In a world of high tech and low ambitions, the basics of the blues aren't always fully appreciated — or even understood. An opportunity to experience the complex and uniquely American form in its purest incarnation, to appreciate its essence and the relevance it still holds today, is thus reason to celebrate.
"The type of musician that chooses to play the blues is not only talented and gifted but also possesses an integrity that goes way beyond wanting to be a star," says Dar Lopez, who, with her husband, Gerardo, put together this year's 26th-annual Riverwalk Blues and Music Festival in Fort Lauderdale. "Blues musicians choose this music for the love of the music, not for fame, the money, or to be a celebrity. They have respect for the musicians who came before them, and they help nurture the upcoming musicians coming after them."
This year's festival features such highly accredited artists as Johnny Rawls, Jason Ricci, Albert Castiglia, JP Soars, Joey Gilmore, and numerous others who've made their reputation playing the blues, both here and abroad. Originally initiated by the late talent agent Don Cohen under the auspices of Musicians Exchange — a referral service he founded for local musicians that later became a prominent live-music venue — the festival has grown over the years to span both banks of Fort Lauderdale's downtown riverfront while attracting upward of 20,000 attendees.
"We receive lots of comments from the audiences on what a great festival it is and how much they hope we continue to do it forever," Lopez says. "People always love our lineups, because we try to have acts they know and some they may not, so we can introduce them to someone cool that may be under their radar. We just want to make Don proud and bring together our blues family for a weekend of peace, love, and blues."
It appears they're accomplishing just that, channeling much of their time and creative energies configuring each year's lineup, along with managing the logistics.
"We travel around the country watching shows, visiting other festivals, attending the Blues Music Awards, going to small clubs, and seeing numerous live shows, including the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise, which is one of the greatest places to see some of the best talent on the planet," Lopez explains. "We listen to music continuously, and because I have my own radio show, we are blessed to get most new releases delivered right to our door... If there is a way to listen to music, we find it."
Ultimately, it's the love of the music that sways the couple the most when it comes to their work for the festival.
"I think the appeal of blues is its purity, its meaning, its soul," Lopez says. "Willie Dixon once said, 'The blues is the roots, and all other music is the fruits.' I truly believe that. If it wasn't for the blues, there would be no rock 'n' roll, jazz, swing, pop, or rap. The other forms of music may be more mainstream, but the blues will never die... The blues fans are not going away, and new ones are discovering it daily."
Riverwalk Blues and Music Festival
With Johnny Rawls, Jason Ricci, Chris O'Leary, Nikki Hill, Albert Castiglia, and others. 5 p.m. Friday, February 26, and Saturday, February 27, at Esplanade Park, 450 SW Second St., Fort Lauderdale, and noon Sunday, February 28, at the Downtowner Saloon, 10 S. New River Drive, Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $15 plus fees for Friday and $25 plus fees for Saturday. Admission Sunday is free. Visit riverwalkblues.com.