It may still be winter, but plans are already underway for this summer’s blues-roots festivals. Playing with Fire founder and organizer Jeff Davis shared plans for the 2020 Playing with Fire concerts, announcing a new venue for this summer’s shows. In an email to The Reader, Davis said the concerts will be held at the Capitol District, and the shows will take place Friday, July 24, Saturday, July 25, and Saturday, Aug. 22. Davis said “Bands will hail from: Amsterdam, Paris, Ottawa, Minneapolis, Memphis, New Orleans, Sydney and Omaha. Lineup will be announced mid-February.”
Start times and further details will be released later, and fans can check the website for further announcements or sign up for the email newsletter to stay in the know. See playingwithfireomaha.net.
Davis also asked fans to note that at the new Capitol District venue “NO outside food or beverages will be allowed, as well as NO pets please,” adding, “Still gonna be free.”
Since its start in 2004, Davis has kept Playing with Fire a free event for the whole community. Davis scouts festivals in Canada and Europe for top new talent. Then he works at getting the artists he is most excited about booked to play for Omahans. More than 350 bands have played the series in its first 16 seasons, including top national artists. Take a look back at playingwithfireomaha.net/past-artists. Mark the dates for 2020 on your calendar and watch for the updated website with lineup announcements.
Zoo Bar Anniversary Dates
Lincoln’s historic Zoo Bar, founded as a music venue in 1973, has announced dates for the annual ZooFest anniversary celebration, which will take to the streets at 14th & P in front of the bar Friday, July 10, and Saturday, July 11. Watch for the anniversary band lineup and keep up with all the latest at The Zoo Bar at zoobar.com and at facebook.com/zoobarblues.
In the Market for Blues 2020
The brainchild of Omaha blues musician Hector Anchondo, created with the help of E3 Music Management, In the Market for Blues has put teasers on Facebook for a 2020 event. The multi-band, multi-venue event has grown exponentially each year. Last year, it expanded from its Old Market base to include venues in the Capitol District and an outdoor stage. Recent years have added sponsors and supporters, including the Blues Society of Omaha. In the Market for Blues celebrates its sixth year, and the organizing team reports the 2020 date is locked in for Saturday, Aug. 1. Keep an eye on facebook.com/inthemarketforblues and inthemarketforblues.com for further details.
The Blues Society of Omaha’s Thursday blues matinee concert series continues to flex between several venues; however, all the February Thursday shows are at Stocks ‘n’ Bonds. All Thursday shows are 6-9 p.m. The Paul Nelson Band is up Thursday, Feb. 6. Nelson was a guitarist alongside the late Johnny Winter, also producing the 2014 Grammy-winning recording Step Back (Megaforce/Sony) for the legendary Winter. Vintage Guitar Magazine observes “He’s a soulful player who has chops to burn. The word ‘ferocious’ comes to mind, or ‘take no prisoners.’”
The new band Tennessee Redemption makes their highly anticipated Omaha debut Thursday, Feb. 13. The band is the newest incarnation of the ongoing performing and producing partnerships between rising blues stars and longtime Memphis, Tenn., musicians Brandon Santini (harmonica, vocals) and Jeff Jensen (guitar, vocals). Both are exciting performers on their own but make a dynamite pairing. They have teamed up with other Memphis musicians who have worked with both to form Tennessee Redemption. Rounding out the band are Timo Arthur (guitar, vocals), Bill Ruffino (bass, vocals) and David Green (drums, vocals). The band’s self-titled debut CD dropped in the fall of 2019. American Blues Scene says of the disc, “There are no boxes, no boundaries, no holds barred, or turns unstoned. This is blues music, and roots music, and soul music, and gospel music, and music to stir the soul from every direction.” Find music, videos and more at tennesseeredemption.com.
Thursday, Feb. 20, popular blues-rocker Tinsley Ellis has a CD release party for his new Alligator disc Ice Cream In Hell. Guitar fans are in for a special treat as fellow Alligator artist and fiery young guitarist Jarekus Singleton opens the show.
Thursday, Feb. 27, Chicago bluesman John Primer returns. Primer was the longtime sideman and bandleader for Magic Slim, Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon before stepping out on his own. He is a 2020 Blues Foundation Blues Music Award nominee for “Traditional Blues Artist of the Year.”
One of Omaha’s longest-running original blues bands, Blue House with the Rent to Own Horns, celebrates their 30th anniversary with a show at the Horseshoe Casino’s Whiskey Roadhouse Friday, Feb. 7, at 9 p.m. The band was honored with an induction into the Nebraska Music Hall of Fame in 2018. See bluehouseblues.com.
The New Pornographers play Slowdown Thursday, Feb. 13.
Veteran country artist Tanya Tucker, recently featured in a performance on The Grammys and the 2020 Grammy winner for Best Country Album (While I’m Livin’), performs at Lincoln’s Bourbon Theatre Tuesday, Feb. 25, 8 p.m.
Highlights of Lincoln’s Zoo Bar’s calendar include The Bel Airs Friday, Feb. 7, 5 p.m., Jarekus Singleton plugs in Saturday, Feb. 8, 6-9 p.m. Mike Zito & His Big Blues Band Tuesday, Feb. 11, 6-9 p.m., Chicago’s Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials Thursday, Feb. 20, 6-9 p.m., and Friday, Feb. 21, 5 p.m., and John Primer Wednesday, Feb. 26, 6-9 p.m.
Since we went to press, Omaha’s Hector Anchondo took the solo/duo winner prize at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. Anchondo represented the Blues Society of Omaha and advanced to be one of the eight finalists in the solo/duo category from a field of over 200 artists, winning the top honor. He also won the Memphis Cigar Box Guitar Award, given to the best acoustic guitarist. The awards were decided by a panel of blues industry professionals during an eight-hour day of performances Saturday, Feb. 1, at Memphis’ Orpheum Theatre. The International Blues Challenge is a production of The Blues Foundation and judges use a scoring criteria developed for the challenge. The winner in the band category was the Horojo Trio representing the Ottawa Blues Society and featuring guitarist J.W. Jones who took home the Gibson Guitar Award in the band category. Jones has been seen locally with his own J.W. Jones Band. Omaha’s band representative, The Rex Granite Band featuring Sarah Benck, made it through to the semi-finals but did not receive enough points from judges to move on to the Saturday finals. Find out more about the International Blues Challenge and all the winners at blues.org/ibc-2020-finalists-winners. Winning in either category is a huge career-builder for blues artists. Find out more about Hector Anchondo at hectoranchondo.com, including performance dates and links to some YouTube videos he made on the road to the Memphis competition.