For the past 19 years in July, Briggs Farm in Nescopeck, PA transforms from a quiet, family farm into “Briggsvile”, drawing thousands of music fans for a weekend of world class blues entertainment. This year’s festival was expanded in many ways, first by including an early camping option. In the past, campers started arriving Friday and packed up to leave by Sunday morning but this year campers who took advantage of the early camping option were treated to a special evening of Grateful Dead style jams by The Mighty Susquehannas on a specially built stage facing the campground. This was also the first year to offer Sunday morning gospel blues to close the festival and the grounds themselves were expanded to accommodate more camping, vendors, and parking.
Friday’s entertainment started early in the afternoon on the back porch stage with J.P. Biondo (of the group Cabinet) going solo with his acoustic guitar and mandolin. Biondo played songs from his band, such as the audience favorite “The Tower”, as well as other original material. Next up was Miner Blues, led by local PA roots music enthusiast, songwriter and vocalist Ed Randazzo, who followed the set by performing the “National Anthem” to officially open the main stage performance. Randazzo was accompanied by Tony Halchek on mandolin and Bret Alexander on acoustic guitar. Their set included a mix of original tunes as well as traditional songs like “John the Revelator”, which was particularly well received by the crowd. When Jimmy “Duck” Holmes took the stage, a quiet reverence came over the audience as he mesmerized with his unique style of “Bentonia” Blues. In addition to being the first performer who was not from Pennsylvania, he is the first artist on the new Brigg’s Farm Records label and he graciously met with fans after his set to shake hands and sign copies of the ultra-cool, blue marble vinyl album. Clarence Spady brought the early blues tour back to PA with his smooth sound. He had the crowd on their feet and singing along to his version of “Purple Rain” in tribute to Prince. Briggs veteran Anthony “Big A” Sherrod took the stage leading into the Back Porch Stage tradition of “Lonnie’s Back Porch Party”, where Lonnie Shields takes the stage with Jesse Lowey, Ben Singleton and Leroy Hawkes to bring the night to a close with a true blues party.
Meanwhile…as Jimmy “Duck” Holmes was enchanting the Back Porch listeners, The Marcus King Band took the main stage like a roll of thunder. This young band from Greenville, SC really caught attention as they powered through their set of southern-tinged rock complete with a horn section and what appeared to be an authentic Hammond B3 organ. It was encouraging to hear such mature sounds coming from such a young and promising group. The Cedric Burnside Project was up next, Cedric Burnside is no stranger to Briggs Farm as he has performed here many times and is a fan favorite. Next the legendary Chicago blues man John Primer, who performed in Muddy Waters’ band in the early 1980s, took the main stage. Primer was introduced as “…along with Lorrie Bell, one of two last living blues guitar legends” and his renditions of the classics “Close To You”, “Mannish Boy” and “Got My Mojo Working” reminded us all why he is truly a legend. Nikki Hill was Friday night’s headliner, billed as the “New Queen of Rock and Roll”. This worldwide performer and her harder-edged band had the crowd on their feet and dancing along for the rest of the night.
Saturday got rolling pretty early on the Back Porch Stage as the Grammy-nominated Michael Packer Blues Band kicked off the afternoon right with their unique style, which included toms in the tight rhythm section and a sweet surprise. Midway through their set, Barbara Blue “The Reigning Queen of Beale St” from Memphis, TN, popped up out of the audience to join in on a couple of songs. Sometimes it pays to show up for the early set! The Mighty Susquehannas did an impressive, albeit mostly instrumental, jamming set where each of the proficient musicians were given ample room to shine. This led up to PA rock trio Dustin Douglas and the Electric Gentlemen, who won over the audience with their tight, blues based rock performance. Anthony Galluci and the Retreads brought the funky blues from Philadelphia (or maybe Delaware, no one could decide), while Jimmy “Duck” Holmes took the stage again with an encore performance for those who may have missed him Friday afternoon. By the time The Marcus King Band took over the Back Porch stage, there was a standing room only crowd surrounding the tent and these guys delivered yet another fantastic performance as a sextet packed onto the small stage without surrendering one once of intensity. One of the highlights from this set was a beautiful arrangement of “Dear Prudence”. Saturday’s Back Porch night was once again crowned by Lonnie’s Back Porch Party.
While all this is happening on the back porch, the Main Stage is hopping to the sounds of Clarksdale, MS native Anthony “Big A” Sherrod and the Cornlickers, frequent visitors to the Briggs Farm Blues Festival over the years. Next came a superb showman making his first appearance at Briggs, piano aficionado Victor Wainwright and his band the Wildroots. Wainwright’s set featured a diverse selection of musical styles. Carolyn Wonderland followed with a fantastic performance by her blues/rock trio. This was led by her mastery of a plethora of guitar styles while delivering soulful vocals. Saturday night’s headliner Devon Allman is a man of great pedigree as passed on by his father and uncle who made up the core of the original Allman Brothers Band. Devon and his band brought out the weekend’s largest crowd with a climactic performance of top notch blues rock with a slightly Southern twist.
Sunday morning and early afternoon was dedicated to Gospel blues and brought yet more sweet sounds. Vanessa Collier delivered her unique saxophone skills along with an expressive vocal style. Victor Wainwright and the WildRoots and Alexis P Suter then took over the stage for a moving and inspiring end to an incredible weekend of music. (See dedicated article on Sunday’s performances)
Music isn’t all there is to occupy your time at Briggs Farm, there is an impressive array of vendors peddling everything from tie dyes and jewelry to cigar box guitars and artwork. The food selections are impressive as well. Though you are permitted to bring in coolers with beverages(no glass containers), food is optional since the barbecue pit, manned by Lonnie Shields, churns out some delicious and reasonably priced meals. Not to mention, the decadent and refreshing berry shortcakes, pecan pie, french fries and fresh roasted corn on the cob. For the past three years, Briggs Farm has also been active in raising awareness and funds for Beyond Violence, Inc., a local organization which has been a safe haven for women and children seeking refuge from domestic abuse.
We look forward to Briggs 20th anniversary festival in July 2017.