‘They’re all main acts’ 2019 Handy Festival artist lineup announced

By Douglas White – The Henderson Gleaner

HENDERSON, Ky. – The music lineup for the 29th annual W.C. Handy Blues and Barbecue Festival was announced on Monday, and it offers four consecutive days of stellar entertainment at absolutely no cost.

“They’re all main acts when it comes down to it,” said longtime Handy Fest music booker (and local attorney) Dorin Luck.

“One of the features of our festival is that the people who play at 2 o’clock in the afternoon on Saturday are well-known musicians with a following” just like the acts at 7 p.m. on Friday or Saturday.


Luck said it’s hard to single out top acts since they are all of such high caliber. But when pressed, he did note a few acts in this year’s schedule.

One of them was Chicago Plays The Stones. It’s made up of top-notch Chicago blues musicians like Ronnie Baker Brooks and Billy Branch — and they play lots of Rolling Stones music with their own twist on it.

“They’ll do a group of Stones songs and then they’ll do Chicago blues songs. So it’s both,” Luck said.

“I’m pretty proud of that one. It’s going to be a lot of fun … I don’t see them on anybody else’s lineup, so it’s going to be a cool one.”

Luck said it might be tempting for some to mark this down as a bit of a novelty act, but he said that would be a mistake.

“It’s all great Chicago blues musicians, so it’s going to be a really great show.”

Acoustic acts

Taking a step back toward the traditional, there will be acoustic blues performers at 5 p.m. on Wednesday and 3 p.m. on Saturday, with Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton and Jontavious Willis, respectively.

“Both of those gentlemen are young guys, and they are both huge in the traditional blues sound. “Blind Boy” Paxton, he’ll do some piano and some other things and I think Jontavious will probably just play the guitar,” said Luck. “But I think it’s healthy to see this tradition of acoustic blues musicians be carried forward and I’m excited to be putting that before the Handy crowd.”

Zydeco Night early kick off

“We doing something a little different this year. We’re going to put at least an hour of music ahead of Zydeco Night. We’re bringing in a gentleman called Ben Prestage. He’s a one-man band, literally, I mean he’s got the full set-up there.”

Luck said you can call Prestage’s sound country blues. “That would probably fit. I think the distinction between country and blues might just be in how you wail. But it will be country blues.”

Zydeco night on Thursday always draws a big, enthusiastic crowd, Luck noted, and “I think it’s healthy to expand that night.”

Prestage will be followed Thursday evening by Dwayne Dopsie & The Zydeco Hellraisers and longtime Handy Fest favorite Chubby Carrier & The Bayou Swamp Band.

‘Voice of an angel’

Ruthie Foster is a Texas-born artist with a long list of awards, including the 2018 Koko Taylor Award for Traditional Blues Female Artist of the Year.

She sings and plays a wide mix of music, including gospel, blues, jazz, folk and soul and has been compared to both Bonnie Raitt and Aretha Franklin.

Brian Bishop, this year’s Handy Festival chairman, pulled up a YouTube video of her singing a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” and said it “absolutely give me chills … she’s got the voice of an angel.”

He said they’ve requested Foster sing that song this year during her Handy Festival performance.

Southern Hospitality

Southern Hospitality will close out the 2019 festival Saturday night. “This is really a trio of people,” said Luck, all accomplished musicians on their own: Victor Wainwright, JP Soars and Damon Fowler

“The combination of these three is great, they play all kinds of different stuff,” he said, and will be bringing a horn section with them for this show.

“So you’ll be getting a group of players up there all who play together but also play on their own, and then you’ve got a horn section, so that’ll be amazing.”

To check out the other acts — there’s too many to cover here — see the schedule running with this story.

Making it possible

Festival Chairman Bishop said the festival’s overall budget is about $190,000 —  and almost all of that is spent booking the best musical acts possible.

“That’s why our sponsors and all of our volunteers are so important,” he said. “We just couldn’t do this and keep it free without them.”

Henderson Tourist Commission Executive Director Abby Dixon said she especially wants to thank presenting sponsor Field & Main Bank for their support over the years.

As usual, this year’s artists will perform on stage in Audubon Mill Park on the Henderson riverfront.

The 2019 festival runs from Wednesday, June 12, through Saturday, June 15. (The Handy Happy Hours and Handy Lunch Breaks will start Monday, June 10. Exact times and locations for those events will be announced later.)

The always-popular Zydeco Night red beans and rice dinner will take place on Thursday, June 13.

W.C. Handy Blues & Barbecue Festival was awarded a Top 20 Events of the Southeast by the Southeast Tourism Society in 2017 and 2018. The festival also won Kentucky Living Magazine’s “Best Music Festival in Kentucky” for the past three years.

The festival is one of the longest running free blues music festivals in the nation.

A more detailed schedule of all the week’s events will be published in May, and will be made available to download for free online at www.HendersonKy.org.

The festival’s new website is under construction. More information will be made available soon at visit www.handyblues.org.

The 2019 Handy Fest music lineup includes:


3 p.m. – To be announced

5 p.m. – Jerron ‘Blind Boy’ Paxton

7 p.m. – Jonathon Long

9 p.m. – Vanessa Collier


4 p.m. –  Ben Prestage

5:30 p.m. – Dwayne Dopsie & The Zydeco Hellraisers

8 p.m.  – Chubby Carrier & The Bayou Swamp Band


Noon –  Blues 4U

3 p.m.  –   Gough-Martin Blues Band & Tramp

5 p.m.  –  Keeshea Pratt Band

7 p.m.  –  Coco Montoya

9 p.m.  –  Chicago Plays The Stones


Noon  –  Harris James

2 p.m.  –  Ben Prestage

3 p.m.  –  Jontavious Willis

5 p.m.  –  Altered Five Blues Band

7 p.m.  –  Ruthie Foster

9 p.m.  –  Southern Hospitality

Photo by: Riccardo Piccirillo

This story was originally posted on The Gleaner website. You can view it here: https://www.thegleaner.com/story/news/2019/04/08/2019-handy-festival-artist-lineup-announced/3395538002/

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