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Austin Blues Fest Returns This April

Learn how the Antone's team will help electrify Waterloo Park this spring

Austin Blues Festival
Photo by Salihah Saadiq

Austin Blues Fest returns to Moody Amphitheater at Waterloo Park April 27 and 28, electrifying the stage with legends and modern greats for the second year in a row. Names like Buddy Guy slot comfortably under genre expectations, but others might surprise purists. New Orleans bounce “Queen Diva” Big Freedia, for example, alongside Afro-Cuban funker Cimafunk, stretch the boundaries of traditional ideas on the blues. 

Festival producers Will Bridges and Zach Ernst, co-owner and talent buyer for Antone’s Nightclub, respectively, shared their motivation behind securing this lineup. 

“Blues is a root mother tongue,” said Bridges. “We feel like it’s a responsibility of ours to not be the sayers of what’s blues and what isn’t, but to continue as (Clifford Antone) did to not constrict it.”

Photo by Salihah Saadiq

The Players

Evolution looks like Big Freedia, featured on tracks by Beyonce and Drake, with a sophomore album, “Central City,” released in 2023, along with Robert Glasper, the Houston-born jazz phenom with both stellar solo work and collaborative efforts with heroes of modern hip-hop and neo-soul. From further afield, English soul artist The James Hunter Six complements a South LA retro soul delegation in The Altons and Thee Sinseers. Powerful vocalist and shape-shifting musician Brittany Howard, who delivered a sophomore solo album in February, also takes the stage. 

To satisfy old-school tastes, Buddy Guy, a now venerated Chicago blues icon born in Louisiana, added an Austin date to his Damn Right Farewell Tour, a coup for Ernst. 

“If we call ourselves Austin Blues Fest and we don’t go after Buddy Guy, then we should have our licenses taken away,” said the talent buyer. 

Funky blues nonagenarian Bobby Rush also shares the lineup with Robert Finley, whose career took off after he went blind. Coincidentally, The Blind Boys of Alabama, a gospel group with a dynamic lineup founded in the 1930s, also features vision-impaired singers. (You might know the group from the title track on HBO’s “The Wire.”) Texas’s own Fabulous Thunderbirds founder Jimmie Vaughan crowns the old-school Antone’s showcase. Add a brass band and zydeco, and you have a truly Antone’s-worthy event. 

Photo by Salihah Saadiq

Club-Show Magic

Both Bridges and Ernst met Clifford Antone in his lifetime. A Port Arthur native who fell in love with the blues, Clifford turned a city onto the blues when it had fallen into obscurity outside musician circles. Though bands like The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton owed a debt of gratitude to blues progenitors, those progenitors had little of the name recognition earned by those they inspired. 

“Sometimes when you’re a promoter or talent buyer … you’re doing things you know are going to sell tickets,” said Bridges. “It can be a little formulaic. Clifford wasn’t like that at all. He put people on stage who he felt people needed to see and who he felt like people needed to be influenced by… If he put your name on Antone’s marquee, it meant something. And if you hadn’t heard someone whose name was on the Antone’s marquee, it sparked interest.”

Austin Blues Festival
Photo by Salihah Saadiq

Bridges and Ernst hope their festival is received in the same spirit. One stage means a club-show cadence and microcosm of the magic the two enjoy at Antone’s, with attendees able to see each act. 

“We got everyone on our wish list this year,” said Ernst.

A portion of festival proceeds will even benefit Waterloo Greenway. “You can almost feel Clifford smiling down,” said Bridges. 

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