Deep Blue Innovators Blues Festival

The Deep Blue Innovators Blues Festival descends on the Rivloli Theatre stage every Fall. Bringing nationally-recognized, award-winning blues musicians to Monmouth, this day-long festival draws friends and fans from around the country.

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2015 Performer: Moreland & Arbuckle

Guitarist Aaron Moreland and harpist/vocalist Dustin Arbuckle have spent over a decade exploring the edges of American roots music. In the process, Moreland & Arbuckle have forged a relentless and haunting sound that merges Delta blues, folk, rock, traditional country, soul and numerous other echoes and murmurs from an infinitely layered musical narrative that spans more than a century. 

The Moreland & Arbuckle journey began when the two met at an open-mic jam at a club in Wichita, Kansas, in 2001. Moreland had just moved into town a few months earlier from Emporia – a city located some eighty-five miles to the northeast. A guitarist since age 15, his source material was admittedly diverse – Led Zeppelin, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Black Sabbath, Charley Patton, Motley Crue – but he’d settled into traditional blues by the time he’d arrived in Wichita in his mid-20s. 

Arbuckle, a native of Wichita, had been playing in a blues rock bar band at the time, but his truest sensibilities ran a couple generations deeper, into the heart of the Mississippi Delta. He counts iconic figures like harpists Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williams and guitarist Son House among his most profound influences.  

“It was kind of perfect,” says Arbuckle of the chance encounter between the two musicians. “We had a shared vision, in a place where there really wasn’t much interest in – or support for – country blues.” Moreland joined Arbuckle’s blues rock band for the last few months before the project dissolved, then the two started a quartet called the Kingsnakes, which Arbuckle describes as “electrified Mississippi blues mixed with a sludgy, jam-oriented rock thing.” The project incorporated a range of sounds: soul, country, funk, jam rock, blues and whatever else worked. Horner joined in 2003, but left after just a few months. A few bass players came and went in the years that followed, until Moreland and Arbuckle discovered they could lay down a solid groove on their own. 

Then again, Moreland does his share of work at the bottom end. In addition to the more typical Telecaster and Les Paul guitars, his arsenal also includes a hand-crafted instrument consisting of four strings stretched across a cigar box. One string feeds into a bass amp, and the other three into a guitar amp. It’s a gritty, electrified descendent of the cigar box guitars played by countless Delta bluesmen of the early 1900s who, for all of their innate talents, were too impoverished to afford the real thing. 

“There was no real adjustment for me,” Moreland says of his first encounter with the instrument, which was crafted by a friend in Memphis. “I just picked it up and played it. When I play a regular guitar, I hold down those bottom strings with my thumb and pluck those to get a kind of groove going. So when I first started playing the cigar box with the bass string, it just worked perfect with my style of playing.” 

Moreland & Arbuckle crafted three self-produced album in rapid-fire succession – Caney Valley Blues in 2005, Floyd’s Market in 2006 and 1861 in 2008. “There have been times in the past when I’ve gone on a rant that we’re not writing enough,” says Moreland. “But then I look at our catalog and say, ‘Well, that’s stupid. We’ve put out all this stuff in a short period of time.’ When I look at it that way, I’d say we’re fairly prolific.” 

The band took that hefty catalog to Iraq for nearly two weeks in the fall of 2008 to play for the American troops stationed there. “It was a crazy awesome experience,” says Moreland. “Super-grueling. Twelve days of about four hours of sleep per day. From a physical standpoint, it was pretty tough. But to go into a tattered, war-torn area where tens of thousands of fellow Americans were putting their lives on the line every day, minute by minute, was a very rewarding experience. I’d never experienced anything like it before.” 

