The southeastern Pennsylvania town of Reading has had such a success with its long-running jazz festival, it’s adding a blues festival. Booker T. Jones, a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee and Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, will headline the Reading Blues Fest, Nov. 16–18.
Many will recall Jones as the front-man for the 1960s-era band Booker T. and the MGs, who were influential in creating the Memphis soul sound. Besides its own hits, such as “Green Onions,” the group served as Stax Records’ house band, backing top musicians such as Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Otis Redding, Steven Sills, John Lee Hooker, Sam and Dave, Eddie Floyd, Albert King, Soul Asylum, the Roots, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge.
An organist, songwriter, and arranger, Jones also produced Nelson’s triple platinum album “Stardust,” and Bill Withers’ debut album featuring “Ain’t No Sunshine.”
Jones will perform Friday, Nov. 16, at the Blues Fest, along with Ruthie Foster and the DOXA Gospel Ensemble. Foster received the Koko Taylor Award for Traditional Blues Female at the 2018 Blue Music Awards. The gospel group has appeared many times in the Boscov’s Berks Jazz Fest with other artists.
The Berks Arts Council presents both festivals in Reading, about a 2 1/2-hour drive from Washington, D.C.
The Jazz Fest, a Reading fixture for 29 years, draws up to 40,000 fans from 30 states and abroad over its two-week run in April. This is the second year for the Blues Fest, which will feature more than 50 artists with diverse styles.
John Ernesto, who manages both events, said there will be changes based on lessons learned last year that should make the 2018 Blues Fest “bigger and better.” A primary change will be a single venue for all the major concerts — the Double-Tree by Hilton Reading at 701 Penn St. The hotel ballroom can accommodate up to 1,000 people, and a sec- ond ballroom and amphitheater offer smaller spaces.
Concerts also will be held at a few other venues.
“We’re excited about it,” Ernest said of the festival.
The Friday welcome concert features the Craig Thatcher Band with guest star G. E. Smith, a blues/rock guitarist who has performed with Daryl Hall and John Oates, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Tina Turner, Eddie Van Halen, and TV’s Saturday Night Live Band.
Other festival highlights include an all-star concert, “Chicago Plays the Stones,” on Saturday featuring musicians who have been influenced by the Chicago blues sound. A special film screening on Sunday, “Sidemen: Long Road to Glory,” spotlights the lives and legacies of three side- men to Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf: piano player Pinetop Perkins, drummer Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, and guitarist Hubert Sumlin. The festival closes with a four-concert finale on Sunday.
The schedule, artist profiles, and ticket and hotel information are available at readingbluesfest.com.
“It’s a Reading-centric festival,” said Ernesto, adding the concert venues, hotels, and restaurants are all within walking distance downtown and concert prices are affordable.
“You can park the car and enjoy music all weekend,” he said.
What: Reading Blues Fest
When: Nov. 16–18
Where: Reading, Pa.