Despite a ten-year anniversary, no major changes are expected for Libby’s Riverfront Blues Festival this year — just more of what one longtime organizer said is “such a primal, emotional kind of music.”
“It’s elemental,” Brent Shrum said of the blues. “You don’t have to think about it, you just have to feel it.”
The festival takes place Aug. 10-11 at Riverfront Front Park in Libby. Three bands perform Friday evening and five bands take the stage beginning Saturday afternoon. An “all-star jam” of musicians from both days caps off the festival, ending at 1 a.m. Sunday.
In addition to the music, which is performed on a stage set up inside the pavilion, the festival features food, beer and craft vendors.
As the festival has grown, the riverfront venue with mountain views has proved to be a draw, Shrum said, and musicians appreciate the degree of intimacy with the audience it allows.
And even though the festival attracts out-of-towners, Shrum said it’s turning into a highly anticipated community event.
“You see people putting it on their calendars and planning for it,” Shrum said.
The festival is organized and run by a “relatively small group” of organizers and numerous volunteers, Shrum said — many who come back year after year to work in exchange for tickets.
A handful of people comprise the selection committee, which Shrum said sifts through a list of contenders that can grow into the dozens throughout the selection process before being whittled down to eight bands. They start with the bands that submit — the number grows every year as word spreads about the festival, Shrum said — and the list expands from there as the committee reviews submissions and compares notes.
“I’m really big on reviewing live clips,” Shrum said. He looks for “some kind of spark that gets your attention,” be it sound or stage presence or a combination of factors.
“There has to be something that makes (a band) stand out,” he said.
But there’s more art to the selection process, Shrum said. It’s not just the quality of the bands but how well they fit together on a bill.
“We try to have a good range of different types of music,” he said. “Like putting together a mixtape.”
The organizers also like to get bands that haven’t played in this part of the country before, that concert goers will not have seen in another regional festival.
“We’ve had music here that hasn’t been played in this part of the world before,” Shrum said.
And, he added, they sometimes get performers who view coming to Libby as “a little adventure for them,” such as Brother Yusef, who performed at last year’s festival and was an audience favorite, Shrum said.
The selection committee has an informal checklist to help it choose the final eight bands, Shrum said. They might seek one band with good harmonies, for example, another with a strong guitar, yet another to deliver on traditional blues, and sometimes a band that’s “out of left field,” he said.
“We try to be conscious of the flow throughout the day,” Shrum said. “(And) what’s the vibe going to be like.”
Still, the committee relies heavily on emotional response. As an example, Shrum points to Blue Moon Marquee, who will perform in the 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. slot on Saturday. Calling them “unique,” he said “when we saw them we were just captivated.”
Shrum is particularly excited about the headliner, Shaw Davis and the Black Ties, who close Saturday’s show before the jam session.
“I think we’re catching him on the way up,” Shrum said, citing his youth, energy and great guitar playing. “I think he’s going to be a great closer.”
In addition to charging admission, the festival is supported through donations, which can be made on the festival website at www.riverfrontbluesfestival.com.
There’s also a “Brews for Blues benefit” June 28 at Cabinet Mountain Brewery, in which $1 from every beer sold will be donated to the festival.
Shrum said organizers have discussed creating a souvenir token to commemorate the festival’s anniversary, but don’t plan any sort of “big blowout.”
Mostly they want to keep the festival all about the musicians and their audience.
“We see it as throwing Libby a party once a year,” Shrum said.
Riverfront Blues Festival
Riverfront Park in Libby
FRIDAY, AUG. 10
6:00 pm-8:00 pm: Moneypenny
8:00 pm-10:00 pm: Randy McAllister and the Scrappiest Band in the Motherland
10:00 pm-12:00 am: Bobby Messano
SATURDAY, AUG. 11
1:30-3:30 pm: Bryan Warhall
3:30-5:30 pm: Blue Moon Marquee
5:30-7:30 pm: Amanda Fish
7:30-9:30 pm: Andy T Band w/Alabama Mike and Anson Funderburgh
9:30-11:30 pm: Shaw Davis and the Black Ties
11:00 pm-1:00 am: All-Star Jam
ADVANCED TICKET PRICES
Full pass: $40
DOOR TICKET PRICES
Full pass: $50
Kids 12 and under free with paying adult