Anatomy of a music festival

Harvest Moon BluesFest aims for balance, broad appeal

Vibes Feature 15325
Photo credit: Harvest Moon Blues
ONE OF THE REGULARS: Chubby Carrier (right) with washboard player Earl Salley

OK, it isn't rocket science,
but putting together a major music festival is no walk in the park, either. Horse park, that is.

Now in its eighth year, the Harvest Moon BluesFest is in the capable hands of Greg Forrester, who essentially took the festival with him went he left Chip's Roadhouse in late 2001. Forrester, a former owner of Chip's (with wife Anne), had founded the outdoor festival there in 1997.

For the second year, the three-day festival will take place at the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers. This year's event moves to a different location in the park (the "plaza" instead of the "glen"), but will feature some of the same artists that have anchored it over the years, including Chubby Carrier & the Bayou Swamp Band, Tab Benoit and John Mooney. New faces include gospel/R&B singer Mavis Staples and guitarist Chris Duarte. It's a diverse mix, as usual, and not by accident.

"Within the framework of it being a 'bluesfest,' we try to keep the musical spectrum pretty broad, to make it accessible and appealing to as many people as possible," Forrester explains.

Forrester begins taking musical submissions for the festival in January or February each year. His next step is to nail down a budget and create a "wish list" of potential festival performers. Many of these, plainly, are Forrester's personal favorites.

"You try to get a feel for the headliners first, the type of acts you're going to have closing the show, then back up and balance [the lineup] out with different styles," Forrester explains.

For this year's show, Staples was the first headliner he secured. Her appearance on Saturday sets the tone not only for that night but also for the other nights' shows, each of which needs a distinctive feel.

Friday night's show is pure Louisiana, opening with Lafayette, La.-based acoustic guitarist Michael Juan Nunez. Forrester found Nunez in February when his band, RiverBabys, was a finalist at the International Blues Challenge. He booked the band, which later broke up, and then invited Nunez to open the day solo. Benoit, from the bayou town of Houma, La., follows, before Carrier performs. Look for all three acts to be onstage together before it's over, Forrester says.

The Friday show seems like a natural, a no-brainer, but it didn't actually come about, Forrester admits, until Carrier's bassist, Corey Duplechin, also from Houma, asked about the prospect of joining Forrester and Benoit for a round of golf while they were in town. Subsequently, they're on the same bill.

In booking and scheduling acts, Forrester also likes to find room for local performers. "I really try to do a little rotation there, where people with an interest in playing the festival get on it eventually," he says. This year's locals include Heaven Davis & the Aggravatin' Papas, King Johnson, the Ken Rhyne Band and Delta Moon.

Forrester says he also has to take into account whether a band is suited for a festival stage, versus a club setting. Good festival bands "plow through it pretty quick. In a club setting, you have more time. If you break a string, you can chat with the audience. Dead time doesn't kill you in a club as much as it does on a festival stage," he says.

Festival acts often are able to project in a different way, to "paint in broad strokes," Forrester says. By comparison, he says, a guitarist such as John Mooney is better for a small setting, which is why Mooney is playing a solo set at the Saturday night "VIP AfterParty."

"I really like John on the big stage, but I enjoy him even more in a small room, where he's in your face," Forrester says. "He doesn't move around a lot, but his hands are doing superhuman things. It's nice to be able to watch him from six feet away."