The first Gloucester Blues Festival drew just under 1,000 music lovers to Stage Fort Park last August.
But organizers said Wednesday they already have a higher number of tickets to this year’s second festival, which brings some of the region’s and the nation’s leading blues acts to Stage Fort this Saturday from 11 to 7 p.m. on a stage in front of Cressey’s Beach.
Bob Hastings, the former Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce chief who is one of the festival’s founders and producers, said he’s confident the Gloucester show’s reputation will continue to grow.
“Our plan is to do this every year,” Hastings said. “We have every belief that it’s going to get stronger each year.
“We get the best of the best in blues,” he added. “Blues is the foundation of all American music. It really started with blues, and we book traditional American blues artists and bands for this event.”
Hastings is joined in producing the Blues Festival by Paul Benjamin, who partnered with Hastings in launching the event last year.
Benjamin, a longtime blues enthusiast and promoter based in Rockland, Maine, produces blues festivals from Maine to Louisiana and is a past president of the National Blues Foundation based in Memphis, Tenn.
“I’ve been bringing blues to Maine since 1978 and I’ve been doing festivals for 25 years,“ Benjamin said.
“I am a blues fan first,” he explains, and although he does not perform, “I have definitely taken my hobby and turned it into a living,” he says, producing CDs and DVDs for various blues artists and managing “a couple of artists” as well.
As of this month Benjamin was elected back onto the Board of Directors of the National Blues Foundation.
“I was brought up on jazz and blues,” Benjamin said. “My parents were huge music fans. I gravitated more towards the blues realm of music.”
Hastings and Benjamin met when Hastings was the executive director of Rockland, Maine’s, Chamber of Commerce and the two worked together to put on the Rockland festival. When Hastings moved from Rockland to Gloucester to become executive director of Cape Ann’s Chamber, he said he felt a festival could help this city, too.”
With that, he gave Benjamin a call, and Benjamin, winner of an Economic Enhancement Award for producing the North Atlantic Blues Festival in Rockland and in Camden, Maine, was on board with Hastings plan to bring the blues to Gloucester.
“I have the festival experience while Paul has the Blues experience,” says Hastings, who retired from the Cape Ann Chamber in 2011. “This was just sort of a natural extension into my retirement to get involved in this festival.”
In planning last year’s first Gloucester Blues Festival, Hastings said, “I’m not sure last year if people understood the event.”
“We had to promise people that we were going to give them what we said we were,” he said, “and we did that at the 2012 (festival), the first annual. So this year is smooth sailing.”.
“After the first year,” Benjamin added, “we wanted to build on it and come back and do another one this year. We are pretty excited about it.”
The lineup promises a lot of that excitement come Saturday.
“Our rule is that if you play on our stage you don’t return for five years so that we always have fresh entertainment,” Hastings said. “This is literally the best national blues you can get.”
“I have personal relationships with most of these artists,” Benjamin said. “A lot of them have been in my home and I’ve been in their home. This year we decided to also incorporate a few acts that are from Massachusetts.”
Gracie Curran and The High Falutin’ Band, Lydia Warren and Mr. Nick and The Dirty Tricks are all Boston based and play out of Boston blues clubs.
“Gracie Curran is a powerful female vocalist and Lydia Warren is a phenomenal guitar player with a local following. Mr. Nick is a good solid harmonica player,” explains Benjamin. “We are kicking off the show with a few local regional acts and then we go back to national acts,” he adds.
Following them will be traditional blues guitarist and singer Johnny Rawls who has been nominated for the Best Male Soul Blues Artist of the Year by the Blues Foundation.
Anthony Gomes, of Canada, is next on the lineup and is, “more of a rock blues guy and a very solid act,” says Benjamin.
HAstings calls Ana Popovic, who is out of Memphis and next on the lineup, “a dynamite looking young women who sings like crazy and plays guitar like nobody’s business.”
Headlining the festival is Tommy Castro and the Painkillers. Castro has won numerous Blues Music Awards, including the 2008 and 2010 Blues Music Awards for Entertainer Of The Year.
“He will be a real crowd pleaser,” said Benjamin.
Hastings and Benjamin said they both plan to always include local businesses in this annual event as a way to support the community. This year, Cape Ann Brewing Co. will have a beer garden on site and Westport River Vineyard and Winery will join them with a wine garden.
Benjamin says that the Gloucester Blues Festival is, “bringing people into the Gloucester area which will help the local economy. As the festival grows we hope it will grow with Gloucester.”
Hastings says that this festival takes one year to plan and that next year’s planning will begin just after Saturday’s event.
“Two weeks after this festival is over we will be submitting our permit so that we can go out and book the best bands for next year,” Hastings said.
“My goal is to see this grow and make this a major event for Gloucester and its local economy and all the surrounding towns,” said Benjamin. “If things go the way we expect this weekend that will be a great step going into next year.”
Tickets for the 2nd Annual Gloucester Blues Festival are $40 at the gate for adults. A special children’s ticket is available as well for youngsters ages 6 to 12 for $5, while children under 5 will be admitted free.
The gates open Saturday at 9 a.m; for additional information visit: http://gloucesterbluesfestival.com.