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25th Annual Illinois Blues Festival this weekend

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Jay Goldberg's baby turns 25 this weekend and he couldn't be more proud. And with the entertainment he has lined up for the party, he expects thousands to brave the heat and show up on Peoria's riverfront Friday and Saturday.

Goldberg's baby in this case is the Illinois Blues Festival, sponsored by Budweiser, that kicks off at 6 p.m. Friday and continues through Saturday, with blues star Kenny Wayne Shepherd anchoring the performances that will occur on three stages.

"I consider this my little baby," said Goldberg, concert promoter and owner of Jay Goldberg Events+Entertainment. "Not only was it my first big annual festival but it's the kind of music I was into and it's very historic music for Peoria because of the musicians who would come up the river."

It also is historical locally in that it was the first concert on Peoria's riverfront in what is now Festival Park. At the time it started it was Eckwood Park, before there was any retail or museums or much else in the area of the foot of Main Street. "The first one was when the riverfront was nothing more than a parking lot. I remember people leaning on the parking meters while watching the concerts," he said.

Mayor Jim Maloof greeted the artists to kick off the festivities and the headliner that first year was KoKo Taylor, who was known as Queen of the Blues. One of her opening acts was a group called the Kinsey Report, which is performing on Center Stages on Saturday.

Goldberg said it was a big event for the riverfront and added that is one reason he and his company work hard to keep it fresh and appealing every year. As it has grown in reputation, so has the number of headliners it has attracted.

Besides Kenny Wayne Shepherd and the Kinsey Report, this year's Center Stage performers include Elvin Bishop, The Jeremiah Johnson Band, Marcia Ball, Paul Thorn and South Side Cindy & The Slip Tones.

The Blues Tent will feature local favorites Jimmy Binkley, Preston Jackson and Barry Cloyd as well as the Peoria All-Star Jam.

There will be workshops for guitar and the harmonica in the Blues Tent and The Landing Stage will be the site of The Road to Memphis competition and the International Blue Challenge on both Friday and Saturday.

The Road to Memphis competition allows unsigned Illinois bands to compete for entry into the International Blues Challenge. It is sponsored by the River City Blues Society, with help from a grant from the Illinois Blues Coalition.

Again this year Presley's Outdoor will host the Great American Fish Fry on the festival grounds.

Goldberg noted that last year's Illinois Blue Festival was the only one thus far to be forced inside because of weather. The remnants of Hurricane Isaac brought a deluge of rain to central Illinois and the festival was moved to Expo Gardens.

Rain won't be a problem this year, but performers and audiences will have to deal with intense heat. Goldberg hopes that doesn't affect the size of the crowds.

"We've had heat in the past and still got big crowds. I'll take the heat over rain any day," he said.

Goldberg said he is proud of what the Blues Festival has become. When he started it longevity wasn't on his mind; survival was.

"I knew that if I wanted to stay in this business I had to create my own annual events. I could not count on what kind of concerts would be available to promote year to year, so I had to make things happen myself. So I started us in the direction toward annual events and the Illinois Blues Festival was the first one," he said.

Now the annual Summer Camp at Three Sisters Park in Chillicothe and the Grand National event on the riverfront are his biggest annual events.

"The Blues Festival, though ... Like I said, it's my baby."

Weekend passes for the Blues Festival are $30 in advance or $35 at the gates while one-day tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the gate. They can be purchased online at www.jaytv.com, www.illinoisbluesfestival.com; by phone at (800) 514-3849 or at Peoria-area CO-OP Records stores or at Emack's & Bollio's Ice Cream on the riverfront or in Peoria Heights.

To view a complete schedule of events visit www.illinoisbluesfestival.com.

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).