NEW PORT RICHEY—The 14th annual Cotee River Seafood and Blues Festival promises an exciting lineup of savory seafood and jammin' blues for the expected 15,000 attendees at this weekend's event, which kicks off at 5 p.m. Friday. Festivalgoers can munch on a variety of seafood options, from tried-and-true shrimp to the more adventurous alligator bites, while listening to local blues legends.
New to the festival this year is the Charlie Morris Band. Frontman Charlie Morris performs with drummer Eric Elsner, bassist Ryan Lack, and keyboardist Tim Hedding at 7 p.m. Friday.
Morris has been a musician for more than 30 years, playing gigs from the Florida Keys all the way to Switzerland, Germany and England. He occasionally covers songs by Muddy Waters, but he focuses his efforts on original compositions. Morris' favorite part of the blues is the opportunity for improvisation.
"When you play the blues, you never know what's going to happen next. You could play the same song a hundred times and it's going to be completely different every time," Morris said. "It's a very free-form sort of style, because in the basic form of the blues, the chords are very simple. So that leaves a lot of open space for the player to do their own thing."
Morris is working on his ninth album, which will feature several Florida-based guest musicians including Sauce Boss, TC Carr, Lucky Peterson and fellow festival performer Shawn Brown.
"We got a pretty darn good music scene here in the Tampa Bay area," Morris said. And he promises the festival will be a great time.
"We're going to put on a hell of a show," he said.
Also taking the stage is Cotee River Seafood and Blues Festival veteran Sarasota Slim, who performs the last concert of the event at 3:30 p.m. Sunday. The festival is bittersweet for Sarasota Slim, who recalls the 2005 event where he played with Larry "Rhino" Reinhardt, former member of Iron Butterfly, who has since died.
He was a "pioneer of acid rock," said Sarasota Slim, whose real name is Gene Hardage.
Hardage's favorite part of playing the blues is that there's no glitzy fanfare.
"I like that I don't have to be in spandex and that I can be exactly who I am," Hardage said.
Other performers include Michael Allman Band, led by the son of the legendary Gregg Allman, along with Straightup Blues Band, tbt* "Artist of the Day" Betty Fox Blues Band, and Willie Lomax with Shawn Brown.
The three winners of the Fresh Catch Talent Search coordinated by Cocktails will also play the festival, including a seasoned Homasassa Springs band called the Mighty Past Tense. (yes, that period is part of their name), and Woody & the Woodtones, who played at last year's event. Cocktails bar owner Frank Golino says a third band has yet to be selected.
Golino says that the talent search allows lesser-known blues bands to get some exposure.
"For an up-and-coming blues band that's trying to get their foot in the door and get people to notice them, it's a great opportunity," Golino said.
Samantha Fuchs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6235.