The fourth annual Blues, Brews and Bikes Festival — a fundraiser for the Freedom in Music Project — gets set to raise the roof with what promises to be its best show yet. The festival takes place Friday and Saturday (June 9-10) at Taos Mesa Brewing, 20 ABC Mesa Road, off U.S. 64 west.
The project brings guitars and music curriculum to youth incarcerated in detention centers in New Mexico and Texas. To date, there are Freedom in Music programs in 10 facilities – eight in New Mexico and two in Texas.
Friday evening, blues guitarist Justin Johnson takes the venue’s amphitheater stage from 7 p.m. until midnight. Then, on Saturday, the music kicks off at noon with the Taos Youth Music School Garage Band, followed by Lightning Hall, The High Desert Blues Band, Magic Dick and Shun Ng, Johnson and Indigenous. The evening ends with an “All-Star Jam” with all of the musicians contributing.
Tickets are $10 for Friday night’s show and $22 for Saturday’s festival lineup.
Harmonica player Magic Dick of Boston’s J. Geils Band joined up with guitarist and vocalist Shun Ng to wow audiences with their dynamic brand of soulful blues. Ng is the winner of the Songwriters Hall of Fame Holly Prize and the “international artist of the year” at the Boston Music Awards.
Magic Dick, 72, who was born Richard Salwitz in New London, Connecticut, rose to fame in the 1970s with master blues artists, The J. Geils Band, especially after fans heard his legendary performance of “Whammer Jammer” on the “Full House” live album. Music critic Dave Marsh has called Salwitz “the best white musician to ever play blues harmonica.” Band leader John Warren Geils Jr. passed away April 17, 2017.
Ng said, “In this collaboration with Magic Dick, we wanted to make music in a way that no one had quite done before while remaining grounded in our roots. Magic Dick brings a powerhouse attack with ferocious precision and a killer groove to this duo. I have great respect for him. He has seemingly done it all, but is still constantly trying to push the boundaries of music and chase the best in himself, a true artist. To be working with a true Boston legend is a real privilege.”
Johnson is a roots blues and Americana artist based in Nashville, Tennessee. He won first place at the Slidestock International Slide Guitar Championship and has been noted by Guitar World as a “must-see act.” Johnson has toured internationally and is the founder of Roots Music School in Nashville. He has partnered with educators at a national level to develop a school-based roots music curriculum and has created DVDs and a book on roots music theory and technique.
Indigenous will be coming to Taos fresh from a trip to Germany’s Grolsch Blues Festival in Schöppingen. The blues-rock group is headed up by Mato Nanji (vocals and guitar). He grew up on South Dakota’s Yankton Indian Reservation and is a member of the Nakota nation. Nanji is inspired by his musician father, the late Greg Zephier, who was active in working for Native American rights in his role with the International Indian Treaty Council. Initially, Indigenous was formed as a family band that included Nanji’s two brothers and sister.
These days, Indigenous is made up of Nanji and The Plateros, an award-winning band from Navajo nation in Tohajiilee, New Mexico. Together with Nanji, Levi Platero (guitar, vocals) and his cousins, Bronson Begay (bass) and Douglas Platero (drums), are the new Indigenous. Levi Platero has also just become the spokesperson for the Freedom in Music Project.
In addition to heading up the Freedom in Music Project, directors Phil and Linda Oliveira are members of The High Desert Blues Band, a New Mexico group that helps to raise funds for the project while playing blues favorites from the Woodstock era. The band consists of Phil Oliveira (bass, lead vocals), Linda Oliveira (percussion), Tom Brown (lead/slide guitar, vocals) and Tim Lodge (drums). In addition, Randy Hays (harmonica), Levi Platero of The Levi Platero Band (guitar) and Kevin Barlow (guitar) will be sitting in for the Taos show.
“It’s a joy to play our favorite music that we grew up with and listened to! It’s all about rockin’ blues,” Phil Oliveira said when asked to describe the band’s music.
Lightning Hall, aka Erik E. Knudson, blends early acoustic blues with the mystique of the Southwest. Growing up in Galveston, Texas, he gravitated toward Southern music, blues, Southern rock, country and R&B, developing a love for acoustic blues. Lightning Hall writes and performs his own songs and covers classic artists, such as Lightning Hopkins, Big Bill Broonzy and Muddy Waters, along with more contemporary artists.
Taos Youth Music School (TYMS) Garage Band will be opening Saturday’s portion of the festival with its energetic, driven, heartfelt music. If you haven’t yet heard the band perform, you are in for a treat. TYMS is a tuition-free after-school music education program that provides learning and performance opportunities for 50-60 kindergarten through high school-age kids in Taos County each year. Students can be from public, private or home-school environments.
Of course, various motorcycle clubs and dealers have been invited to show off some of their best during the event.
With 6 1/2 years under its belt, the Freedom in Music Project has already made quite an impact by bringing guitars and music to youth in detention centers in New Mexico and Texas. The organization has received recognition at both local and state levels for the work it does.
“This year we’ve gone out on a limb and have booked $10,000 worth of bands to play at the fourth annual Blues, Brews and Bikes Festival,” Phil Oliveira said in an email message to Tempo. “All bands are just playing for expenses and have waived their performance fees upwards to $25,000 as they want to help out this benefit for the at-risk youth of New Mexico and Texas.”
This year, the Freedom in Music Project received a certificate of volunteer appreciation from Mayor Richard J. Berry and the city of Albuquerque for the fifth year in a row. “This is quite an honor, as only 30 were awarded,” noted Phil Oliveira.
In addition, the nonprofit was given its first award from the state of New Mexico for community volunteerism, with only nine awards made out of hundreds of nominations. “Very humbling,” Oliveira said.
Taos Mesa Brewing Mothership’s outdoor amphitheater will be named the Freedom in Music Project Amphitheater in honor of the special partnership that exists between Taos Mesa Brewing and the nonprofit music program and will be dedicated as such at 2 p.m. on Saturday as part of the Blues, Brews and Bikes Festival.
Tickets are $10 for Friday night’s show and $22 for Saturday’s music festival.
Call the venue at (575) 758-1900. For a complete Blues, Brews and Bikes music schedule, visit taosmesabrewing.com. For more information on the Freedom in Music Project, visit thefreedominmusicproject.com.