This year’s Bayfront Blues Festival has some sassy AM radio vibes, a big-voiced newbie and a couple of Grammy Award-winning headliners.
The 31st annual three-day fest starts at 11:30 a.m. Friday with Mel Sando, in his 10th appearance, and Kim Ellerman in the acoustic tent. It runs through The Kentucky Headhunters’ set, which starts at 6:45 p.m. Sunday at Bayfront Festival Park.
In between: gravely old voices and big, bold new ones. Thirty acts, plenty of Minnesota ties, will play during the festival.
Reverend Raven & The Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys play Friday’s afterparty from 9:45-11:15 p.m., and Lamont Cranston plays at the same time on Saturday. For a full schedule, go to bayfrontblues.com.
Here are some must-see acts.
Ally Venable Band
There’s something retro about Venerable, the Texas-raised blues-rock guitar hero who has won contest after contest after contest for her mad skillz. It’s hard to decide if it would be better to see her play a guitar solo in an arena with full-on pyrotechnics, or while standing on a cliff, a silhouette, in the dessert. “Texas Honey,” her third album, debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard blues charts earlier this year.
2 p.m. Friday, main stage
This Mississippi bluesman, with one of those voices that sounds like it was ridden over rocks, earned his first Grammy Award after 66 years in the music biz. Bobby Rush took home the title for Best Traditional Blues Album in 2017 for the “Porcupine Meat.” There’s a touch of whimsy in the 12-tune mix, especially the title track — where a can’t-leave relationship is described as “porcupine meat, too fat to eat, too lean to throw away.” His latest, “Sitting on the Top of the Blues” is scheduled for release in mid-August.
8 p.m. Friday, main stage
Is it a crime in Minnesota to not experience this way-back blues-rock machine? Crow came on to the music scene in 1969 — you’ve probably heard “Evil Woman (Don’t Play Your Games With Me)." They haven’t released a studio album since the early 2000s, but they played bluesfest last year, so they are a solid 50 years strong-ish. There have been some hiatuses along the way.
3:50 p.m. Saturday, main stage
Get ready to get vocally-blasted by a relative newbie. Joyann Parker is a Midwest musician who took the not-uncommon classical pianist-to-church-to-blues route. Her latest album, “Hard to Love” got a ton of buzz among blues heads. Her great big gorgie voice has drawn comparisons to Janis, Dusty and Joss Stone.
11:30 a.m. Sunday, acoustic tent
This St. Paul-based many-layered musician has a quirky style that can lean tumbleweed-and-harmonicas, bust-outta-this-town ’80s ballad, or drift toward Janis-ian. Don’t be surprised if she growls. Her most recent album, “Faithless World,” came out in 2014.
11:30 a.m. Saturday, acoustic tent
Miss Myra Trio
Go off the beaten path: Miss Myra and friends get super fun and super old-timey with a jazz-swing sound that might cause hair to spontaneously spin into victory rolls. Myra Joan, a singer-swing guitar-pianist-clarinet player, and maybe even lindy hopper. This is AM radio on an acoustic stage near you.
5:15 p.m. Saturday, acoustic tent
At a 2017 performance at Ottawa Bluesfest, Texas-gone-L.A. Sugaray Rayford took the stage in a cowboy hat, a vest, some sharp shimmer. He threw down the hat, promised to sweat a lot, and then blurt-sang in a burst, “Let me tell you about my baby!” before swiveling his hips like he was his own Hula-Hoop. Expect a show with this guy, whose album “Somebody Save Me” was released earlier this year.
5:55 p.m. Friday, main stage