by TAMMY MARSHALL & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & E & lt;/span & ast meets West in a friendly gathering that begins and ends with what all assemblages of Eastern and Western Washingtonians should: singing the blues. People come from both sides of the state to hear the best of blues sing for three straight days about how life's got them down and the devil won't give them back their soul. Bands from all over the nation and region will play at this year's festival (July 20-22), including three bands from Spokane.

The Winthrop Blues Festival kicks off with street dancing featuring bluesy women -- women who play the blues -- including Margaret Wilder, Nicole Fournier and Polly O'Leary. The festival will move from street dancing to the beer garden where by adding booze -- a well-known depressant -- the bluesy tunes will take full effect.

Located on the Blues Ranch just outside Winthrop, Wash., the biggest and longest running festival in Washington, is the last of its kind where you get three days of camping, meeting, greeting and listening to music. "This is the last of a small Woodstock where all kinds of people come to listen to the blues. Counterculture, bikers, hippies and yuppies all come here," says Jimmy Smith, who's in charge of promotions for the event.

The festival, in its 20th year, doesn't just feature bands from this region anymore; it attracts folks famous in the blues world as well. Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Eric Burdon and the Animals play on Saturday at 9 pm. Before that, Charlie Musselwhite -- winner of four trophies at the national Blues Awards -- will play his famous harmonica. John Lee Hooker Jr. plays at 5 pm on Saturday. The Spokane bands include Don Millard, Cary Fly and the Fat Tones.

In addition to music, the festival promises great camping for $35 a night and a circle of food and craft vendors with all different kinds of homemade crafts that, according to Smith, "you won't find at Wal-Mart."

The best thing about the Winthrop Blues festival is its price. For all three days, you can hang out and listen to the bands for just $60. The festival has its own food and campsites, so for the length of the festival, you don't have to leave unless you want to. A shuttle service will provide trips into Winthrop to buy groceries or other items.

Smith says that on any of the three days, you're likely to see people from opposite sides of the state chatting or barbecuing while children cavort in the river and everyone just generally has a good time. More than 4,000 blues lovers come to this annual festival located a mile west of Winthrop on the Methow River.

Winthrop Blues Festival at the Blues Ranch in Winthrop, Wash., from Friday-Sunday, July 20-22. (Winthrop is 100 miles north of Wenatchee and 45 miles west of Omak, Wash.) Tickets: $60; $70, at the gate. Visit or call (360) 629-8027.

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