Category: festival

2011 Festival Date Set

The date for the 2011 Deep Blue Innovators Blues Festival has been set! Marke your calendars and save the day: this year’s event will be on Saturday, October 29th, at the historic Rivoli Theatre, right here in Monmouth, Illinois. We are close to finalizing the line-up for the event – it’s going to be an amazing show – we’ll see you there!

Chocolate Drops Win Grammy!

2010 Deep Blue Innovators Blues Festival headliner, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, took home the Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album for Genuins Negro Jig in last Sunday’s Grammy Awards event!

In other Chocolate Drops news, Nonesuch Records spokeswoman Melissa Cusick told The Associated Press that founding member Justin Robinson has left the band. Beat boxer Adam Matta and multi-instrumentalist Hubby Jenkins are coming aboard to join Rhiannon Giddens and Dom Flemons, she said.

Also, on Wednesday’s American Idol Hollywood Week group day, one of the songs the contestants could select was Hit Em Up Style, a Blu Cantrell song that the Chocolate Drops recorded on Genuine Negro Jig and performed to an enthusiastic crowd at last year’s festival.

Submissions for 2011 Deep Blue Innovators

If you are interested in being part of a magical day of music at the historic Rivoli Theatre for the 2011 Deep Blue Innovators Blues Festival, please send your promotional materials in so they will reach our offices no later than January 20, 2011. The promo packs should be sent to:

Paul Schuytema

90A Public Square

Monmouth, IL 61462

Deep Blue Innovators a Huge Success

If you were there, then you know!

Blues fans from all across the country packed the Rivoli Theatre on Saturday night for the 2010 Deep Blue Innovators Blues Festival. From 2pm until the stroke of midnight, the music and fellowship flowed in abundance. Many thanks to all the musicians, the fans, the sponsors and the volunteers – without each and every one of you, it would have been just another day of music… but this was more… this was special… a rare moment we all got to share.

Here are what some of the attendees had to say:

I have been to more than fifty blues festivals and this festival rates as the best I have attended. All of the acts individually were outstanding but the variation in musical styles made it truly special.

We drove from Madison WI for the festival and it was worth the drive! So much talent packed into one day and one place.

I thought Scott Ainslie gave about the best live performance I’ve ever seen – wonderful!

Thanks for the best fest yet! The music, ribs, and everything were the best ever.

I read about the festival and the small venue and decided to make the 900 mile trip. I just want to say we enjoyed all of the musicians.

Thanks to you for the fine hospitality and putting on such a great fest. -Dave Specter

Thank You, Monmouth! As a guest artist at the Deep Blue Innovators Blues festival at the Rivoli last Saturday (and a first time visitor to Monmouth) I salute you! The sense of community on stage and off was simply remarkable and something that you all can honestly brag about. – Scott Ainslie

To see pictures of the fest snapped by Doug Rankin, click here.

The 2010 Festival is Nearly Here!

After months of work and months of anticipation, the 2010 Deep Blue Innovators Festival will be here this Saturday, October 23rd at the historic Rivoli Theatre.

It will be a special day of music and fellowship in the blues. Here are some highlights:

  • Blues festival pre-party Friday night at Galesburg’s Fat Fish Pub, featuring Little Joe McLerran
  • Blues guitar workshops featuring Little Joe McLerran and Scott Ainslie at the Buchanan Center for the Arts (starting at 10am)
  • Doors open at 2pm
  • Demonstrations by Brian Baugh and his students: homemade Diddley Bows and Cigar Box guitars
  • Try out Hahn Amplifiers custom tube amps: the Short Stack and the Signet
  • Eddie B’s famous ribs
  • A lineup of amazing musicians: Hayes & Fleming, Little Joe McLerran, Scott Ainslie, The Dave Specter Band and the Carolina Chocolate Drops
  • After-fest blues jam

We’ll see you at the show!

A Huge Thanks to Our 2010 Sponsors!

A blues festival like the 2010 Deep Blue Innovators Blues Festival can’t be done in a vacuum. We need deep commitments from sponsors and we need the hard work of a team of volunteers, and we’re lucky on both fronts. I want to send out a huge Thank You! to all of our 2010 sponsors:

We’ll see you all at the show!

