The blues is bigger in Bedford this year.
The annual Bedford Blues and BBQ Festival, the open-air celebration of roots music and comfort food, has now expanded to three days — Friday through Sunday — and features more than 80 teams showing off their barbecue prowess.
While this event has often come up with some impressive headliners, it is hard to imagine a lineup that could top the names that will grace the stage at this year’s event. They include such legends as Buddy Guy, John Mayall and Jimmie Vaughan.
In addition to those greats, we also get Lou Ann Barton, Buddy Whittington and Josh Weathers — a trio of outstanding performers with local ties. Adding some variety to the bills will be acts like Louisiana’s Wayne Toups and the two tribute bands, Scant and Escape, that will be playing the event’s first ’80s-music theme night on Friday.
“I never even thought I could meet these guys when I was a kid. So to grow up and get to know them and play with them, it’s really been a lot of fun,” says Vaughan, a guitarist who grew up in Oak Cliff and went on to become one of Austin’s most important blues players. “You do what you do when you are on stage, and then you get home and think, ‘Wow. I just played with Buddy Guy.’ It’s really hard to describe. You don’t want to think about it too much when you’re up there. You just want to enjoy it.”
Vaughan, who will be joined by his band and Fort Worth-born, Austin-based singer Barton, is one of America’s foremost blues players. He founded the Fabulous Thunderbirds in the 1970s, and although he has long-since departed that band, he has dominated Texas blues ever since.
But, oddly enough, his incredible career in music sprang from a humble (if not disgusting) base — dumpster diving.
“I used to go down to NorthPark [mall] where they did an after-school TV [dance] show. They used to throw all their records away in the dumpster behind the television studio,” recalls Vaughan, who is the elder brother of the late Stevie Ray Vaughan. “So, whenever I went to NorthPark, I would go to that dumpster. I don’t remember how I figured that out. But I remember finding a promo copy of Purple Haze. I had only read about Jimi Hendrix. And when I found that record in the dumpster and played it, I thought, ‘My gosh, this sounds like Muddy Waters in outer space.’ That’s what I thought it was. And it was pretty exciting.”
But Vaughan feels that growing up in this area was a boon to him for other reasons, too.
“The Dallas-Fort Worth area was a fantastic place for music in the 1950s and 1960s. I really don’t think there could have been a better place because of all the different influences there. Big band. Western swing. Rock ’n’ roll. And there were even blues stations on the radio. I had all of these influences. It was just all around us. I didn’t really know the difference about the categories. I just thought it was all cool,” he says. “That’s kind of where I’ve come back to now.”
Northeast Tarrant memories
Another local boy on the festival bill, guitarist Buddy Whittington, has similar memories of his days growing up in North Richard Hills and Hurst.
“My parents were into Western swing. But Fort Worth radio had a lot of variety when I was growing up. And there were plenty of places to hear the blues,” says the guitarist, whose engagements find him everywhere from local bars to venues in Denmark and England. “Then my sister started bringing Beatles albums home.”
The impact of the Fab Four and other British Invasion bands had a lasting impact on Whittington.
“We are little less straight blues than some of them. We have more of a blues-rock sound,” says Whittington, an L.D. Bell grad, about his current band and style. “But I think people are open to different interpretations of the blues.”
After cutting his musical teeth on his sister’s Beatles albums, Whittington went on to tap directly into one of the most important players of the British Invasion era when he became the guitarist in another act in the Bedford lineup, John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers.
You may have heard of the guitarist who preceded Whittington in that band — Eric Clapton.
“It was a really fruitful proving ground for me to get out and play around the world like I did with Mayall,” says Whittington, who was in the Bluesbreakers for 15 years. The band also included occasional Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor and drummer Mick Fleetwood at different times. “I’ve been going to Europe a couple of times of year to play [in recent years]. But I’m kind of happy with what I’ve got going around here.”
Vaughan also seems content with his place in the blues firmament — even though he is not relaxing.
“I still take music lessons. I’m still trying to learn,” says Vaughan. “But I listen to more saxophone players than I do guitar players. In my mind, I am more like them when I play blues solos. I’m more interested in playing my feelings and having emotional depth than being a whiz-bang guitar player.”
The meat of the matter
In addition to all the world-class blues music from the festival’s two stages, the event also promises that some blue ribbon-worthy barbecue will be offered.
“When we came back from hiatus, we were struggling,” says Wendy Hartnett, special events manager for the city of Bedford, referring to the period from 2005 to 2008 when the annual event was canceled due to financial difficulties. “So when we came back, barbecue was supposed to be our saving grace. And it has been. Last year we had 59 teams [competing], and this year we will be in the 80s.”
The extra night of programming Friday afforded organizers the chance to focus on pop nostalgia, with the bands Scant (1980s covers) and Escape (Journey covers).
“We are just offering everyone another night. And we thought it would be fun to make it a tribute night,” says Hartnett. “It will be our very first Friday.”