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Blues Fest 1

Shaun Murphy, right, and her band perform a song from Murphy's newest album, "Mighty Gates," at the Northwoods Blues Festival in Chippewa Falls.

Don’t sing the blues for the Northwoods Blues Festival, never mind the blistering heat and a bit of rain during this year’s recent run.

After another weekend that was blessed, according to its organizer, the fest is already making plans for next year.

Steve Rheaume, festival co-founder he was surprised and delighted to see blues fans of all ages at the fairgrounds.

“We’re dealing with a crowd that is generally 50 and above, but I saw some younger audiences, even younger people that have been to every festival,” Rheaume said. “That’s the lifeblood, the new generation we need.”

Coincidentally, several festival performers are millennials themselves.

One of the opening main stage acts this year was 18-year-old Dylan Salfer of Minneapolis. Rheaume called him “a new Minnesota guitar prodigy.”

“Even Albert Castiglia is only 48 years old,” Rheaume said. “Everyone knows the oldsters like B.B. King or Buddy Guy. But these are the new generation of blues stars.”

Rheaume and other festival organizers hope to lure those young crowds back next year. The festival will remain in Chippewa Falls but will be held one week earlier than usual — in the third weekend of June.

The move is due to Cadott’s behemoth Country Fest moving to the fourth weekend in June.

Looking ahead

Before Shaun Murphy took the stage during the Saturday performance this year, organizers were announcing a performer for 2019’s festival.

“We’ve named Joyann Parker for the mainstage,” Rheaume said. “We booked her for the sidestage (this year), and she put out an album a month ago, “Hard to Love.” It’s the No. 1 soul blues album in the nation.”

Rheaume also expects Howard “Guitar” Luedtke and Blue Max to open the festival next year.

“No single performer has ever appeared more than twice at our festival, except for Howard and Deb opening every one,” he said.

Temperatures on Friday during this year’s blues fest – which skyrocketed to upper 90s and low 100s – deterred some fans, but shade tents around the perimeter of the stage area were packed, Rheaume said.

A new stage arrangement drew attention this year, Rheaume said.

A large area directly in front of the main stage was cleared for dancing. During Murphy’s set, many couples danced their way to the stage edge, earning grins and high-fives from the band.

“Anyone who had a general admission ticket could come up and dance close to the stage,” Rheaume said.

The festival will continue working with Loopy’s Grill and Saloon next year to host shuttles from the fairgrounds to Loopy’s.

For more information about the Northwoods Blues Festival, visit www.northwoodsbluesfest.com.

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