2010 Performer: The Carolina Chocolate Drops

In the summer and fall of 2005, three young black musicians, Dom Flemons, Rhiannon Giddens, and Justin Robinson, made the commitment to travel to Mebane, North Carolina, every Thursday night to sit in the home of old-time fiddler Joe Thompson for a musical jam session. Joe was in his 80’s, a black fiddler with a short bowing style that he inherited from generations of family musicians. He had learned to play a wide ranging set of tunes sitting on the back porch with other players after a day of field work. Now he was passing those same lessons on to a new generation.

When the three students decided to form a band, they didn’t have big plans. It was mostly a tribute to Joe, a chance to bring his music back out of the house again and into dance halls and public places. They called themselves The Chocolate Drops as a tip of the hat to the Tennessee Chocolate Drops, three black brothers Howard, Martin and Bogan Armstrong, who lit up the music scene in the 1930’s. Honing and experimenting with Joe’s repertoire, the band often coaxed their teacher out of the house to join them on stage. Joe’s charisma and charm regularly stole the show.

The Chocolate Drops started playing around, rolling out the tunes wherever anyone would listen. From town squares to farmer’s markets, they perfected their playing and began to win an avid following of foot-tapping, sing-along, audiences.

“Tradition is a guide, not a jailer. We play in an older tradition but we are modern musicians.”
—Justin Robinson

While the young Chocolate Drops were upstarts in a stable of deep tradition, they were also the link between past and future. They began to expand their repertoire, taking advantage of what Dom calls “the novelty factor” to get folks in the door and then teaching and thrilling them with traditional music that was evolving as they performed. They teased audiences with history on tunes like “Dixie”, the apparent Southern anthem that musicologists suggest was stolen by the black-face minstrel Dan Emmert from the Snowden family, black Ohio musicians who missed their warm, sunny home. The “Drops” gave new energy to old tunes like John Henry and Sally Ann, adding blues songs, Gaelic acappella, and flat-footing to the show.

The band moved up through the festival circuit, from the Mt. Airy Fiddler’s Convention to MerleFest. They shared the stage with their new fan, Taj Mahal, and traveled to Europe. In 2007 they appeared in Denzel Washington’s film, The Great Debators and joined Garrison Keiler on Prairie Home Companion.  In 2008, they received an invitation to play on the Grand Ole Opry. The Drops were the first black string band to play the Opry. Opry host, Marty Stewart, pronounced the performance a healing moment for the Opry.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops’ latest disc, Genuine Negro Jig, is more revelation than revival. The old-time music that this trio of African-American musicians has been exploring for the last four years—with banjo, fiddle, guitar, snare, kazoo, jugs, and bones—offers pleasures both immediate and deep. “Trouble In Your Mind” and live-show favorite “Cornbread and Butterbeans” insist upon foot-tapping, if not a whirl around the closest dance floor, while others, like the brooding “Kissin’ and Cussin’” and the more sensual “Why Don’t You Do Right?,” invite comfortably seated rumination. But these generations-old songs, performed with both faithfulness and modernity, also represent a significant yet near-forgotten part of American musical history.

Behind its grooves, Genuine Negro Jig harbors extraordinary tales about the role of largely unsung black musicians who, from the pre-civil war south to the mid-20th Century, composed, performed, and passed on songs such as these, from parent to child, neighbor to neighbor. The Carolina Chocolate Drops focus on the sound of the Piedmont region of the Carolinas, the foothills where both black and white families settled and where musicians from both sides of the color line shared and swapped tunes.

Rolling Stone Magazine described the Carolina Chocolate Drops’ style as “dirt-floor-dance electricity”.  If you ask the band, that is what matters most. Yes, banjos and black string musicians first got here on slave ships, but now this is everyone’s music. It’s OK to mix it up and go where the spirit moves.

“We’re first and foremost entertainers and musicians,” Giddens emphasizes. “The other stuff enriches, deepens the experience. If you can’t enjoy the music on the surface, we aren’t doing our job. That’s been the problem with some historical-based music. Sometimes it feels like a lesson injected rather than just something to be enjoyed. We’re just pleased that we have the platform and that we can make a living playing this music. In this day and age, that’s no mean feat. Everything has fallen into place so nicely. We’re incredibly blessed; there is no other word for it.”

