No longer are “folkies” and “balladeers” the black sheep of popular music. A renaissance of musicians searching for authentic sounds and the basics of crafting songs has emerged over the last decade.
Bands like Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers now receive regular play on Top 40 stations. And pop culture is bringing traditional music to the forefront with movies like Inside Llewyn Davis and shows like Treme and Nashville.
Spearheaded by Chameleon Club founder Rich Ruoff, the inaugural Lancaster Roots & Blues Festival comes to downtown Lancaster this month, highlighting established and emerging genres and musicians. Spread across two days, five venues and nine stages, more than 50 acts from around the country (and the world) converge in the Red Rose City with the sounds of blues, rock, jazz, acoustic folk, funk and more.
Several notable musicians are featured during the festival, including blues harmonica player extraordinaire James Cotton, singer/songwriter Loudon Wainwright III (see this month’s Interview) and rockers Edgar and Johnny Winter. Equally talented acts are also on tap, including Grammy nominees Heritage Blues Quintet, reggae legends Culture and regional favorites Cabinet and Frog Holler.
While it’s impossible to catch every act at the festival, here are our picks of seven not-to-miss musicians and bands you may not have heard of. But trust us when we say you’ll definitely want to listen again after seeing them for the first time.
Chameleon Club; February 21, 7:15 p.m.
Steinman Hall at the Ware Center; February 22, 8 p.m.
At 20 years of age, Parker Millsap carries a voice and a country/folk repertoire well beyond his years. Growing up in a Pentecostal home, the Central Oklahoma native has been touring the country for the better part of two years with longtime friend and upright bassist Michael Rose. They’ve performed everywhere from backwoods bars to major music festivals like the Kerrville Folk Festival and opened for the likes of Old Crow Medicine Show, The Devil Makes Three and John Fullbright. Billboard just listed Millsap as one of the top country acts to look for this year.
CHRIS THOMAS KING
Robert Johnson Stage at the Lancaster Convention Center; February 21, 7:25 p.m.
For anyone who’s ever seen the Coen brothers’ 2000 classic comedy O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Chris Thomas King is immediately recognizable as the character of Tommy Johnson – the blues musician who sold his soul to the devil for the ability to play guitar. If you’ve ever seen King play live, you may wonder if he didn’t sell his soul in real life. He’s one of the most popular blues performers in the country and has put out some of the best blues albums in the last decade. He has helped to sell more than 10 million albums, including his contributions to the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack.
SUGAR RAY & THE BLUETONES
Federal Taphouse, February 21, 10 p.m.
Sugar Ray Norcia has been the frontman and harmonica player for various blues bands since the late ’70s. Norcia’s a three-time Grammy Award nominee (including a nomination this year in the Best Blues Album category for his work on the record Remembering Little Walter), and he’s recognized as one of the best blues harpists in the business. He appears with his most popular incarnation – The Bluetones – with whom he belts out smooth blues with his polished voice and impeccable harmonic tones.
Chameleon Club; February 22, 6 p.m.
Female blues guitarists are generally few and far between. A female blues guitarist with the chops of 24-year-old Samantha Fish is even rarer. In a relatively short period, the Kansas City native has emerged as a force in the male-dominated world of blues guitar, garnering the 2012 Blues Music Award for Best New Artist Debut for her album Runaway. Fish released her follow-up album – Black Wind Howlin’ – in September, and she has been on an almost constant touring schedule. Her live shows are filled with energy, showing off the guitar skills she’s been honing since her teen years.
THE NORTH AVENUE STOMPERS
Thaddeus Stevens stage at the Lancaster County Convention Center; February 22, 8:15 p.m.
Recently born near the corner of North and Elston avenues in Chicago, The North Avenue Stompers are a five-piece band that mixes jump blues, rockabilly and straight-up ’50s rock and roll. Fronted by vocalist “Screamin'” Eric Sheridan (who formerly led popular Washington, D.C. band and regular Chameleon Club performers the Uptown River Kings), The Stompers collectively have more than 100 years of musical experience. Don’t be afraid to get off your seat and head to the dance floor. This month’s show marks the band’s first live appearance on the East Coast.
THE DAVID MAYFIELD PARADE
Tigh Mhary Stage at Tellus360; February 22, 9 p.m.
David Mayfield isn’t a comedian, but sometimes he likes to play one on stage. He’s been called the Zach Galifianakis of folk music (and not just because he sports a huge burly beard). He’s a showman who’s not afraid to crack a joke or throw his body around before wailing away on his acoustic guitar, flying up and down the fret board with ease. His current musical incarnation – The David Mayfield Parade – features a revolving cast of musicians that differs from show to show. He’s opened for The Avett Brothers and performed at Bonnaroo.
LAKE STREET DIVE
Chameleon Club; February 22, 9:30 p.m.
If you haven’t seen the Brooklyn-based four piece Americana band Lake Street Dive, be prepared to be blown away. The combination of vocalist Rachel Price, guitarist/trumpeter Mike Olson, stand-up bassist Bridget Kearney and drummer Mike Calabrese have been honing their skills ever since meeting nearly a decade ago at the New England Conservatory in Boston. NPR Music recently listed them as “one of the 10 artists you should have known in 2013.” And they scored a prestigious spot in September’s Inside Llewyn Davis tribute show – the “Another Day, Another Time” concert at Town Hall in New York – playing alongside the likes of Jack White, Gillian Welch and Elvis Costello. Their new album, Bad Self Portraits, comes out February 18.