Moreland & Arbuckle made their debut on Telarc International, a division of Concord Music Group, with the February 2010 release of Flood. The critically-acclaimed album was a giant step in the group’s never-ending quest to unearth the rawest and most honest elements of the American music tradition – without getting caught up in definitions and categories that would only serve to limit the vision. After the release of Flood, Moreland & Arbuckle hit the road for tour dates with ZZ Top, George Thorogood, Jonny Lang, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, Los Lonely Boys and other blues and rock veterans. Moreland & Arbuckle built on that solid foundation with the August 2011 release of Just A Dream. Featuring a guest appearance by legendary soul guitarist Steve Cropper, the 12-song set is a showcase for Moreland’s dynamic and compelling guitar work and Arbuckle’s emotionally charged vocals and edgy harp. 

“It’s hard to say exactly what we are and what we do,” says Arbuckle. “Blues is definitely at the core, but we’re huge fans of all sorts of American music, and all of that comes through as well. Obviously, there are elements of traditional country in what we do, elements of vintage rock and roll, soul and all that sort of stuff. We always try to stay grounded in that traditional blues center, and at the same time branch out and do as many different things as we can while still keeping it consistent with the sound we’ve developed.”

2015 Performer: Davina and the Vagabonds

Davina Sowers and the Vagabonds have created a stir on the national music scene with their high-energy live shows, level A musicianship, sharp-dressed professionalism, and Sowers’ commanding stage presence. With influences ranging from Fats Domino and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band to Aretha Franklin and Tom Waits, the band is converting audiences one show at a time, from Vancouver to Miami and across Europe. In 2011 Davina released her first full length, all original album Black Cloud . It was named one of the 10 best releases of the year by the Minneapolis Star & Tribune and awarded 4 ½ stars from Downbeat Magazine. Their next release in 2014, Sunshine, hit number 13 in the Billboard Blues Chart and led them to be a musical feature on the hit BBC show, Later with Jools Holland.

DATV’s shows are filled with New Orleans charm, Memphis soul swagger, dark theatrical moments that evoke Kurt Weill, and tender gospel passages. Davina’s voice and stage presence defy category in a different way. Davina has been compared to Etta James, Amy Winehouse, Janis Joplin, Billie Holiday and Betty Boop, but comparisons don’t suffice: Sowers is a true original.

Bringing you 100 years of American music and Davina’s originals, which lend themselves to the American Songbook, the band brings edgy nostalgia to older generations and fresh new music to younger ears. This rollicking quintet is held together by Sowers’ keyboard playing, with acoustic bass, drums, and a spicy trumpet and trombone horn section. The group’s focused, clean sound and emphasis on acoustic instruments is novel to both blues and jazz worlds, and sets the show closer to New Orleans than to Chicago. This has set the Vagabonds apart at festivals in Thunder Bay, Ontario; Sighisoara, Romania; Sierre, Switzerland; Kemi, Finland; the 2012 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and 2013 Monterey Jazz Festival ( in 2014 was asked back to play their main stage in 2014, Vache de Blues in France, and North Sea Jazz Festival. Catch this one-of-a-kind live show while they are in town!

“Listening to Davina & the Vagabonds is like stepping into a wondrous musical time machine. They have the panache and superlative musicianship to recreate the retro sound and ageless appeal of golden age Americana in high-definition reality on stage for your immense pleasure and enjoyment.”  -Thunder Bay Blues Festival/Canada

2015 Performer: Ben Prestage

Ben Prestage’s musical background began before he was born... even before his parents were born. Ben’s great-grandmother was a Vaudeville musician who toured with Al Jolson and also participated in medicine shows. Her daughter was a Boogie-Woogie pianist and painter who used to play for Ben when he was coming up. On the other side of the family tree, his grandfather, who was a Mississippi sharecropper turned Ben onto the sounds and culture of Mississippi and Blues in general.

“When my father was growing up in Mississippi,” states Ben, “ they never had running water and the only electricity was one light bulb that hung from the ceiling, but they had it better than some of their neighbors, because they didn’t have dirt floors. I grew up in rural Florida, on a 14-mile-long dirt road, near the headwaters of the Everglades. It was 7 miles either direction to the nearest paved road, and when you got to pavement, you still weren't near a town. It was panther, gator, and cottonmouth country. Out there, there was only one kind of music in the house. Whether it was being played on an instrument, or on a recording, it was Blues.

