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Local, state and national acts delight blues fest crowdTell North Platte what you think
Photo by Tammy Bain
Kris Lager of Omaha
Photo by Tammy Bain
James Super Chikan Johnson
Photo by Tammy Bain
James Burke of North Platte, center, helps close the show.

The annual South Loup River Blues Festival opened July 8 with a free show, followed by a string of national and state blues musicians the next day. It was the 18th annual festival in Arnold, and while temperatures were high, so was attendance.

Temperatures climbed into the upper 90s, but organizer David Birnie of Thunderbird Radio in Broken Bow said more than 1,300 people attended.

The Melvin Running Bear Band opened at 11:30 a.m. and played through 12:15. The five-piece band played at a previous blues fest back when it was a relatively new event.

After that, the Matt Cox Band took the stage. The band is from Lincoln and Omaha. Two guitarists and a bass player contributed contemporary, southern blues instrumentation to Cox's poetic lyrics.

The Kris Lager Band performed into the late afternoon. Based out of Lincoln and Omaha, Lager is a member of the house band at the Zoo Bar in Lincoln. He is known for cross-genre styling, from funk to soul to R&B, and of course contemporary blues. Lager rocked the stage longer than his planned two-hour set, pleased the crowd and came back later to perform with two other acts. By the end of the night, Lager’s band established themselves as a crowd favorite.

Earl and Them, which features famed blues guitarists Earl Cate and Jason Davis, as well as drummer Terry Cagle and bassist Mike Murray, rocked the evening, and was also one of the headliner acts. Jason Davis is a traditional blues festival performer since the earliest days, and as usual, he did not disappoint with his guitar and vocals.

At the end of his set, Jason invited his friend Kris Lager to come up and perform, and additional excitement occurred when North Platte's James Burke was invited onstage to play harmonica. Burke pleased the crowd.

The headliner band, Super Chikan and The Fighting Cocks finished the evening with a medley of electric blues from the Mississippi Delta. Super Chikan, otherwise known as James Johnson, originates from Clarksdale, Miss. and formed his style in the presence of such blues greats as Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf.

Lager, Baby Jason and Burke were all invited back onstage to perform toward the end of the show with The Fighting Cocks, which gave Burke another chance to show his talent. The crowd cheered the talented performer from here in west central Nebraska.

“He (Super Chikan) told me I sounded like Jimmy Reed, which was just too much,” Burke said afterward. Burke has attended South Loup blues festivals since he was 16, and has performed with Lager at The Zoo Bar in Lincoln, and met Baby Jason at previous blues fests.

When Burke first saw Jason Davis (then known as Baby Jason), it sparked Burke’s interest in playing the blues and he began playing the harmonica at age 16. He said being on the stage with Davis was a dream come true.

“Most people don't get a chance to play music with their heroes,” Burke said. “It was one of the biggest days of my life, by far. It was pretty crazy.”

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The North Platte Bulletin - Published 7/13/2011
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