“Being able to play in an old vaudeville theater really creates an amazing atmosphere since so much of this music was performed in nice houses like this,” reflects Flemons. “This is for both the performers and the audience.  They are transported to an earlier time just by being entertained the way that people have been entertained for over a century.”

On Saturday night, be prepared to be transported back in time, yet also into the future of music, as the Carolina Chocolate Drops hit the stage of the Rivoli Theatre. In the music of the Chocolate Drops, we see what it truly means to be a Deep Blue Innovator.

For more information, please visit the Chocolate Drops website. Also, be sure to visit the Chocolate Drops artist’s store on

2010 Festival Schedule

Here is the schedule for the 2010 Deep Blue Innovators Blues Festival on Saturday, October 23rd:

At the Buchanan Center for the Arts:
10-11am: Little Joe McLerran guitar workshop
11:10-12:10pm: Scott Ainslie guitar workshop
At the Rivoli Theatre:
2:00pm: doors open
2:30pm: Hayes and Fleming perform
4:00pm: Little Joe McLerran performs
5:30pm: Scott Ainslie performs
7:15pm : The Dave Specter Band performs
9:00pm : The Carolina Chocolate Drops perform
10:45pm : open jam
This is our best guess for a linear stage event… some things will move slower, some faster. Part of the ebb and flow of the blues!

2010 Festival Press Release

Monmouth, IL, October 12, 2009 — For the fourth time in as many years, innovative blues artists will hit the old vaudeville stage of the historic Rivoli Theatre in Monmouth, Illinois to participate in the Deep Blue Innovators Blues Festival on Saturday, October 23rd.

The Rivoli Theatre is a venerable old venue, starting its life as a vaudeville theater and then as the fanciest movie house in Monmouth. The greenroom under the stage has played home-away-from-home for eighty plus years of performers, yet the 60,000 watt computer-matched sound system delivers sweet blues music to every seat in the house.

As 2009 headliner Watermelon Slim mused: “I’m a man who loves old theaters and old hotels– I’m a historian, and I’m old now, so I guess I just like old things even more now. I am looking forward to breathing the air inside such a veteran theatre, seeing the places backstage where the dust has long settled because the broom or vacuum nozzle couldn’t get to them– there won’t be many places like that, of course– and imbibing the entertainment history represented in the years of accumulation.”

This year’s festival will feature local guitar hero Charlie Hayes opening up with his long-time harpist, Joel Fleming. The two of them together have close to 70 years combined musical experience and have delivered the opening set for each year of the festival. Hayes also works the stage for the festival and leads the open mic after the evening’s sets wind down.

Little Joe McLerran will hit the stage next as a three piece outfit, with Little Joe stomping out the beat, playing old school blues guitar and delivering his rich, intoxicating vocals. He’ll be accompanied by bassist Robbie Mack and long-time reed man Dexter Payne. Little Joe was the 2009 winner of the International Blues Challenge and is perhaps the finest Piedmont-style blues player in the world today.

Next, Vermont’s own Scott Ainslie, a 40 year veteran of deep blues guitar will hit the stages with his stories, his wicked slide technique (he is a master of the Robert Johnson style of slide playing and internationally known as a preeminent blues guitar teacher) and his deep, earth-shaking vocals.

Next on the stage will be the Dave Specter Band, from Chicago, Illinois. Dave is a long-time master guitarist, best-known for his fusion of jazz and blues guitar techniques. With nine solo albums and over 30 titles in his discography, Specter is at the top of his game. Dave will feature songs from his just released and critically acclaimed “Spectified” album, which stretches his style even further, incorporating TexMex overtones into his masterful guitar compositions.

Headliners are the internationally acclaimed Carolina Chocolate Drops. Fresh from the release of their latest album, “Genuine Negro Jig,” the Drops will be trading their giant touring venues (such as the Grand Ole Opry, Bonaroo and the Telluride Blues Festival) for the intimacy of the Rivoli stage to deliver an intimate set of deep roots blues and jigs.

