As music festival season gets underway, a lineup of acclaimed blues artists is again taking over the Coeur d'Alene Resort, offering great views to complement the music. For the past eight years, the Coeur d'Alene Blues Festival has brought together regional and touring bands that specialize in the most American of musical genres, and they perform all over the resort — in the convention center, on the roof, in the lounges and restaurants, even on the water.
Craig Heimbigner, the festival's founder and director, estimates that the event draws 1,200 or so dedicated blues junkies to North Idaho. They've formed something of a community, he says, meeting up in Coeur d'Alene every year, then meeting up again at other blues festivals later in the spring and summer.
"I think people are just thrilled to come out," Heimbigner says. "They've been cooped up all winter, and now this blues crowd gets to come out and have fun."
Here are a few of the artists and events you can look forward to this weekend:
Now an annual staple of the Blues Festival, the Friday night Blues Cruise takes the live music out onto the tranquil waters of Lake Coeur d'Alene at 7 pm. For $25, you can board one of two boats, where the Bobby Patterson Band and the Kenny James Miller Band will perform.
"There's music going on both boats at all times, and you can go back and forth," Heimbigner says. "It's always a party."
Patterson's band will perform again on two separate Saturday cruises, new to this year's festival, at 12:30 and 2:30 pm. Tickets are $10.
A UNIQUE VOICE
This year's main stage headliner will be familiar to regular viewers of the NBC reality-TV singing competition The Voice. With his shoulder-length hair, bushy beard and John Lennon spectacles, Laith Al-Saadi really stuck out from the mob of contestants vying to be the next big pre-packaged pop star.
The Ann Arbor, Michigan-based singer-songwriter made it to the top four during the show's 10th season, and although he didn't end up winning, he certainly made an impression. Al-Saadi's blind audition, a gritty, growly take on Joe Cocker's version of "The Letter" (complete with a show-off guitar solo), especially impressed Voice judges Blake Shelton and Adam Levine, the latter of whom became Al-Saadi's mentor throughout the season.
But Al-Saadi wasn't some amateur who NBC talent scouts just picked up off the street: According to the guitarist himself, he's been playing 300 or so shows every year for the past two decades, and he majored in guitar at the University of Michigan.
"He's a great player, he's got a lot of personality and he has a different audience," Heimbigner says. "He isn't just known to the blues crowd, so he has this crossover thing."
Before Al-Saadi hits the main stage on Saturday night, you can check out the folk-tinged blues of the Stacy Jones Band from Shoreline, Washington, the Southern-fried rock of Portland's Ty Curtis Band and local favorites Robin Barrett & Coyote Kings. Following Al-Saadi's performance, the Sara Brown Band will provide the entertainment at a late-night afterparty.
BLUES WITH YOUR BRUNCH
On Sunday morning, you've got two chances to enjoy some music while also enjoying Coeur d'Alene Resort's fine dining. At 10 am, the Joyous Praise Gospel Trio will take you to church during brunch in the resort's Dockside Restaurant. Tickets are $32.95 (yes, that includes brunch). Another lake cruise takes off at 11 am, this time with a full brunch menu and an acoustic performance from the Ty Curtis Band. ♦
Coeur d'Alene Blues Festival • Fri-Sun, March 31-April 2 • $5-$60; prices vary per event • Coeur d'Alene Resort Convention Center • 115 S. 2nd St. • cdabluesfestival.com for full schedule • 208-765-4000 ext. 21