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17th Annual Cape Fear Blues Festival
Fri., 7/27 through Sun., 7/29
Downtown ILM
Free to $49, tix to all events:

Back in its 17th year, the Cape Fear Blues Society’s annual Cape Fear Blues Festival will once again bring together the best bands from the area for a soulful summer weekend on the river. From July 27th through 29th, blues fans are invited to experience an impressive lineup of touring artists, regional performers, and talented local musicians.

Unlike most traditional festivals in the port city, the three-day festival draws people to the downtown waterfront and allows attendees to escape the summer heat while enjoying the entertainment at Wilmington’s premier music venues. The Soapbox Laundro-Lounge and Rusty Nail will host a variety of top local blues artists throughout the weekend. In addition to live concerts, the celebration also features a blues workshop, an all-day blues jam, and the fan-favorite Blues Cruise aboard the Henrietta III riverboat.

The festivities officially begin on Friday at 5:30 p.m. when Susan Savia performs on the riverboat dock (Water St. at Dock St.) just before attendees board the Henrietta III for the Cape Fear Blues Cruise (boards at 6:30 p.m.; departs at 7:30 p.m.). The boat will churn down the Cape Fear River featuring three bands on three decks, and three cash bars with heavy appetizers. As always, the live blues will roll out until the sun goes down.

This year’s cruise features the gritty and soulful sounds of festival favorites Elliott and The Untouchables on the main deck. Above that, Wilmington’s own Dynamic Therm-O-Tones will be belting out their dance-able rhythm and blues while guitarist, harpist and songwriter Randy McQuay II will entertain on the atrium level. Advance tickets are $49.
The Post-Cruise Party sails on until the wee hours at Rusty Nail (1310 South 5th Street, 910-251-1888) beginning at 9 p.m. with headliners Lawyers, Guns and Money, past winners of the Cape Fear Blues Challenge.

On Saturday a free blues workshop for all ages will take place at Finkelstein Music (6 S. Front St.) starting at 11 a.m. This year’s featured artist is Elliott New, frontman of local group The Untouchables and guitar virtuoso whose style ranges from gritty Chicago boogie to swampy Delta blues to Texas shuffles to West Coast jumpin’ blues. New will demonstrate his technique, talk about his influences and perform some of his own tunes for the class.

At 1 p.m., The Rusted Rails will perform an energetic set under the tent at Rusty Nail. Beginning at 8 p.m., The Soapbox Laundro-Lounge (255 N. Front Street, 910-251-8500) plays host to this year’s headline act: Li’l Ronnie and the Grand Dukes. Ronnie and the band incorporate elements of 50s R&B, soul, vintage rock ‘n’ roll and jazz into their unique blend of American roots music. Tickets for Li’l Ronnie are $10 in advance or $12 at the door.

Meanwhile at Rusty Nail, local blues favorites the Chickenhead Blues Band will be playing deep into the night, from 9 p.m. until 2 a.m., for which the full show title gives all the explanation needed: “Bop ‘til You Drop: An All-Night Blues Party with the Chickenhead Blues Band, New Orleans Edition.”

Chickenhead Blues are known to serve up a mix of classic, Chicago and Mississippi Delta blues with their own spin on it. Needless to say, frontman Rick Tobey has quite a history with CFBF; the three-time Cape Fear Blues Challenge champion first performed at the festival in 2004 and has played nearly every year since.

For this year’s festival, Tobey has cooked up something special for his fans. He has invited three of his talented musician friends from New Orleans—Chris Young, Roland Fangue, and Ricardo Baerga—to come up and play the festival with him. Jamming together since 1977 when they met in New Orleans, Tobey has jet set back and forth from North Carolina to Louisiana to perform with his longtime music partners.

“We have a long history together, and we have that magical music connection which transcends distance and time,” Tobey says. “It’s going to be a unique and special show.”

However, for the first time, the guys are making the commute to Wilmington for the CFBF. “It’s not that often in your lifetime as a musician that you hook up with people with whom your musical connection is so deep that you’ll always make the plight to get together,” Tobey says.

Tobey adds that for those who would like to see both Li’l Ronnie and the Chickenhead Blues Band on Saturday night, Chickenhead Blues’ second set will begin at Rusty Nail directly after Li’l Ronnie is finished rocking the stage at Soapbox.

The final day of the festival begins at noon on Sunday with the free All-Day Blues Jam under the tent at Rusty Nail (1310 S. 5th Street, 910-251-1888). At 6 p.m. is the Finkelstein Music Guitar Giveaway—the prize being a Gretsch guitar. Raffle tickets cost $1 each with proceeds supporting the projects and programs of the Cape Fear Blues Society. Raffle tickets are available at Finkelstein Music and The Rusty Nail. The party continues at 7 p.m. with an indoor Jazz and Blues Jam with Benny Hill at Rusty Nail.

Tickets for all events can be purchased online at as well as

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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