“One day though, in my early teens, I went to help a neighbor build a chicken-coop on his property. When we went inside to eat lunch, I asked him about a banjo I saw in the corner. He picked it up and I heard Bluegrass music for the first time. He was from a musical family and learned old-time banjo from his father from the South Ohio/North Kentucky hills. He lived half a mile away, but it was so quiet out there, you could hear that banjo all the way to my house, if he was on his porch and I was on mine.. He made homemade wine with my dad and when he’d come over, he’d bring his banjo and show me how to pick with my fingers instead of a plectrum.”

Later while living in Memphis, Prestage became a busker (street performer) on historic Beale Street. This is where he perfected his drum-kit. "I played out there a few times with nothing but a guitar and my voice. Once people heard me they liked it, but it was hard to get them on my side of the street with all the other music going on down there. There were some other guys out there who played drums with their feet, and they always got people's attention. I started playing drums with my feet as an attention grabber but soon found out that the drums played with foot pedals actually enhanced my music dramatically. Not only were people listening and buyin' discs, they were now dancing and hollerin' to boot. Now I am to the point where, if you close your eyes, you would think there was a professional drummer with a full-size drumkit behind me. I learned alot from the guys I shared the street with, including John Lowe, (inventor of the Lowebow, a type of diddley-bow that I play), Robert Belfour, and Richard Johnston."

Ben returned to Memphis over the next few years for the International Blues Challenge (the world's largest gathering of Blues musicians) and within three consecutive years took he 4th, 3rd, and 2nd place. He is also the only two-time recipient of the Lyon/Pitchford Award for "Best Diddley-Bow Player." Ben's interesting approach to instrumentation, (fingerstyle guitar, harmonica, banjo, lap-steel, fiddle, resonator guitar, foot-drums, vocals, and his award-winning original songwriting (recipient of "The Most Unique Performer" at "The Song- writers' Showcase of America") has earned him invitations to perform across North America, Europe, and as far as North Africa. All awards aside, he has proven himself, through his live performances, to be the future of American Blues, Roots Music, Americana and is one of today’s most talented outsider.

2015 Performer: Micah Kesselring

Micah Kesselring, 21, has performed blues music since he was 14 years old. Raised in the Appalachia foothills of southeastern Ohio, Kesselring quickly made his way onto the Columbus blues music scene after playing smaller hometown shows, and became acquainted with the Columbus Blues Alliance. He soon made his way down to Memphis, TN for the International Blues Challenge, representing the Columbus Blues Alliance in the Youth Showcase category. Following a performance at the Blues City Cafe on Beale Street, he was awarded the inaugural Generation Blues scholarship at the age of 15 to the Centrum Port Townsend Acoustic Blues Festival & Workshop in Port Townsend, Washington, which was presented to him by Cassie Taylor at the IBC band finals. Micah later went on to perform as a special guest with the Otis Taylor Band at the Blues Music Awards in May of 2009, and performed at numerous festivals, including the Heritage Music Bluesfest in Wheeling, WV, the Traditional Acoustic Blues Festival in Worthington, OH, the Grey Skies Blues Fest in Tacoma, WA, Creekside Blues & Jazz Festival in Gahanna, OH and the Big Bend Blues Bash in Pomeroy, OH throughout the next couple of years.

Micah released his second album, entitled 'Cabin Fever Blues' on June 2nd, 2015. Self recording, producing, engineering, mixing, and mastering the album at home, Cabin Fever Blues features seven original compositions and re-workings of four Delta blues classics. The album was completed in less than two weeks. 2015 has been a busy year, with festival bookings and teaching at the Port Townsend Acoustic Blues Festival.

