Since 1992 Kure Beach has hosted a seafood and music festival every fall at the Fort Fisher Air Force Recreation Area (118 Riverfront Road). What started as a gathering of military families and their guests has transformed into an annual party, drawing in 5,000 people to Pleasure Island. The local chamber hosts the event to extend the summer season’s economic impact, by filling area hotels, restaurants, bars, and retail shops over the weekend of the Pleasure Island Seafood, Blues and Jazz Festival (Oct. 10-11).
Greg Reynolds, executive director of the Pleasure Island Chamber, says each year they take a poll to find out recommendations of international names to headline the concert. Over the past five years they’ve stepped up their game by bringing in big-name acts, like Leon Russell, Greg Allman, Buddy Guy, and The Robert Cray Band. October 10 will welcome the hoodoo-voodoo stylings of Dr. John and the Nite Trippers.
“He did play the area a few years back and was able to sell out Greenfield Lake Amphitheater,” Reynolds tells. “We monitor acts such as Dr. John and see what the draw is and the ability of name recognition to fill our event, for all ages. [It] becomes very important to our demographic.”
Dr. John was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2011 and has scored six Grammys throughout his 50-plus-year career. His brand of rock includes the kaleidoscopic sounds of blues, pop, jazz, zydeco, and boogie-woogie. “Dr. John has recorded over 20 studio and live albums (still best known for his ‘Right Place Wrong Time’ hit), while recording with such greats as Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger,” Reynolds says.
Dr. John—né Malcolm John “Mac” Rebennack—founded his stage persona in L.A., in honor of tipping his hat to his Louisiana heritage. He credits his name for his great-great-great grandfather’s involvement in running a voodoo brothel in the 1860s with a character named “Dr. John.” Essentially, he was the competition of one Mrs. Marie Laveau—a well-known New Orleans voodoo practitioner (yes, the one fictionalized in “American Horror Story: Coven”).
After working as a session musician for Sonny and Cher, Frank Zappa and Canned Heat, the musician Dr. John branched out on his own rockstar journey. He released “Gris-Gris” in 1968, filled with rhythms and chants combing through voodoo heritage. Officially called “Dr. John, the Night Tripper”—and later on “Dr. John Creaux”—his shows often consisted of voodoo rituals and ceremonies onstage. Throughout his varied career, he’s collaborated with the likes of Allan Touissant (“In the Right Place,” “Desitively Bonnaroo”—where the famed Tennessee festival took its name), Carly Simon and James Taylor (he played keys on their hit “Mockingbird”), Neil Diamond, Ricky Lee Jones, Van Morrison, and many others.
Opening for him on Saturday will be Kara Grainger, a blues musician from Sydney, Australia. “The slide guitar combined with soulful vocals will leave you wanting more,” Reynolds promises. He carefully chose her to add to the diversity of the music offered at the festival. In fact, Reynolds thinks back to the nostalgia of concerts he grew up watching, in hopes of filling out the bill with dynamic sounds.
“I wanted to recapture what I felt in the 1960s and 1970s, by bringing opening acts that were up-and-coming (or have never been to this area)—acts that were as good (or sometimes better) than the well-known headliners,” he explains. “For instance, I saw Yes open for Ten Years After; then I saw The Eagles open for Yes the next year. I had Linda Ronstadt open for The Earl Scruggs Revue; I even saw Jimi Hendrix open for The Monkees.”
The Pleasure Island Chamber will be bringing back the two-time Grammy nominee on Oct. 11. Copeland opened for the Robert Cray Band last year; however, in 2015, she will headline the Sunday show.
“She stole the show at last year’s festival,” Reynolds tells. “The City of Chicago has annointed her as the new ‘Queen of the Blues.’ She has been described as a ‘ball of fire vocalist with a voice that’s part Memphis, part Chicago and all woman … devastatingly powerful.’”
Opening for Copeland will be Texas duo Smokin’ Joe Kubek and Bnois King. They’ve played together for 20 years with jazz and soul comprising their sound. Also playing on Sunday will be Adrian Duke on piano. Plus, a slew of local and regional musicians will take over the stages throughout the weekend.
Nine food vendors, six snack vendors and three wine vendors will be serving food and drinks. The Air Force base will be selling Budweiser products and mini-bottles as well.
“Festival posters and T-shirts with the winning artwork by local artist Robert S. Knowles will be for sale, too,” Reynolds continues. “Robert is a three-time winner of our festival poster contest and will be onsite to sign and personalize purchased posters.”
They will have an Arts and Wine Garden set up in The Beach House, which sits adjacent to the jazz stage and overlooks the Cape Fear River. In the Crafter’s Village, vendors will display and sell wares, from jewelry to painted furniture, to wind chimes and more. And the event is kid friendly. A Kidz Fantazy Zone will have bounce houses, laser tag, face-painting, Home Depot workshops, a No Sleeves Magic Show, and live children’s music from Mr. Mark.