It's been years since I lived a few doors down from Cheryl Spradling in Holiday, but one thing I can count on is that I'll run into her at whatever blues event is going on in the Tampa Bay area.
Sometimes she finds me — or typically my husband — who tends to stand out because of his eye-catching, white beard. (It's fabulous, really.)
Other times, I find her while she's pitching T-shirts, CDs and memberships under a tent for the Suncoast Blues Society.
It's been a 20-year gig of volunteering, often alongside her husband, Wendell, who also caught the blues bug when friends brought the couple to their first blues festival in 1998.
"After that," Spradling said, "I was hooked."
Those who love the genre that spawned iconic singers such as Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Bessie Smith, Buddy Guy and B.B. King, along with plenty of rock n' rollers, are fortunate to live in an area flush with talented musicians supported by one of the largest blues societies in the country.
As merchandise director for the Suncoast Blues Society, Spradling, 60, has rubbed elbows with most of them.
A couple of months ago, I bumped into her while covering the Pigz in Z'Hills BBQ and Blues Festival in Zephyrhills. After catching up on what the kids were doing, she told me to take special note of blues guitar prodigy David Julia, 17, who was playing alongside long-timers Chuck Riley, Walker Smith and R.J. Howson.
It was a good tip. He's more than awesome.
More recently, I sought her out at the 25th anniversary of the Tampa Bay Blues Fest in Vinoy Park during a knock-your-socks-off set by a blues musician I hadn't heard of — saxophonist and songwriter Vanessa Collier.
"She's terrific," I said.
"Yeah, I know," Spradling said
And she does.
Spradling will be there when the Cotee River Seafest and Blues Festival kicks off this weekend at Sims Park in downtown New Port Richey.
"There's going to be a lot of true blues, including a blues-playing priest," she said, giving a nod to Father Eric and the True Blues Band, as well as Saturday headliner Lauren Mitchell.
While she's reluctant to divulge favorites, she weighed in on a few who are playing in the weekend line-up.
On TC Carr & Bolts of Blue: "He's an over-the-top harp player who's been around for over 20 years, disappeared for a while because of health issues, and now he's back and that's a good thing for us."
On RJ Howson: "He's friends with members of the Allman Brothers Band. so you're likely to hear a lot of Allman Brothers-influenced music with him."
On L.C. Williams and the Driver: "They're from Maine, so now's a good time to see them. They put on a really good show. She's a harp player. So good on vocals, too."
On Tampa Music Machine, featuring Chicago Blues man Nitro Bozeman: "He's been around forever and pops up everywhere. A really good take."
Spradling said she also looks forward to checking out bands that are new to her, such as Ginger & the Cat and Shawline.
In a city with a tendency to feature tribute bands at local festivals, Spradling figures, the more blues players, the better.
There are so many variations and so many talented blues players that live right here, she said. "You'll see some of them at this festival. The line up is good. It’s a beautiful location. It’s free, and it's about a 10-minute drive from the house. Who could ask for anything more?"
If you go: The 20th-annual Cotee River Blues Fest, hosted by New Port Richey Main Street and presented by Ed Morse Autoplaza and other local sponsors, will be held April 26-28 in Sims Park off Main Street and Banks Street in downtown New Port Richey.
Friday: 5 to 11 p.m., featuring Barefoot Bob and the Hope (7 p.m.) and The Bearded Brothers (9 p.m.)
Saturday: 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., featuring Father Eric and the True Blues Band (11:30 a.m.), Ginger & the Cat (1 p.m.), LC Williams and the Driver (3 p.m.), Tampa Music Machine and Nitro (5 p.m.), RJ Howson (7 p.m.), Lauren Mitchell (9 p.m.)
Sunday: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., featuring Bear and Robert (1 p.m.), Shawline (2:30 p.m.), TC Carr & Bolts of Blue (4:30 p.m.)
Other activities include the seventh-annual Ducktona 500 Duck Race (4 p.m. Sunday at the Main Street Bridge) and Miss Daisy Boat Tours (Saturday and Sunday).
For information on the Seafest, go to www.nprmainstreet.com/cotee-river-seafest-2019. For information on the Suncoast Blues Society, go to www.suncoastblues.org
Contact Michele Miller at [email protected] or (727) 869-6251. Follow @MicheleMiller52.