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10 songs you should know before going to Roots n Blues n BBQ

Marcus Calderon
Flickr commons

So you’re going to the “Roots n Blues n BBQ” festival this weekend. You love blues music and all the subgenres influenced by that gritty, American sound.

Or maybe you don’t know much about it besides loving to karaoke The Black Crowes version of “Hard To Handle.” Or perhaps you just want to catch a glimpse of Kate Hudson’s baby daddy. 

Whatever your motivation, there are some solid up-and-coming acts, as well as some staples (see what I did there?) to catch while they’re in town, or…gulp…still alive.

To prepare for the festival, I sat down with Hitt Records co-owner Kyle Cook to talk about what tunes can help newbies and connoisseurs of blues music prepare for the festival. (Full ethical disclosure: I play pickup hoops with him on Sundays.) We put a list together of some songs that may excite those already with tickets or convince those on the fence that you may want to catch these acts while they are in our backyard. Regardless, these are some of the tunes you should know before heading into the gates.

Also, check out this Spotify playlist to get you in the mood with more songs we couldn’t include here.

Jimmy Cliff

How old-school listeners know him: Star of cult 1972 film from Jamaica: “The Harder They Come.” It’s your typical underdog musician story that ends up not so typical and just kind of weird. But the sound track is killer.

How younger listeners know him: The reggae guy who’s not Bob Marley.

KC: The basis of “The Harder They Come” is representative of not just Jimmy Cliff’s life, but the lives of many young Jamaicans. You may be born wealthy. You may be born poor. But it’s a level playing field when it comes to who can write the best music. The poor kids and the rich kids have produced legends of reggae music. Jimmy Cliff is one of those guys that climbed up through music and it’s amazing he’s still playing today and releasing records.

1. KC pick: Guns of Brixton

2. KH pick: The Harder They Come

Mavis Staples

Credit Jalylah Burrell / Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

How old-school listeners know her: She’s the Diana Ross of the gospel family group The Staple Singers.

How younger listeners know her: She’s the Beyoncé of The Staple Singers who sang the opening song in the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black.”

KC: Mavis Staples is one of the power females you want to root for. I think of her 1969 solo album and the song that exemplifies her is “I Have Learned To Do Without You.” A lot of the songs she did with her family were deeply rooted in gospel. If you go back, they probably performed a gospel song on Soul Train. You know, they should really call this the Roots n Blues n Gospel n BBQ festival. KH: N country. Blues is all encompassing here. KC: The “Everything” festival...It’s going to be a spiritual movement. People will be really impressed with her singing ability. KH: You cannot get grittier than her track “Down in Mississippi.” That is a tortured voice that has seen a lot, especially when it came to the civil rights movement.

3. KC pick: I Have Learned To Do Without You.

4. KH pick: Down in Mississippi.

Steve Earle

Credit Sean Rowe / Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

How old-school listeners know him: He’s written country songs for everybody and he’s pretty political.

How younger listeners know him: He sings the popular line dancing song “Copperhead Road.”

KC: As far as I’m concerned, he’s the legend here. He’s transitioned so many times, like Willie Nelson. And he’s the ultimate outlaw. He’s survived drug addiction, and not just alcohol or pills. He was addicted to crack cocaine. There’s an old story that goes when the record producers were looking for Steve Earle they would look in the black neighborhoods in the crack houses, because that’s where Steve Earle would be. He’s gone through all these phases: full on Nashville band, writing songs for other people, stripped down country, Springsteen arena rock phase, and an entire album of Townes Van Zandt covers.

5. KC pick: Guitar Town

6. KH pick: Copperhead Road

ZZ Ward

Credit Mary Moline / Flickr commons
Flickr commons

How old-school listeners know her: She’s performed on a few late night talk shows and VH1.

How younger listeners know her: Her music has been featured on MTV-generation shows, such as “Pretty Little Liars.” She put out a mix tape and she has Kendrick Lamar on her album. GUHRH!

KC: She’s young, but she also started singing in a blues band at the age of 13 or younger. When her album came out last year, there was a lot of critical buzz. It’s a modern sound. It’s a revalidated blues rock sound. And she’s kind of carrying this torch for women, like Lucinda Williams but with touches of Liz Phair. It’s rock, it’s country, it’s blues, and some people say she is rooted in hip hop. KH: I’m definitely feeling the hip hop beats on her album. There aren’t a ton of women at the festival – which you might expect with the genre – but she is really putting a different sound out there that has a harder Adele/Duffy-esque edge. KC: If you listen to just snippets of songs off her album, each one sounds different, which I love. It’s a kaleidoscope of sound on the record.

7. KC pick: Home

8. KH pick: 365 Days


Credit villunderlondon / Flickr commons
Flickr commons

How old-school listeners know him: They probably don’t.

How younger listeners know him: They probably don’t.

KC: As far as I know, he was completely underground for the first few albums he put out. He put out his latest album last year, “Muchacho,” and it’s a great record. Bringing it back to this store, it’s a record we’ve sold about 10 copies of. He’s an incredible songwriter. He’s a gem. KH: I’ll admit, I hadn’t heard of him before but when I listened to “Muchacho” I got goose bumps. The album has these dreamy melodies infused with chords that are held throughout an entire song. It’s like if Arcade Fire and Fleet Foxes had a baby in the county. KC: He’s the guy on the bill that’s kind of like a secret. I’m interested to see what kind of band he brings. He’s the artist in this lineup that Pitchfork gave rave reviews to. So he’s got cred.

9. KC pick: Song For Zula

10. KH pick: Right on/Ride On

Clearly, we only got to a few artists in this list. Do you agree with our song choices? What other songs do you think concert goers should know? Don’t forget to check out our Roots n Blues n BBQ Spotify playlist here. It has extra songs to beef up your music knowledge so you can sound like a pro when you hit the festival grounds.

Kristofor left KBIA in fall of 2021
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