The Mystic Blues Festival debuts

James Cotton headlines Friday night's lineup. CHRISTOPHER DURST

Most artists are dreamers. It's part of the gig - and sometimes you reach for the sky and sometimes you need trusted compatriots to gently pull you back to earth.

Last summer, on a drive back from Massachusetts, where he and his wife, Amy, had gone to a music event to see blues legend James Cotton, guitarist Chris Leigh opened his mouth and out popped an idea.

"What if WE had a blues festival?" he suggested. "We could bring in touring headliners and also spotlight all these great regional musicians we have. It would be a really cool thing for the area."

Leigh says his wife is universally regarded as the practical one in their marital equation. (Together they own and operate Niantic's String Theory School of Music.) But if he expected her to arbitrarily shoot down his admittedly ambitious and outta-the-blue(s) festival idea - he was happily surprised.

"She actually was all for it," Leigh laughs.

Now, it's almost a year later and, as he speaks, less than a week until The First Annual Mystic Blues Festival gets underway.

"In fact, Amy's done so much work that I could never have done by myself. And so many others have worked tirelessly to make it happen - and in turn we could never have done it without them," he says.

On Friday through Sunday, on several indoor and outdoor venues in iconic spots in Mystic and Westerly, over 40 national and regional blues artists will perform - including Cotton, who's the fest's Grand Marshal. Other headliners over the weekend include Jaimoe's Jasssz Band, James Montgomery, Jim Weider and PRoJECT PERCoLAToR, Matt "Guitar" Murphy, Debbie Davies, Christine Ohlman & Rebel Montez, Johnny Nicholas and Hell Bent, and Roomful of Blues.

Some of the favorite local and regional artists participating are Jeff Pitchell and Texas Flood, Ryan Hartt and the Blue Hearts, the Chris Leigh Band, Sugar Ray & the Bluetones, Al Copley, John Fries, Josi Davis, Dan Stevens, Chris MacKay and the Toneshifters, Brandt Taylor, Ms. Marci & the Lovesick Hounds, and Greg Piccolo & Heavy Juice.

One important concept was to hold the event at a variety of locations rather than just one venue.

"The idea was that multiple locations, like at a film festival, means we can showcase more artists and, just as importantly, showcase the communities," Leigh says. "Beyond the music, visitors can exerience the amazing shops and restaurants that Mystic and Westerly have to offer."

Headliner venues will require individual general admission tickets: The Knickerbocker Cafe, the Olde Mistick Village Art Cinemas,and the Mystic Shipyard West. (Parking for Shipyard shows is at Fitch high school; shuttles will run to and from the venue.)

Designated Host Venues have free admission. Included in Mystic are the Captain Daniel Packer Inne, the Harp and Hound, La Luna, Mystic Boathouse, Olde Mistick Village, the Steak Loft, and Voodoo Grille. Also, the Octagon Steakhouse (Groton), the Dog Watch Cafe (Stonington), and the Bridge Restaurant (Westerly). (See mysticbluesfestival.com for a comprehensive schedule and ticket prices.)

There will also be vendors offering refreshment and merchandise throughout.

"Across the board, as first-timers, we've tried our best to create an event that will spotlight the artists and their contributions, and to make it fun for visitors. Also, we wanted to give back to the community, as well," he says.

In that context, the festival benefits the Center for Home Hospice Care in Norwich and Home & Hospice Care of Rhode Island.

"Giving to the hospice groups only makes sense," Leigh says. "The blues are all about dealing with the ups and downs of life. You persevere through the bad times and celebrate the good."

For more advance coverage of the First Mystic Blues Festival, see Friday's Daybreak section.

First Annual Mystic Blues Festival, 5 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, various venues throughout Mystic, Westerly, Stonington and Groton; $42.25 Fri. and Sun., $52.50 Sat. at Mystic Shipyard stage (tickets for Shipyard must be purchased in advance); $25 Sat. and Sun. at Olde Mistick Village Art Cinemas stage; $42.50 Fri.-Sun. at Knickerbocker Cafe stage; several free show at various venues; mysticbluesfestival.com.

Roomful of Blues performs Sunday.
Roomful of Blues performs Sunday.
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