Beacon Hill Blues Festival

It's all about the blues this weekend when a lineup of Rogue Valley musicians present a full day of down-home roots, traditional blues, West Coast R&B and jump-style blues at the annual Beacon Hill Blues Festival in Ashland.

"Last year was the first blues fest at Beacon Hill," says David Pinsky, who fronts the Rhythm Kings on guitar, harmonica and vocals. He's also president of the newly formed Ashland Blues Society.

"We didn't know what to expect, but about 150 people came out and had a great time."

Along with the Rhythm Kings, this year's event will feature solo guitarist Pete Herzog, the Main Street Blues Band and Broadway Phil and the Shouters. There also will be food vendors, a beer garden, CDs and T-shirts.

There's room for about 400 or 500 people at the festival, according to Pinsky, and residents of Beacon Hill Lane have pitched in to help with security, parking, chairs and canopies. To get there, follow Highway 66 from Ashland past Emigrant Lake and turn right on Old Siskiyou Highway. Travel 31/2 miles and take another right on Beacon Hill Lane. There will be lots of signs.

The 2009 blues festival grew from plans for an outdoor blues jam session, and local bands and musicians volunteered to perform. "The bands are getting paid this year," says Pinsky. "If it is as successful as we hope it will be, we'll get headliners to play. We're taking it one festival at a time."

The Ashland Blues Society was founded in early 2009. Pinsky says that with all of the great blues players living in the Rogue Valley, there should be a forum for the blues idiom in Southern Oregon. "I thought the best way would be to create a blues society and hold events so that like-minded people — people who love the blues — could get together. So I asked Charles Tobey for some space at Alex's and put up flyers, and all of these people showed up."

Regional players such as Terry Erdmann, Hawkeye Herman, Charlie Chase and Dave Vestneys shared ideas and perspectives to help form the new blues society, Pinsky says.

"It's boiled down into a solid board of directors who work well together and make things happen."

In March, the Ashland Blues Society became federally recognized as a nonprofit organization. The Beacon Hill Blues Festival is its biggest fundraising event. Proceeds will benefit the organization's programs, such as Blues in the Schools — concerts for elementary students — and its monthly blues jams and blues classes held at the Ashland Community Center.

In May, the blues society joined The Blues Foundation, an organization that sponsors the International Blues Challenge each year in Memphis, Tenn.

The Ashland Blues Society will hold its own blues competition, the Road to Memphis Challenge, the second weekend in September at Donnelly's Pub in Medford. There will be several categories in the competition — blues group and solo or duo. The winners will represent the Ashland Blues Society at the annual International Blues Challenge, Pinsky says. See for information about entering. "We're working hard to make this organization work," Pinsky says.

Admission to the festival is $10 at the gate, and $2 is refundable if you become a member of the Ashland Blues Society.

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