“Being able to play in an old vaudeville theater really creates an amazing atmosphere since so much of this music was performed in nice houses like this,” said Dom Flemons of the Carolina Chocolate Drops. “This is for both the performers and the audience.  They are transported to an earlier time just by being entertained the way that people have been entertained for over a century.”

Earlier in the day, both Little Joe McLerran and Scott Ainslie will deliver free guitar workshops at the Buchanan Center for the Arts. Though these events are free and open to the public, seating is limited, so it’s recommenced that you head over to the website and reserve your spot.

Also returning for the fourth year will be Eddie’s B and his famous ribs – he’ll set up his smoker right in front of the Rivoli and smoke ribs and pulled pork throughout the day, providing the aromatic back-drop for a day of deep, intimate blues.

The Deep Blue Innovators festival is a labor-of-love for lifetime MVBS member Paul Schuytema. “My favorite event of the entire year is the MVBS festival – it’s a fourth of July ritual. That event inspired me to try something in the fall. The MVBS helped me with logistics that first year (many thanks to Ricardo Burris!), and the fest has taken on a life of it’s own.”

“The Rivoli is a small venue,” said Schuytema, “full at 300 people, but the setting is so intimate, and the fans and musicians mingle for the whole day. The fans have an amazing day of music and the performers seem to have a ball… every year, they ask if they can come back again! Last year, after the show, Watermelon Slim called me a few days later and told me ‘You truly have a world-class festival there… I’ll play any time you’ll have me’… that’s when I knew we were onto something!”

“I’ve played house concerts and sold out 1800 seat auditoriums, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’d enjoyed them both,” reflected 2010 performer Scott Ainslie. “But, if I had to choose my favorite setting, it would be something in between:  a small theater whose stage has seen generations of my brothers and sisters over the years where, rather than separating the audience and the artists, the stage is a place where we come together and get to know each other. The Rivoli is one of those places. It has soul, a history, and when it’s filled up with people and artists, a living presence. It is going to be a real pleasure to join the ranks of musicians and performers who have walked onto that stage.”

“These small events need the fans…I’d love to see tall our local blues fans there in force. That’s how we can keep this event going,” concluded Schuytema. “I’ll see you at the show!.”

Tickets are $15 prior to the show and will be $20 at the door. Tickets can be purchased online now or at the following local businesses: Monmouth (Buchanan Center for the Arts, Bijou Pub, Daw Violins), Galesburg (Cherry Street Guitars, MusicMakers, Capitol Music, Fat Fish Pub), Macomb (Capitol Music) and Burlington (Weird Harolds). Doors will open at 2pm and the show will start at 2:30pm. is an initiative to bring great live blues music to the Monmouth area, as well as highlight local talent already playing around the region. Concert information, local events and event tickets can all be found online at

2010 Performer: Dave Specter

Dave Specter is a busy man. Just back from a tour of Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, Dave and his band are hitting a few stateside gigs (including the 2010 Deep Blue Innovators Blues Festival) before heading off for another European tour in November.

We are honored to include the Dave Specter Band in our lineup for this year’s festival. If you’ve spent any time listening to the blues over the last 25 years, you’ve certainly heard his instantly recognizable jazzy-bluesy guitar playing. A virtuoso on hollow-bodied electric guitar, Dave can move effortlessly between hard core blues licks and complex jazz chords and phrasings.

Before forming his own band in 1989, Specter toured extensively throughout the U.S. and Europe behind such blues greats as Son Seals, The Legendary Blues Band, Hubert Sumlin, Sam Lay and Steve Freund. Specter has also performed and recorded with such blues and jazz artists as Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Otis Rush, Robert Jr. Lockwood, John Primer, Mighty Joe Young, Valerie Wellington, Magic Slim, Lonnie Brooks, Ronnie Earl, Otis Clay, Pinetop Perkins and Sunnyland Slim, to name just a few.

Dave has released nine solo albums and has appeared as a guest artist on numerous others, with a discography totaling out at more than 30 releases. His latest release (which came out just over a month ago), Spectified, is currenlty near the top of the Roots Radio chart and is garnering blistering reviews, including five stars from the Blues Underground Network:

Spectified is an album that is not only purely instrumental, it is also a album that is instrumentally pure. Unlike the vast majority of albums out there today, instrumental albums do not have the option of hiding behind lyrics if there are flaws. Spectified was flawless, in fact lyrics would have only taken this treasure down a few notches.”

