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Blues Society presents Winter Bash

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Eric French

The Maine Blues Society will host a Winter Blues Bash on Sunday, January 11 from noon to 6 p.m. in the main ballroom of Lewiston’s Ramada Inn. Proceeds from the event will support the MBS and help pay expenses for Maine blues musicians Eric French (solo) and The Blood Orange Martinis (group) to travel to Memphis, Tennessee, from January 20 through 24 to compete in the 31st annual International Blues Challenge. Hosted by the Blues Foundation, the IBC will feature about 250 acts in what is considered to be the largest and most prestigious blues competition in the world.

A native of Providence, Rhode Island, IBC contestant Eric French of Auburn has been playing blues for over 20 years. “As soon as I moved to Maine and discovered the Maine Blues Society, I knew I was supposed to enter their preliminary Road to Memphis competition and charge full steam ahead to the finals in Memphis.” he said. “I was brought up on Freddie King and Stevie Ray Vaughan records, and as a teenager, blues music carried me through a battle with cancer. Now I sing, play and write for a living, so I’m extremely excited about this opportunity. There will be a lot of industry professionals in attendance, so who knows what could happen?”

For Lauren Williams, vocalist and harp (harmonica) player for ICB contestants The Blood Orange Martinis of Winterport, the event will be a homecoming of sorts. “I spent some formative years in Memphis and still have family there, so I know it’s a chance to be heard by people who love the blues and to hear all the other awesome musicians,” she said. “I look forward to being completely immersed in it. It’s an honor.”

In addition to Eric French and The Blood Orange Martinis, the program will feature a performance by harp master Jason Ricci, who returns to his home state for the event. Ricci, who left Maine for Memphis in 1995, has since been named “Best Harmonica Player” at the 2010 Blues Music Awards and has been nominated three times by Blues Wax magazine for the Blues Band of the Year award for work with his erstwhile band, New Blood.

Ricci has played with such renowned artists as Walter Trout, Junior Kimbrough and the late Johnny Winter. Although he started out at 14 by playing in punk bands, he soon discovered a love of harmonica and the blues. After residing for a time in New Orleans, he now lives in Bloomington, Indiana, and has assembled a new band, Approved By Snakes, with guitarist John Lisi.

Ricci, who will present a tribute to the late Biddeford blues artist Nick Curran – who succumbed to oral cancer in 2012 at the age of 35 – attributes much of his success to the generous support he received from fellow musicians during his formative years in Maine.

“I had incredible guidance along the way from people like Mark Miller, DW Gill, Per Hanson, Andy Argondizza, Pete Masterson, Dave Thibodeau, Mike Hayworth, David Wakefield and Mike Curran,” he says. “It was a great scene when I was growing up. Not many other places have players that nice and good, clubs as cool as the old Big Easy and Raoul’s. Even my first harmonica teacher, Dave Daniels, who taught at Waynflete, was really good, very informed and very cool. Maine is an amazing place, and I’m excited to be coming home.”

“The Maine blues community has been somewhat fragmented in recent years” said MBS’s Ron Gill. “We see this show as an opportunity to bring folks together. After all, part of the mission of the Maine Blues Society is to do just that. And in Jason Ricci, we have a sort of ‘prodigal son’ that we all respect and admire who is returning to Maine to perform. There’s no better blues story than that.”

Tickets are $15 per person. (For $25, one will receive a ticket to the show plus a membership to the Maine Blues Society). Tickets may be purchased online at www.mbswinterbluesbash.eventbrite.com.

The Ramada Inn is located at 490 Pleasant Street in Lewiston. For more information about the event, contact Ron Gill at 602-6708 or r0n7719@yahoo.com. For more information about the Maine Blues Society, see www.mainebluessociety.com.

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