Got troubles? Big Blues Bender will soothe your soul
The Big Blues Bender has been instrumental in Las Vegas’ evolution into the Music Festival Capital of the World in the course of annually drawing blues lovers to celebrate their sacred sound. Its new home at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino enables the Big Blues Bender to offer more poolside concerts, headliners and rising talent than before, expanding on the blueprint it established five years ago. More than 50 acts on five stages in four days create an atmosphere that feels like a musical family reunion.
That’s not just because the offspring of several original Allman Brothers perform on closing night at the Joint. Gov’t Mule, Robert Cray, Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul, and the Allman Betts Band headline the Hard Rock’s big venue, respectively, Thursday through Sunday nights before a Woodstock tribute jam, One Night on Yasgur’s Farm, brings an all-star lineup onstage. Some musicians have several scheduled appearances, while others back up their blues brethren when they aren’t in the spotlight themselves.
To set things off right, Blues Bender scheduled Rev. Billy C. Wirtz to bless the proceedings with sardonic spirituality Thursday at 2 p.m. on the casino stage, followed by a first-day lineup that includes Blues Brothers sax man Blue Lou Marini with Red Young, pianist Leon Blue, and the first Howl at the Moon Jam. Tab Benoit, who plays the Joint before Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul on Saturday and hosts the closing night Bender Ramble jam at Paradise Pool, is the featured talent at the 2:30 p.m. Baller Welcome Party for festivalgoers who have upgraded their packages to exclusive, all-inclusive Big Daddy Baller status.
Marini and Young will be backed by the busy Bender Brass Band, which starts its own headlining sets at Vinyl shortly before midnight on Friday and Saturday. Bender Brass trombonist Randy Oxford hosts the late-night Howl at the Moon jams, while the six-piece joins Nick Schnebelen at Vinyl (Friday, 10:45 p.m.), Johnny Sansone at the Joint (Saturday, 5 p.m.) and both Sarah Grace (Sunday, 1:30 p.m.) and Monster Mike Welch (Sunday, 5 p.m.) at Paradise Pool.
One important innovation implemented by the festival’s architects is giving audiences several opportunities to see acts. If you miss Larkin Poe—Rebecca and Megan Lovell’s up-and-coming Southern blues duo—perform before Gov’t Mule’s set, there’s a second chance midnight Friday at Paradise Pool. Catch guitar whiz Gary Hoey (“Hocus Pocus”) outdoors at Paradise Pool on Saturday at 3:15 p.m. or inside Vinyl at Sunday 7 p.m. The Hart Fund Charity benefit preparty is sold out, but featured guitarist Albert Castiglia plays a set with friends at midnight on Saturday at Paradise Pool.
From legendary guitarist Ronnie Earl, who releases his latest album Beyond the Blue Door seven days before his Friday evening set at the Joint, to artists charting a future course for the blues such as violinist Anne Harris (Sunday, 2:45 p.m., Nirvana Pool), The Big Blues Bender presents amazing talent at every turn while offering a place for the roots-music faithful to make an annual pilgrimage, and there’s more coming every year. Must be doing something right.
Hard Rock Hotel, 5 p.m. Sept. 5-8, single-day tickets starting at $125, room packages starting at $799 plus tax and fee. 800.745.3000 Ticketmaster