ZOOFEST marks Lincoln's Zoo Bar's 50th Anniversary with an expanded street festival, Playing With Fire returns, Jazz on the Green is back and In the Market for Blues takes over downtown Omaha Saturday, Aug. 5.

Playing With Fire event founder/talent booker Jeff Davis kicks off a 19th season of free concerts with shows Friday and Saturday, July 14-15, in Turner Park at Midtown Crossing. At 6:45 p.m. Friday, July 14, two of top contemporary U.S. blues artists share the bill.

Eddie 9-Volt is part of a twenty-something generation of blues players. The Atlanta guitarist’s high-octane contemporary take on the music is rooted in traditional Memphis, southern-style blues. Headliner Sugaray Rayford is a powerhouse, soulful showman who has received multiple Blues Music Award nominations and honors, including the prestigious B.B. King Entertainer of the Year award in 2020. He took home the award for 2023 Soul Blues Album of the Year for his record “In Too Deep.”

Davis regularly travels to check out new talent in Europe and Canada. Saturday, July 15, he features artists showcasing the worldwide appeal of the blues. Northern Ireland’s Dom Martin Band has received multiple UK and European blues awards, including induction into the 2022 UK Blues Hall of Fame. The Netherlands is represented by Twelve Bar Blues Band’s Chicago- and New Orleans-style blues in its first U.S. appearance. Rounding out Saturday is the guitar-driven blues-rock of the Justin Saladino Band from Montreal, Quebec, Canada. In 2018, Saladino was nominated for New Artist of the Year in Canada at the 21st annual Maple Blues Awards. See playingwithfireomaha.net.

BSO 25th Anniversary
The Blues Society of Omaha (BSO) is celebrating 25 years of promoting and presenting the blues in eastern Nebraska. A big outdoor 25th anniversary show is planned for Wednesday, July 26, 7 p.m., at Falconwood Park, 905 Allied Dr., Bellevue. National blues-rockers Mike Zito and Albert Castiglia were scheduled to perform together in their Billboard Blues chart-topping Blood Brothers project.

At press time, it was announced that Zito’s wife, Laura, is going into hospice care after a year’s battle with pancreatic cancer and he is leaving the tour to focus on time with her. There is a GoFundMe account for the Zitos. Zito announced rock-blues guitar star Gary Hoey will join Castiglia and the band for the summer tour. Hoey is an acclaimed guitarist who has produced Lita Ford, rocked with Johnny Winter and recorded with Dick Dale before digging into the blues over the last decade. See garyhoey.com for more. Visit omahablues.com and facebook.com/bluessocietyofomaha for event details. Gates open at 4:00 p.m. Tickets are $30 in advance or $35 the day of the show. For tickets see 254BSO.eventbrite.com.

In the Market for Blues is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 5, in downtown Omaha. The multi-venue blues festival is the brainchild of Omaha’s 2020 International Blues Challenge solo/duo award-winner Héctor Anchondo. With the help of the BSO, the event has continued to grow. This year features 12 hours of blues from over 30 bands on indoor and outdoor stages in the Old Market, the Capitol District and the Holland Center’s Mammel Courtyard. Highlights include Chicago blues-rocker and Alligator Records star Toronzo Cannon, plus popular guitarist-singer-songwriter Hadden Sayers and his new duo, BoomCHANK, with acclaimed Texas percussionist Brannen Temple, a musical collaboration that began in Ruthie Foster’s band. Other regional and national talents performing include Hurricane Ruth, Tony Holiday, Shaw Davis & the Black Ties, Josh Garrett Band, Polly O’Keary & The Rhythm Method, Kevin Burt, Scott Ellison Band, Levee Town, Blue House with the Rent to Own Horns, The Mezcal Brothers, Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal and Kris Lager & the Assembly of Assassins. Anchondo plays full band and solo sets.

A special $85 VIP ticket includes a show featuring Rocky Athas at The Jewell on Friday, Aug. 4, and other perks. Athas is a Texas blues-rock guitarist who spent eight years with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers before returning to his solo career. See rockyathas.com. Advance general admission tickets are $25 until July 15 and $35 from July 16 through Aug. 5. Find details and advance tickets at omahablues.com/in-the-market-for-blues.

Zoo Bar Anniversary
Lincoln’s historic Zoo Bar celebrates 50 years as a blues-roots venue with their three-day ZOOFEST street festival Thursday, July 6, through Saturday, July 8. See the lineup and ticket information at zoobar.com. And check out my cover story from the June issue of The Reader, available online, that tells some of the stories behind this nationally recognized venue.

Hot Notes
Jazz on The Green is back for another season of free music every Thursday, July 6 through Aug. 10, 7:30 p.m., in Turner Park at Midtown Crossing. The events kick off with blues guitarist Larry McCray on Thursday, July 6. The mix of blues and jazz concerts includes Grammy-nominated jazz sax man Bobby Watson on Thursday, July 27, and ends with notable blues guitarist Ana Popovic on Thursday, Aug. 10. See o-pa.org/jazz-on-the-green.

Check out the calendars for Waiting Room, Reverb Lounge, The Admiral, the Steelhouse and other venues to make sure you don’t miss a great indoor show during this busy summer of concerts.

blues vocalist Sugaray Rayford
Award-winning blues vocalist Sugaray Rayford delivers his charismatic, soulful sound at the free Playing With Fire show Friday, July 14, at Midtown Crossing’s Turner Park. Credit: Forty Below Records

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