On October 23rd, we’ll all have the wonderful opportunity to hear one of the truly original blues guitar virtuosos performing at the top of his game in the intimate setting of the Rivoli Theatre. Be prepared to be amazed!

To learn more about Dave Specter, visit his website here.

To get the inside skinny on the life of a Chicago blues guitarist, check out Dave Specter’s Blues & Beyond.

To buy his latest album, click here.

To visit his Amazon Artist Store, click here.

Blues Guitar Workshops Before the Festival!

Once again, blues fans and guitar geeks have a chance to get up close and personal with some of the acts performing at the Deep Blue Innovators Blues Festival on October 23rd. This year we’re hosting not one but two guitar workshops!

Starting at 10am at the Buchanan Center for the Arts (less than a block from the Rivoli), the festival will host two guitar masters for workshops on style, history and how to play the blues.

First, Little Joe McLerran will introduce workshop participants to the unique characteristics of Piedmont style blues. Little Joe has given numerous workshops (including several in the Middle East) and is the 2009 winner of the International Blues Challenge.

Next, master blues teacher and historian Scott Ainslie will be taking us deep into the Delta with his extensive knowledge of the guitar stylings of the first modern bluesman: Robert Johnson. Ainslie has been studying roots and Delta blues for 40+ years and has delivered successful teaching videos and DVDs for MelBay.

The workshops are free and open to the public, but seating is limited, so please RSVP to to reserve your seat.

All levels of players are welcome, but players should have a basic knowledge of chord fingering. For participation, please bring a acoustic guitar (or unplugged electric), pick, thumb pick and slide.

This is an amazing opportunity and a great way to get you in the mood for a day of great live music. We’ll see you there!

2010 Performer: Scott Ainslie

Scott Ainslie heard Virginia Bluesman and grave digger, John Jackson play a couple of songs in the middle of a Mike Seeger concert just outside of Washington, DC, at Groveton High School back in 1967. Things haven’t been the same since.

Scott started playing guitar a month later and has now spent nearly forty years studying and playing traditional music, visiting and documenting senior musicians in America’s old-time banjo and fiddle music, Blues and gospel traditions.

With four CDs, a teaching DVD on the guitar techniques of Delta Blues legend Robert Johnson, and a book on Johnson’s music “Robert Johnson/At The Crossroads” (Hal Leonard, 1992) to his credit, as a performer and a teacher, Ainslie continues to present programs that are vital and entertaining. He currently makes his home in of Brattleboro, Vermont after transplanting there from North Carolina.

Ainslie’s deep voice and powerful slide guitar technique command attestation and pull the listener back in time, back before amplifiers and top-40 radio, to a time when the blues was a mirror of the lives working familes lead.

“I’ve played house concerts and sold out 1800 seat auditoriums,” reflects Ainslie, “and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’d enjoyed them both. But, if I had to choose my favorite setting, it would be something in between:  a small theater whose stage has seen generations of my brothers and sisters over the years where, rather than separating the audience and the artists, the stage is a place where we come together and get to know each other. The Rivoli is one of those places. It has soul, a history, and when it’s filled up with people and artists, a living presence. It is going to be a real pleasure to join the ranks of musicians and performers who have walked onto that stage.”

“I spent a week with the Carolina Chocolate Drops years ago and had a ball,” continues Ainslie. “We’ve all spent time with Joe Thompson and we have interests in Old-Time music as well as Blues. We are going to have a ball.”

Ainslie will also be leading the second of two guitar workshops at the Buchanan Center for the Arts on the morning of the festival (Saturday, October 23rd, approximately 11am). Ainslie is a deeply dedicated teacher and historian and will bring his wellspring of knowledge to local musicians and blues fans.

