Watseka Blues Fest 120 miles south of the Blues Capital Chicago

Posted on 6/02/2009 by Monica Yasher

Watseka, Illinois is a small rural community just about an hour and a half south of Chicago. It has a population of 5,493 and is named after an Indian princess, so they claim. Early in the morning of May 30, 2009 Deb & Chuck Gomez awoke in anticipation of their second annual blues fest held in their theater in Watseka.

Deb and Chuck recently completed a major renovation of the Watseka Theater. It was in such sad shape when this writer saw it that I thought Deb & Chuck were crazy. Any sane person would have walked away from it. There is one thing I have learned about Chuck and Deb during the past three years is that when they say they are going to do something they do it. Chuck and Deb went for it and we are glad they did and the City of Watseka should be also. The second annual Watseka Blues Fest was held last Saturday.

The Watseka Wonder Blues Band with Jeff Mcord, SGT. Kaper's Lonely Hearts Club
Blues Band Featuring Jim Marshino & The Cherry Pickers, Hounds Tooth, Little Johnny, Curtis and the Mayfields, After Midnight Blues Band, Queenie and the Blue Cats, Doug McDonald & the Blue Mirror Band

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There were only two goups that I had time to listen to. The first was Hounds Tooth. They are based out of Milwaukee. They have a female vocalist that was outstanding; unfortunately the band was not as good. They handled the job adequately, but Jamie Brace is an outstanding vocalist that could really move forward in this business if she had a more experienced “kick-but” band. I would like to hear her backed up by a band on the caliber of Magic Slims. I hope the guys in the band realize that without Jamie they are just another bar band, nothing special. At one point the Lead guitar player took the vocals job. Mistake! I did not see or hear Jamie playing lead guitar. Band members please do not take this the wrong way Hounds Tooth is an OK group. I will go see them again if I get the chance, but right now I’d have to say the only reason would be to see Jamie. She has outstanding stage presence and a great voice. I did not hear Jamie call off any original tunes however and that was a mistake. If I had known the song titles I would have mentioned them here.
The next act I heard was Little Johnny. Johnny got his stage name because he is a big man. He told me he wears the smallest size shirt in xxx large section. Johnny has played with a lot of Blues artist’s in the Indiana and Illinois area. He is constantly working almost anywhere, almost any price and almost any time. Johnny is a great front man who handles guitar and harp extremely well. He lays down a great bluesman groove. I enjoy hearing and seeing Johnny. I have played with him off and on for a couple of years. He used the following players at the Watseka Fest; George Shapley played Guitar (A recent import to the area from, I think, Georgia), Mike “Doc” Hainey on saxophone, Kevin” Non-walking” Long fretting the electric bass, and Larry Stolite on drums. The band was popping and everyone enjoyed their set. Doc did a special tribute to his son and the rest of the troops by blowing a solo performance of our National Anthem. A couple of us stood for this tear jerker. When the National Anthem plays it is a sign of respect to stand. SO STAND UP. That is the least we can do.

I know that this is the second blues fest and there still are kinks to be worked out, but I know the coming years will see some more improvements. Put it on your calendar for next year.

One extra note “The Blues Fest” happened because of Chuck & Deb’s efforts and money. They were not allowed to use the outside, back parking lot for an outside stage area. The excuse given was the serving of alcohol. The city of Watsekas Government made a dumb and idiotic decision not to allow it. Why couldn’t the city allow the FEST to have a special one day permit? Come on Council people, you have something else in the works to put Watseka on the map. At very least the city could provide the extra police to control any problems that would possibly arise. The city should be funding the entertainment for this Fest. Name talent is not cheap, but the name talent brings the crowds and the crowds bring the money and the sponsors follow. Chuck and Deb Gomez are doing a good thing for Watseka whether the city council likes it or not. CITY COUNCIL help them with financial support for next year. The blues public spends money at these things. Big money!!!!!

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