Soul-blues fans should make a beeline for downtown Hayward this weekend.
It's their chance to catch Johnny Rawls and Bobby Rush, two of the greatest soul-blues singers in the business, at the 14th annual Hayward/Russell City Blues Festival, which is set for Saturday and Sunday.
The 61-year-old Rawls, who appears at the festival on Saturday, has worked with everyone from B.B. King and Joe Tex to Little Milton and Bobby Bland. He came up in legendary singer O.V. Wright's group in the '70s, then spent the '80s and early '90s in the Ace of Spades Band.
He got a relatively late start as a solo artist, at least by blues standards, releasing the first album under his own name in 1996 ("Here We Go"). Since then, however, he's certainly made up for lost time -- receiving multiple Blues Music Awards for his string of solo albums, which includes last year's "Soul Survivor."
Rush, Sunday's headliner, is a tremendously talented frontman as well as one of the genre's true living legends. The 77-year-old soul-blues singer first came to fame when his song "Chicken Heads" became an R&B hit in the early '70s.
He received a Grammy nomination for 2000's "Hoochie Man" and was featured in Martin Scorsese's documentary TV series "The Blues," which originally aired on PBS in 2003.
But Rawls and Rush are only two of the reasons to catch the blues festival. Here are some expected highlights:
Sista Monica: The Santa Cruz singer, known as "the lioness of the blues," released her latest CD, "Living in the Danger Zone," in late 2011. Her reward was a 2012 Blues Music Award nomination in the best soul-blues female artist category.
Ron Thompson: He's one of the true treasures of the Bay Area blues scene. The East Bay vocalist-guitarist is perhaps best known for his time in John Lee Hooker's band, but he's also released several fine solo albums.
Lester Chambers: He was the lead singer for the Chambers Brothers, a '60s soul-rock troupe known for such songs as "Time Has Come Today," "All Strung Out Over You," "Uptown" and "I Can't Turn You Loose."
Bay Area Blues Society Caravan of Allstars: The name says it all -- this group features some of the best blues players in the area. The troupe is led by guitarist Ronnie Stewart, who also runs the Bay Area Blues Society (the organization that presents this festival and many other worthwhile events).
J.C. Smith Band: The San Jose bandleader has long boasted a loyal South Bay following. Lately, however, he's been cultivating an international fan base, thanks to multiple tours through South America, Russia and elsewhere.
Jamie "Bluesboy" Powell: This Cleveland-born vocalist-guitarist, who has been a staple on the West Coast club scene for 50-plus years, is a champion of Chicago-style blues.
Guitar Mac: The Sacramento bluesman is a fine singer, guitarist and bandleader who has earned several honors from the annual West Coast Blues Hall of Fame and Awards Show.
Harmonica Explosion: Blues harp heads won't want to miss this showdown, featuring Sammy Lee, Wingnut Adams, Sean McGroarty, Tumble Weed and Lil Vinnie.
Russell City Memorial Blues Band: Fillmore Slim, Jimmy Mamou, Bobby Webb, Lee Ashford, Big Bob Deance and others pay tribute to the mighty musical legacy of Russell City.
The music runs 11 a.m.-7 p.m. both days at the Hayward City Hall Plaza, 777 B St. Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 at the gate (www.brownbagtickets.com). A festival kickoff party will be held from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday at the Bistro in Hayward.
Follow Jim Harrington at Twitter.com/jimthecritic, Facebook.com/jim.bayareanews and http://blogs.mercurynews.com/aei/category/concerts.