By Benjamin Joe
The Niagara Falls Blues Festival is here in its 12th annual appearance to amaze and excite music lovers visiting and from Niagara Falls.
Starting at 5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 13, Jerry Portnoy will be playing the first slot of the night that will be wrapped up at 11 p.m. by The Nighthawks with Bob Margolin. Blues enthusiasts needn’t to fear, the fun will begin again at 1 p.m. the next day with The Coupe de Villes and will run to 11 p.m. again with Canned Heat.
“You’ll see tents, food tents and trucks, as well as retail tents popping up and down the block,” Tony Maggiotto Jr., director of events at Old Falls Street USA, said. He also said that this year, as far as he knows, is the first year that the festival has been hosted by this part of Old Falls Street, directly across the street from the Sheraton Hotel and closest to the casino.
This year the theme for the festival is “The Legend Returns.” Toby Rotella, longtime blues organizer, explained.
“Every year that we do Blues Festivals, we have themes,” Rotella said. “This year’s is ‘Return of the Legends’ which means on Friday night, we’ll bring last of the remaining members of Muddy Waters’s band. These guys here played with Muddy Waters in Chicago. They were in his band when I used to go see him in the ‘70s.”
They’re getting on in age, Rotella said, but that’s not really their choice. So, he said, the first act, Jerry Portnov isn’t just a harmonica player, he’s a legend.
“He used to be Eric Clapton’s harmonica player on tour dates,” Rotella said. “And then we have Mac Arnold and John Primer, that’s a few of the artists. All of them have reputations, they all played with Muddy Waters.”
Rotella said he met the famous bluesman, whose real name is McKinley Morganfield, in Toronto and that night there was a vibe. They immediately became friends
“Over the years in the ‘70s, I listened to the blues, went all over the United States. I met a lot of great blues people, I went to a lot of great concerts with George Thorogood, Eric Clapton,” he said. “And now I’d met Muddy Waters and actually became really good friends with him, I used to go backstage to all these places.”
On Saturday morning, there will be a motorcycle and car cruise starting at Sal Maglie Stadium back to Old Falls Street to kick off the rest of the day with music.
“We have a band called the Coupe De Villes which is kind of like cars. Then we have a band from Cleveland, and then some guys from Florida who come up called the Pitt Bull,” Rotella said. “Then a band from Chicago, Mississippi Heat. Then we have another band from Florida, Otis Cadillac & the El Dorados and the Seville Sisters who are just great. It’s like a 12 piece band, big band; it’s kind of a big band sound with a blues tint to it. It’s really good.
“Then we have to end the night off is Canned Heat, and Canned Heat played at Woodstock, 50 years ago. They’re coming from the Woodstock area and they’re coming here to do another show. There’s only a few remaining members, many guys have passed, but they keep the spirit … they go to the end.”