Maybe you’ve heard of the Memphis Blues, the Dallas Blues or the St. Louis Blues. But the Phoenixville Blues?
If the Steel City Blues Society (SCBS) has anything to do with it, Phoenixville and the Blues will be as inseparable as rock and roll.
In fact, they’re getting things started this Saturday night with a Blues Jam and Membership Party at PJ Ryan’s Pub. The party—a sort of kick-off leading up to the main event, the second annual Phoenixville Blues Festival on Sept. 10—will feature music by the Blind Chitlin Kahunas.
Members of the band, which is based in central Pennsylvania, have shared the stage with music luminaries including Bo Diddley, Tina Turner and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
SCBS was founded about a year ago by Jim DiGuiseppe and his wife, Linda, to host the Phoenixville Blues Festival and to benefit the Give the Gift of Music Foundation, which helps provide needy children with musical instruments and music scholarships. Last year, SCBS was able to present the foundation with a check for $12,000 and hopes to increase that gift this year.
Longtime fans of the Blues, the DiGuiseppes cite the bandshell in Reeves Park as the inspiration for establishing the Phoenixville Blues Festival.
“That’s what gave us the idea,” said Jim DiGuiseppe. “We’d been living in Phoenixville for about 10 years and driving by the park everyday and noticed the old bandshell. We thought ‘That would be a really neat backdrop for a blues festival.’
“Initially, we were just going to rent the bandshell and invite 100 friends and a few bands,” he continued. “But people kept expressing interest and we decided, ‘OK, let’s just do it,’” and a blues festival was born.
Phoenixville and the Blues, it turns out, are a match made in music heaven. For the first festival, the organizers expected perhaps 500 attendees. Instead 3,000 turned out.
“This year,” noted Jim DiGuiseppe, “we expect it will be even bigger and better.”
The festival will run from noon until 10 p.m., with nine mostly local bands currently scheduled to perform.
One of the most anticipated performances, however, won’t be a professional band at all, but a group of youngsters with a big talent.
“Last year,” Jim DiGuiseppe said, “Erin Riley, who heads Rock & Roll After School at The Franklin Commons and who started the Give the Gift of Music Foundation, contacted us and wanted some of her students to perform at the festival. We told her we didn’t want it to be a variety show, but she sent me a YouTube link to them performing and it blew me away.”
The group, then called A Churning Urn of Burning Funk, performed early in the day last year, when only few hundred people had arrived. “But at the end of the day,” Jim DiGuiseppe said, “we had some time left and they played an encore to around 3,000 people. It brought the house down.”
This year, renamed Riley Road, they’re getting an entire set at 5 p.m.
While SCBS currently exists primarily to host the Phoenixville Blues Festival, it has big plans for the future including organizing used instrument drives and promoting a “Blues in the Schools” program.
This Saturday’s event, which will run from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., is both a festival preview (this year’s poster will be unveiled by artist Sean Halloran) and a membership drive.
SCBS currently has about 25 members, but is hoping that the Blues Jam will inspire more people to sign up. Tickets to the party cost $10 per person, but are free for members. With a membership to SCBS running a mere $25, organizers are hoping Saturday’s guests won’t think twice about joining.