Blue Wing Saloon introduces blues festival


Barry Brenner will be among the headliners at this week's Blue Wing Blues Festival in Upper Lake. Courtesy photo.


UPPER LAKE – This week, a new event is coming to Upper Lake with the inaugural Blue Wing Blues Festival.

Freddie Hughes, Bettie Mae Fikes, Mike Wilhelm and Frankie Lee will be featured vocalists during four evenings of world-class blues music in the open air garden setting of the Tallman Hotel and Blue Wing Saloon in Upper Lake, from Wednesday, July 18 through Saturday, July 21.

Hotel and Saloon owner Bernie Butcher organized the show, which is co-sponsored by local radio station KNTI-FM 99.5.

The Blue Wing Blues Festival starts each evening at 5:30 p.m. with a set from the great finger-style, steel string blues guitarist Barry “Big B” Brenner, followed by the headliner of the evening. The Blue Wing Saloon will be serving a tasty barbecue dinner with the show. The cost for the show and dinner is $25.

The festival opens on July 18 with Freddie Hughes launching his new CD on the BluesExpress label.

Born and raised in Berkeley, Hughes has performed world-wide since his first hit single in 1970 and has appeared with such greats as Aretha Franklin, James Brown, and Etta James.

Hughes will be backed by the Rich Kirch Blues Band. A Chicago native, Kirch moved to the Bay Area in 1988 at the invitation of the late, great John Lee Hooker and played with Hooker on tours around the world for 13 years. He and his band have backed Freddie Hughes, Kathi McDonald and many others in recording sessions over the years.

Although Bettie Mae Fikes now lives in Los Angeles, she is well known in Lake County from her regular appearances at the Konocti Blues Café. Born in Selma, Alabama, Fikes was active in the Civil Rights Movement, beginning her singing career with the SNCC Freedom Singers and performing at the 1964 Democratic Party convention in Atlantic City and again at the 40th anniversary convention in 2004.

Fikes has graced the stages of Carnegie Hall, Newport Jazz Festival, the Library of Congress, and numerous blues festivals. She will be backed by a band organized by Nice resident Robert Watson, who played lead guitar with James Brown until Brown’s death last year.

Friday evening belongs to two popular groups that have appeared regularly at the Blue Wing Saloon/Café during its weekly “Monday Blues” sessions. The Lake Blues All-Stars feature guitarist Jim Williams, bass player Jon Hopkins, and Mike Wilhelm, who is featured on guitar and vocals.

Known for his adroit finger picking and bottomless baritone, Wilhelm has a long and varied music history stretching from the Summer of Love in San Francisco to the Blue Wing Blues Festival 40 years later. Friday will conclude with a high-energy set from Twice as Good, featuring the popular father and son duo of Rich and Paul Steward.

The grand finale of the festival on Saturday will feature BluesExpress recording artist Frankie Lee, whose appearance in Lake County is being co-sponsored by ReMax Realty.

From his humble beginnings in rural Texas, Lee moved from gospel music in the Baptist Church to his life-long love affair with the blues. His career took off in the early 1960s when he was invited to join the Ike and Tina Turner Review as a featured vocalist in their traveling road show. Since then, Lee and his band have traveled world-wide and most recently released a popular CD called “Here I Go Again.”

For more information visit the Blue Wing Saloon Web site at, telephone 275-2233.




Guitar legend and Lake County resident Mike Wilhelm and the Blues All-Stars play on Friday. Courtesy photo.