(TOPEKA, KS) — For the fourth year in a row, the Topeka Blues Society will present a stellar line-up of internationally-renowned artists at its Spirit of Kansas Blues Festival at Lake Shawnee, Reynolds Lodge, 3315 SW Tinman Circle in Topeka on Thursday, July 4th. There is no admission charge for the festival, which will start at noon and present continuous music between two stages until 9 pm. The traditional fireworks spectacular will occur after dark.
The Homemade Jamz Blues Band, composed of three siblings and their father from Tupelo, Mississippi, kicks off the event. Homemade Jamz has been attracting international attention since its momentous second-place finish at the 2007 International Blues Festival in Memphis. Now just 14 years old, drummer Taya Perry will be joined by her 18-year-old brother Kyle on bass and 21-year-old Brian on guitar. Father Renaud lends his harmonica and song-writing skills to the group and works with his sons to handcraft car parts into slick, blues-worthy musical instruments.
John Nemeth and his band take over the main stage next. Nemeth is a familiar name to area blues fans thanks to his frequent performances at Knucklehead’s in Kansas City and Uncle Bo’s Blues Bar in Topeka. He has been nominated for multiple Blues Music Awards for his soaring vocals and inspired harmonica playing. His four-octave range enables him to cross from blues to soul and back again.
Every year, German label Ruf Records puts together a touring group of its artists called the “Blues Caravan” which then performs at festivals all over the world. This year’s Ninth Annual Blues Caravan, fresh off a five-week tour of Europe and Australia, features British singer and guitarist Joanne Shaw Taylor, Nashville-based artist Bart Walker, and rhythm section CJ Wilder on bass and Austin Curcuruto on drums.
Taylor, the only female on the festival bill this year, is more than capable of holding her own. Since moving to Texas, she has perfected her brand of hard rocking blues and recently played lead guitar for Annie Lennox at the Diamond Jubilee Concert for Queen Elizabeth II. Walker earned the coveted Gibson Guitarist Award at the 2012 International Blues Challenge as well as capturing a second-place finish in that year’s band competition. He has been touring steadily ever since and just released his new CD in March, Waiting on Daylight.
Zac Harmon headlines the main stage this year. A native of Jackson, Mississippi, Harmon won the 2004 International Blues Challenge and the 2006 Blues Music Award for Best New Artist. He has entertained U.S. Troops stationed in Iraq, Kuwait, Italy, and Egypt. When interviewed by Blues411 about his latest recording last November, the self-released Music is Medicine, Harmon said, “I just try to do good music and hope that somebody gets it. I don’t try to play thirty-two bars of guitar solo or try to write about drinking or gambling just because I think that’s what a Blues audience wants to hear. You have got to give people something to chew on. Something that expresses how they feel. That’s how it all started anyway.”
On the alternate stage, Kansas artists – all local favorites – will play the Blues. The Josh Vowell Band has represented both the Topeka and Wichita Blues Societies at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. The Kentucky Gentlemen, comprised of Aaron Underwood and Mitch King, is a traditional blues duo who represented the Wichita Blues Society in the solo/duo division of IBC this year. The four-piece Back Porch Blues Band from Topeka has been playing gigs in eastern Kansas and the Kansas City area for over a decade.