Trouble Is, we have some new music related to that, and a documentary film about the making of the album. I also have a new studio album that we recorded when Covid shut down everything, that will come out early next year.”

Shepherd was a teenage guitar prodigy and has had a successful career, even though at age 45, he’s young by blues standards.

“I’ve had a lot of highlights in my career I’m a very blessed and lucky person in that regard. Playing with all these people like B.B. and so many of my heroes over the years, that’s cool, but what’s really been special to me are the personal relationships that have come from that, beyond just jamming on a couple of songs on stage. The actual personal interactions and relationships that have developed off the stage are really what’s been most significant to me.”

The Backroads Blues Festival hits Bold Point Park in East Providence Saturday, August 13 at 6PM. For tickets and more, click here.

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Ken Abrams

Lifestyle Editor Ken Abrams writes about music and more for What'sUpNewp, Providence Monthly, SO RI, and The Bay. He DJ's "The Kingston Coffeehouse" Tuesday nights, 6-9 PM on WRIU 90.3 FM.