CLEARWATER — Brian Craig isn't worried that forecasters say there will be a chill in the air this weekend for the seventh annual Clearwater Sea-Blues Festival.
"It's a hearty crowd. And though it may be cold, it's going to be one of the warmer places to be" in the country, said Craig, the city's events coordinator.
They will have lots of blues-y music and seafood to help keep them warm. And since Sea-Blues is the last remaining major blues festival in the area that has free admission, Craig believes plenty of people will be willing to tolerate a little chilliness for the opportunity to hear outstanding music without opening their wallets.
The festival will be held Saturday and Sunday in Coachman Park on the waterfront in downtown Clearwater.
Gates open at noon Saturday. The musical lineup includes Sugar Blue, the Lee Boys, Hamilton Loomis and Sandy Atkinson. Louisiana singer and guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd returns this year as the Saturday headliner.
Gates open at 1 p.m. Sunday. California blues guitarist Coco Montoya will be the headliner Sunday. Other artists performing include Moreland and Arbuckle, Trampled Under Foot and Selwyn Birchwood. And Grammy-nominated blues artist Ruthie Foster, who Craig said fans had been wanting to hear at Sea-Blues, is finally on the lineup.
Music is one focus of the Sea-Blues Festival. Another is seafood.
This year the Baystar Restaurant Group, with locally noted restaurants Rumba and Salt Rock Grill among others, joins Tampa's Mugs Grill and Bar in providing seafood specialties at the festival.
If you are going, bring folding chairs or blankets — or both. Note that coolers, pets and sun canopies are not allowed.
Although this is the seventh year for the Sea-Blues Festival, it is only the second year for an affiliated event, tonight's Blues Walk on Cleveland Street, downtown's retail and restaurant strip. From 6:30 to 10 p.m., five bands will perform along the strip from Osceola to East avenues. Stores and restaurants will be open and many will be offering specials, Craig said. The street will remain open to traffic.
The Sea-Blues Festival has a host of sponsors this year, including city government, Bright House Networks, Q105, Costco, the Suncoast Blues Society and the Tampa Bay Times. Craig said that finding sponsors for special events when the economy was in freefall could be challenging, but sponsorships for Sea-Blues have been fairly stable, helping to keep the event free to the public.
"We'll always keep it as affordable and accessible as we can," he said.
Diane Steinle can be reached at (727) 445-4152 or [email protected]