Bay Area legend Elvin Bishop is the headliner for the debut Blues by the Bay Outdoor Music Festival this Saturday in Martinez.

City Councilman Mark Ross has attended a number of Bishop's performances over the years, and was part of a city committee that brought this popular rhythm and blues genre to the local amphitheater, as a kickoff for future events.

"We thought we'd start with this type of music that resonates well with the East Bay," says Ross. "Most people can hum a few bars of one of his songs."

The Martinez festival features two stages of live music, food booths and arts and crafts fair.

"It was an organic process ... to utilize the amphitheater and see its potential," adds interim City Manager Anna Gwyn Simpson. "We were looking for a musical genre that could provide that regional draw."

Bishop performs on the main stage starting at 7:45 p.m., and will be joined by the honky-tonk style blues of Marcia Ball.

Longtime concert producer Tom Wiggins, founder of the St. Gabriel's Celestial Marching Band, opened for Ball five years ago at the Victoria Jazz Festival in the Basque region of Northern Spain.

The Lafayette resident and a group of several "totally acoustic and mobile" players of trombones, saxophone, tuba, base and snare will make their way through the crowd offering their repertoire of blues favorites, including the New Orleans-style funeral marches.

Regional greats that also are appearing on Saturday include the French Cajun flare of the Zydeco Flames, along with Frankie G and the Conviction, and Martinez native Kyle Jester.

"We're honored to be at the first blues festival in Martinez," says Zydeco Flames leader Frank Bohan. "People say zydeco is like Cajun music with a blues band behind it ... highly energetic, very danceable ... very American style music."

Adds Wiggins, "This music has an infectious rhythm that makes people dance ..."

Wiggins, a drummer since 1961, offers a lens into the evolution of today's R&B that originated around the Big Band era of the 1920s. It was already rooted in blues, and evolved from a fusion with the old ragtime, and also the infusion of the somber melodies with the syncopated African rhythms.

Event producer Jim Douglas is among those enthusiasts who regard the estimated 1,200 person-capacity amphitheater as a potential "world-class venue," referring to the currently underutilized facility, and is confident this Saturday's festival will be a tremendous crowd pleaser.

"It's in everybody's best interest to put (his) best foot forward and put on a good show," he says of the festival being a catalyst for more shows and funding for more development of the site.

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