(photo courtesy of therockslide.com)

2015 Performer: Charlie Hayes and Detroit Larry

“Detroit” Larry Davison hails from Rock Island, Illinois, and started refining his chops on the harmonica in the late 1970’s, originally learning licks on everything from standard folk songs, TV shows, cartoons, Christmas favorites, as well as any and all of the blues harp players he could find to listen to and study stylistically. He remains extremely dedicated to refining his musical skills, and has never stopped learning from the original masters of the blues harp. ‘Detroit’ Larry has also performed as a member of the Ellis Kell Band from 1992-present, opening shows for many national acts such as B.B. King, Willie Nelson, Charlie Musselwhite, Robert Cray, Delbert McClinton, Tower of Power, Jimmy Rodgers, Little Feat, Shannon Curfman, John Lee Hooker, Jr., Savoy Brown, and Edgar and Johnny Winter. He has also performed as a backing musician for rock and roll icon Bo Diddley, and was a member of Shane Johnson’s Blue Train (1999 Iowa Blues Challenge winners) performing at the 1999 Mississippi Valley Blues Festival, which proceeded to the International Blues Challenge finals, and recorded two CD’s. With John Resch & The Detroit Blues (2002 Iowa Blues Challenge winner) he also performed at the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival. With Juke Joint Sinners (2006 Iowa Blues Challenge), he again performed that year at the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival. In 2009, as a member of the Avey Brothers (Iowa Blues Challenge winner and IBC finalist), he performed yet again at the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival, and recorded a CD with that group.

Charlie Hayes, a consummate guitarist and vocalist has been a figure on the local music scene for more than four decades. Charlie’s acoustic blues demonstrates a mastery of blues with a repertoire ranging from classic sounds of Robert Johnson to contemporary picking of Keb’ Mo’. Charlie, a Peoria native, has been a member of the Even Steven Band, a mainstay in the Galesburg and Peoria area, since 1974. A guitar teacher whose many students are now contributing to live music in many locales, he teaches full time at Cherry St. Guitar in Galesburg. Hundreds of musicians have benefited from Charlie’s open mic; which is currently in its 22nd year. Charlie’s newest project features his five string banjo playing while he plays bass pedals with his feet with Podunk Posse, a band that gives Classic, Pop, Folk, Rock, and Country a “Newgrass” feel. Charlie’s solo acoustic blues CD, “Barnyard Blue,” will be available soon.

What You Need to Know for the 2015 Festival

The 2015 Deep Blue Innovators Blues Festival is on Saturday, October 24th at the historic Rivoli Theatre in Monmouth, Illinois.

To see a map of the Rivoli's location, click here.

Tickets are $20 before the show and are available online (see the link at the top of this page) and will be on sale (in early August) at the Buchanan Center for the Arts, Daw Violins, the Bijou and Market Alley Wines in Monmouth. In the region, you can buy them in Galesburg (Cherry Street Guitar, Music Makers, Fat Fish Pub), Macomb (Capitol Music) and Burlington (Weird Harolds). 

You can also get tickets for $25 at the door on the day of the event.

The Rivoli is connected to the Bijou, which offers a full bar. There will also be a limited bar in the Rivoli with servers.

Eddie B. will be smoking his famous ribs outside all day, and the Bijou Grill will also offer their full menu.

T-shirts for the event will be available for $15.

We'll see you at the show!!!

2015 Event Schedule

Please remember all times are approximate. This is a single stage event, so each band needs to set up and tear down, as well as sound check. But hey, that's part of the fun!

2:00pm: doors open

2:30pm: Charlie Hayes and Detroit Larry perform

4:00pm: Michah Kesselring performs

5:30pm: Ben Prestage performs

7:00pm : Davina and the Vagabonds perform

9:00pm : Moreland and Arbuckle perform

2015 Festival Line Up

We’re pleased to announce the line up for the 2015 Deep Blue Innovators Blues Festival, which will be on Saturday, October 24, 2015 at the Rivoli Theatre in Monmouth, Illinois. This year, we'll be bringing in some world-class award-winning artists who all have deep blue souls and deeply innovative approaches to the blues. We'll see you at the show!

2015 Festival Date Set!

The 2015 Deep Blue Innovators Blues Festival date is locked down: Saturday, October 24th! Of course, it will be at the awesome Rivoli Theatre here in beautiful Monmouth, Illinois. Check back soon to see the line-up announcement - it'll be a good one!