“Back in 1967, when I began to play guitar I had no teacher,” says Ainslie.  ”No lessons, no workshops, no TAB, no YouTube videos: just a cheap guitar and a book of folksongs with chord diagrams (many of which were wrong). I spent some time wandering in the wilderness, falling into every muddy ditch, bumping into every tree. I can spare you a good portion of that walk. Having been there, I’m  a good guide. You’ll still have to walk the walk, of course, but it’s a big help to know which paths are dead ends and what you need to know to move forward.”

“Over the past 43 years, I’ve built a body of knowledge about roots guitar styles and acoustic blues and slide guitar. Robert Johnson, David ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards, Muddy Waters, Blind Blake, Rev. Gary Davis, and Mississippi John Hurt and many other relatively unknown musicians have all shaped my understanding of this instrument, its expressive power and flexibility. Sharing that knowledge is one of the ways I honor them. It is a part of my responsibility as a link in a chain of human knowledge, culture and musical tradition.”

“And whenever I need to reconnect with those first few months and years with a guitar in my hands, I simply turn it around backwards and ask my left hand to do my right hand’s job and visa versa. The brain knows, but the muscle patterns necessary are discrete, handed knowledge. In a workshop, I can show your brain. You still have to develop the hand knowledge, the muscle patterns, which take time and repetition.”

“The beauty of having a teacher is to have them look at your hands and how you are playing a guitar and suggest ways to expand your playing and make what you are aiming to do simpler, easier and musically more effective. I always enjoy being allowed into someone’s musical life and being able to be useful. It can be difficult here in America for an artist to feel useful. When it happens, it is always a good thing.”

The workshops are free and open to the public, but seating is limited, so please RSVP using the contact for on the site.

To learn more about Scott Ainslie, check out his website.

2010 Performer: Little Joe McLerran

Little Joe McLerran has packed a lifetime of musical experience into just 25 short years, culminating in achieving a dream of his: winning the 25th Annual Blues Foundation’s International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee. It took four consecutive trips to the event and three stellar sets to earn the crown.

Little Joe McLerran, “Perhaps the finest Piedmont Blues player on the face of God’s green earth”, writes Billy Austin, editor of Blues News. No small wonder. Little Joe has spent 16 of his 24 years on God’s green earth working on his Piedmont chops. For his first public performance Joe sang a Leadbelly song and played another by Rev. Gary Davis as his 4th grade classmates provided theatrical support.

Little Joe McLerran came to the blues early on, discovering the music as a kid through friends of his dad, longtime local bass player Rob McLerran. When he was a teenager, Joe and his brother, Jesse, played on the Pearl Street Mall as “Buddy Hollywood,” a duo specializing in the Beatles, Bob Marley and the blues. Joe played guitar and Jesse — who died in an accident a few years ago — played drums.

Nine years ago the family moved to Tulsa, Okla., where Joe adopted the name “Son Piedmont” and immersed himself in the acoustic Piedmont blues style of the ’20s and ’30s. The 25-year-old blues musician has a penchant for the classics, but he has created a sound that is current — and all his own.

He’ll hit the Rivoli stage as a trio, with father Robbie Mack on bass and his long-time reed man Dexter Payne. Little Joe will be working hard on the weekend, also performing in a pre-fest event at the Fat Fish Pub on Friday, October 23rd (be sure to come by to score some free tickets or a free t-shirt!). He’ll also be presenting the first of two blues guitar workshops at the Buchanan Center for the Arts at 10am on Saturday, October 23rd (Little Joe has given Piedmont Blues workshops all across the US and also in the Middle East).

Many thanks to for the great picture of Little Joe!

Learn more about Little Joe at his website.

Tickets Now at Fat Fish!

You can now buy tickets for the 2010 Deep Blue Innovators Blues Festival at the Fat Fish Pub in Galesburg. Head over to Fat Fish for some great micro brews, great live blues, festival tickets and the festival pre-party featuring Little Joe McLerran on Friday, October 23rd.

Coming In From Out Of Town?

If you are coming from out of town to see the 2010 Deep Blue Innovators Blues Festival, then plan on having a wonderful day. Remember that there will be blues guitar workshops starting at 10am on the festival day (Saturday, October 23rd) and the fest doors open at 2pm. The fest generally runs until around midnight. If you plan on coming in on Friday or staying Saturday night, here are the best local accommodations:

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