New, younger and farther afield


The twist to this year’s Blues Café: All bands from outside Wisconsin

The annual Blues Café is back Saturday, March 11 at Rothschild Pavilion. This day-long music fest has become a marker that spring is coming, and like most cyclical events, it sometimes returns to its roots.

Every few years the organizing group Great Northern Blues Society (GNBS) takes a leap of faith. One year that was bringing in the progressive, roots rock of Alvin Youngblood Hart. Other years they’ve tried different venues. Last year they took a chance with the hard-rocking band Left Lane Cruiser. Each of these leaps typically resulted in a course correction and a return to their roots—a more traditional form of blues, in a comfortable place.

This year seems to mark both a return and a departure. Music wise, all of this year’s acts are easily classified within familiar blues traditions. The big departure: There are no working Wisconsin musicians on the bill.


Now in its 18th year, Blues Café keeps gathering crowds. “We have been growing a little bit each year since we started,” says Mike Tatro, president of GNBS. The organization is always in a tough spot, trying to get the best bands for their budget. They’re taking a bit of a chance with bands that don’t often play in Wisconsin—some haven’t even played the upper Midwest. On the flip side, though, “We went younger this year, which fits our mission of keeping the blues alive,” Tatro says.

1 pm Joyann Parker is the big voiced, powerful woman on the bill, the jazzy blues singer. Based


in the nice state of Minnesota, her deep voice is anything but nice, just big. She has a stage presence you cannot resist. Parker will pull tears out of you no matter how hard you fight it, make you smile and love the one you’re with. Resistance is futile with this big, solid band.

3 pm Jimmy Nick & Don’t Tell Mama. Jimmy is the young ripper on the bill, with all sorts of brash energy and up-and-coming gusto. From Chicago, he’s a traditional guitar slinger, but with a funky band and all sorts of attitude. These guys are all over the place musically from straight guitar stuff and tight harp licks, to top-notch funk instrumentals laying stuff down.

5 pm Ghost Town Blues Band will fill the Pavilion with their southern Memphis horn jam band vibe. This is when the dresses and the hippies can do their spinning, and people can just get groovy. Sort of an Allman Brothers meets Derek Trucks thing, this band will cool you out and get your toes tapping.

7 pm Brandon Santini will up the energy level. For you Wisconsin music people, let me describe this Memphis guy like this: Combine Doug Kroenig’s voice and Cadillac Pete Rahm’s harp playing and shoot it full of CrossFit. Santini has the chance to blow the house down. His playing is traditional yet stunningly high energy. 


9 pm Becky Barksdale. I am partial to this act from Texas. She’s a world class performer and guitar player, a true working artist and composer. She has more musical score and television credits than she has tour dates on her website. Guitar wise, Texas runs through her. She has Freddie King drive, some T Bone Walker style, and lots of Jimmy Vaughan slick.

In between sets A real treat will be seeing Bing Futch perform during the interludes, he is that musically compelling. His acoustic performances on a mountain dulcimer are mesmerizing, his playing is incredibly technically, and though I have no idea how it fits into Blues Café, I can say that Futch could be the most progressive part of this musical day.

The 18th annual Blues Café happens at the Rothschild Pavilion, Saturday, March 11. Door open at noon. Tickets $25 at the door, $20 in advance at