The annual Bull Durham Blues Festival, usually held in an outdoor venue, was held Saturday in St. Joseph’s Performance Hall at Hayti Heritage Center.
But Marc Lee, longtime announcer for the festival, told the audience not to let the fact that they were hearing the blues in a historic church keep them from dancing.
“You all have our permission… to cut a rug,” Lee said.
“Are you ready for some blues?” asked Anthony Wilson, this year’s officiating emcee. When the crowed yelled yes, Jason Damico and the New Blue, a trio of guitar, bass and drums, took the stage.
Damico, 19, played searing, highly distorted guitar solos that channeled the likes of Buddy Guy, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix. Earlier in the evening, Damico’s mom and manager Diane Damico was on hand as Jason’s band warmed up in the performance space.
She said Jason was exposed to many types of music, including musical theater, as a child. He took piano, but is self-taught on the guitar.
“All of it just came together, all of what Jason was exposed to growing up,” Diane Damico said of Jason’s sound.
While Damico played a highly electrified blues style, Chapel Hill guitarist Rhonda Robichaux played a different style of electric blues.
Robichaux plays a hollow-bodied guitar with thumb and fingers, which gives her solos a deep, resonant, refined tone, which audiences could hear on her solos on her original “Ain’t Nothin’” and her arrangement of the Neville Brothers’ tune “Fire on the Bayou.”
Robichaux’s set was delayed by some microphone problems, and the audience had to sit through a sound check of the instruments. Robichaux thanked the audience for their patience.
“This is a more intimate setting than usual, but we like it,” Robichaux said.
Hayti Heritage Center chose to hold the festival indoors this year in hopes of regrouping and presenting the festival outdoors in 2014.
Some audience members said that while they liked the St. Joseph’s Performance Hall, they were looking forward to going back to an outdoor venue.
James and Elaine Harris of Durham, who have been to several festivals, said they would like to return to an outdoor festival.
Jesse Riddick of Durham said he will always support the festival, but enjoyed last year’s festival at the Durham Athletic Park because of the atmosphere.
“I actually just like the festival,” no matter the venue, said Gizette Webb of Durham, who has been to about four festivals. She was at Hayti Saturday “to enjoy the festival and be in the crowd.”
Sallie Knott and her friend Larry Walls were at the festival to hear specific artists.
“Jason Damico,” Knott said, when asked which artist drew her to the festival. “I’ve heard him at the Blue Note Grill. He blew the doors off that place. He was awesome.”
Walls said he was looking forward to hearing seeing Claudette King perform.
Stew Kohnberg and his wife Lisa-Michelle run a nonprofit organization called Music4Hope, which uses music to help people who are coping with various medical conditions. Jason Damico is a current member of their board, and Jimmy Haggard, who was scheduled to perform later in the evening, was a former board member. Both Damico and Haggard are volunteers for the organization, and Kohnberg and his wife were at the festival to support them, they said.
The St. Joseph’s space seats about 400. Hayti had pre-sold more than 200 tickets, said Jessie Bailin, who does public relations for the center. Walk-ups continued to buy tickets throughout the evening.
Big Daddy Wilson, the headliner, showed up early, with his wife Helga, and mingled with the crowd.
Although an indoor festival, audience members could walk on the patio area of Hayti, where they could get drinks and food from food trucks and other vendors. Other vendors, many selling clothes, jewelry and other goods, set up inside the lobby.
Traditionally a two-night affair, this year’s festival was a one-night concert.