SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, June 10, 2022 (Gephardt Daily) — The Utah Blues Festival is set to return to Salt Lake City this weekend after a two-year absence.
The festival will take place at the Gallivan Center on June 10 and 11.
Tripp Hopkins, producer of the event, spoke with Gephardt Daily about subjects including the festival’s origins.
“It’s kind of a two-part story because since the late 70s, early 80s, there’s been a Utah blues festival but its been kind of more local bands, local barbecue, and it wasn’t to the degree it is now. It was held up at the reservoirs and different places, so there’s a long history of blues festivals happening in the Salt Lake valley or Salt Lake area,” Hopkins said.
“But in 2014 the Utah Blues Society, the group which puts on the festival, became a non-profit and we decided we needed to put a festival together with national acts, regional acts, etc. It’s eight years old, minus two from COVID, so it’s six years, but we also decided, we had it out in West Valley for a year, we decided we needed to bring it downtown, make it more accessible to transportation, also, because I’ve been involved in other blues festivals, that we would be able to partner with hotels, because hundreds of people are coming from out of state, and also the Gallivan Center is about the right size for a blues festival.”
Hopkins said that he and the co-founder of the festival, Brian Kelm, are very connected to the blues community and this year’s event features acts from around the world. “It’s one of the top nationally known blues festivals of its size in the country, and we’re very proud of that,” he said. He added the local arts community has been very supportive and helped the event to grow. “They’re very aware that we’re more than just another music festival, we’re a cultural event,” Hopkins said. “Namely the history of the blues and the heritage behind that, not just the music, but how it came out, the roots of blues, which goes way back; and we like to expose our audiences to the different genres of blues music.”
Hopkins said the aim of the festival is to showcase different types of blues, including soul blues, Chicago blues, roots blues, blues rock and more. The first night, June 10, goes 5 p.m. through 10 p.m. and features Terrie Odabi, the Nick Moss Band with Dennis Gruenling and Kate Moss, and Ronnie Baker Brooks. On Saturday, the music goes from noon to 10 p.m. and begins with local musician Eric Heideman, then continues with the Bennett Matteo band, Marquise Knox, Vanessa Collier, Curtis Salgado and Ruthie Foster. More information about the artists can be found here.
“We have this strong history of being the crossroads between the east, Denver, and the west coast and these bands used to come through here all the time; Buddy Guy, all those guys,” Hopkins said. He added that often the musicians in the festival will often jam with each other. “That’s one thing that’s also unique about our festival, a lot of the artists that are coming will play with the other artists, and that’s unique to this festival,” he said.
There will also be a harmonica workshop Saturday afternoon, at the adjacent Marriott Hotel, with no experience necessary. “Nick Moss and Dennis Gruenling will be doing that, and we’ll be giving away 150 free Hohner harmonicas,” he said. “It’s always popular, anyone that has a ticket gets in free, a lot of families come, bring their kids, but either way, you’re going to have two nationally known artists who are going to be playing the night before, doing kind of a demonstration of different styles of harmonica, as well as teaching people in the audience a few licks. Those are very popular, happen almost every year, and we also hope to have our cigar box guitar making workshop earlier in the day, which will be a much smaller one, but again, open for free.”
Hopkins explained that local non-profit organizations will also be represented, and there will be local vendors and food trucks. “Another thing I’m very proud of this year is that we’re going to be, not 100% sustainable but last time we had it, we will not sell any single-use water bottles, plastic water bottles, they can bring in a single-use container, but KETOS has donated free water, purified,” he said. “And there’ll be no keg beer sold, everything will be aluminum cans. It’s more expensive to do that, but 92% of aluminum cans end up being re-used again, so we think it’s very important, and so does the city.”
There is also a popular VIP area at the event. “That’s upstairs in the Gallivan Hall and that’s always popular, it always sells out and it’s just about sold out,” he said. “But we’re also proud of the fact that we don’t take up all the seats at the front of the stage, with VIP, only half, only a certain amount, so someone who pays for the lowest price ticket, the general admission ticket, can stand right at the front and watch the musicians just as close as somebody who spends the money on the VIP experience.”
There will also be a piano bar at the Marriott on the Saturday night; the artists themselves are staying at the hotel along with many attendees. “A lot of those artists jam, so they’ll come in and do an after-hours kind of a low-key thing, so it’s kind of a way to unwind from the show that’s gone on to more of kind of just a chill scene so people can kind of do their thing,” he said.
Hopkins said he hopes the festival can grow to two full days in the future. “We would like to see it go to a full two days, and three days is fine, too. It’s easier once you set it up to just keep it going,” he said. “We were one day for three years then the last couple of years have been a day-and-a-half and that’s very successful, and the natural progression would be to move it up to a two-day festival.” Free tickets have been given to teachers and underserved communities, he said.
Hopkins added that the festival is a great day or weekend out for those that love music in general. He said: “There are people that think that only blues people like this music and I would say, 50% of our audience are not traditional blues fans, you could name people and they wouldn’t know, there are so many people that have played here that we just know that people will like the music, and the ultimate test is you just look out on the crowd and their hips are shaking, the families are having a great time, the kids are loving it, and the traditional blues fans are loving it. So, I mean, three of the top blues photographers in the world are coming to our festival because of the line-up, and also because of how chill the festival is, it’s not packed in with 15,000 or 25,000 people like some of the bigger festivals, and so that’s important to us, it’s important that we have that reputation.”
More information and tickets are available at Utahbluesfest.org.