Mystic Blues Festival kicks off

Blues legend James Cotton headlines Sunday.
Blues legend James Cotton headlines Sunday.

Neophyte listeners can perhaps be forgiven if they think the typical blues artist was born in a Mississippi shotgun shack, smells like barbecue and spilled whiskey, and can only speak via bon mots such as, "Well, I woke up this morning" or "Lord, I got to weep and moan."

Or maybe not.

"In 'Poetics,' Aristotle came up with the cathartic principal, in which the idea was to create a play so moving that the audience would experience catharsis through the tragedy," says James Montgomery, the blues harp legend whose band performs Saturday at the second annual Mystic Blues Festival. "Blues artists have a big connection to that idea. Catharsis equals therapy - and virtually every blues musician had a moment of catharsis when it all hits them. The blues aren't a choice. It's a way of life and, yes, it's therapeutic."

A Newport resident and Boston University graduate, Montgomery knoweth of what he speaks. In addition to a long solo career and five years in the Johnny Winter Band, he's played with an entire galaxy of blues and rock superstars from Junior Wells, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy and James Cotton to Doctor John, Bonnie Raitt, Gregg Allman, Peter Wolf and Kid Rock.

"When (Mystic Blues Festival founders) Chris and Amy Leigh called with the idea of doing this event, I thought it was a perfect fit and a great spot to build a blues enclave," Montgomery says. "Mystic is the perfect, quaint New England town - and at the same time, New England in general is a hotbed of blues. You literally have to go to New Orleans or Chicago to find a blues community on this scale. Mystic is the perfect demographic for this. There are plenty of people between 30 and 55 in a tourist destination. They have some money to spend and enjoy live entertainment. That's the blues demographic."

Though this is only the sophomore presentation of the Mystic Blues Festival, the event enjoyed a very successful first year, and the three-day fest, running Friday through Sunday in the Mystic Shipyard, boasts a more-than-competitive roster of regional and national acts. Headliners include Johnny Winter, James Cotton, Montgomery, Jaimoe's Jasssz Band, the Alexis P. Suter Band and the Spin Doctors, the popular '90s jam band who've refocused on their collective blues roots. Tonight, in the Olde Mistick Village Arts Cinema, a pre-fest party featuring Jim Weider & PrOJECT pERCoLAToR , with special guest Brian Mitchell, perform in celebration of a new live album called "PULSE &Percolator."

Montgomery, who also performed at last year's first event, says the Mystic Blues Festival is already much-talked-about and highly-anticipated on the international blues circuit.

"We couldn't believe it was (the Leighs') first try at running a festival," Montgomery says. "I've played some festivals that have been around 10 to 15 years that aren't as well organized as Mystic. It's well-oiled and everybody - from the stage managers to the green rooms and definitely the audiences - were perfect last year. When you get a situation like that, it resonates with the musicians. We feed off that. I think you'll find that the Mystic Blues Festival is going to become an Old Home Week event where the musicians can't wait to show up - and the audience and community are going to be a part of that every year."


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