Inaugural Genoa Blues Festival welcoming blues musician Kenny Neal | NevadaAppeal.com

Inaugural Genoa Blues Festival welcoming blues musician Kenny Neal

Nevada Appeal staff report
Kenny Neal, an acclaimed blues musician, is the star of the inaugural Genoa Blues Festival at Mormon Station State Park.
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Blues music by three performers will fill Nevada’s oldest town when the inaugural Genoa Blues Festival kicks off July 30 at Mormon Station State Park.

Kenny Neal, a multi-instrumentalist modern swamp-blues musician, is headlining the festival with songs from his new album, “Hooked On Your Love.”

Born in New Orleans and raised in Baton Rouge, La., Neal said he began playing music at a young age, learning the basics from his father, singer and blues harmonica player, Raful Neal. Family friends like Lazy Lester, Buddy Guy and Slim Harpo contributed to his early musical education. In fact, it was Harpo who gave a crying three-year-old Neal a harmonica to pacify the child. Neal said he stopped crying that day, and eventually learned to play the harmonica. Along the way, he also mastered the bass, trumpet, piano and guitar. At 13, he joined his father’s band and began paying his musical dues. Four years later, he was recruited and toured extensively as Buddy Guy’s bass player.

Following Buddy’s advice to concentrate on his guitar playing, Neal relocated to Toronto, and along with his brothers Raful, Jr., Noel, Larry and Ronnie — formed the Neal Brothers Band, honing his chops backing up visiting blues stars. Through the years, he has shared the stage or worked with B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt, Muddy Waters, Aaron Neville, Buddy Guy and John Lee Hooker. Later, he fronted Canada’s Downchild Blues Band, before returning to Baton Rouge to begin his solo career.

Signing with Alligator Records in 1988, Neal began releasing a series of lauded albums featuring his laid-back, Baton Rouge blues, with a modern spin on the Louisiana sound he grew up with.

In 1991, he branched out into the world of acting when he starred as the lead in the acclaimed musical, “Mule Bone,” a lost play written by the famed African-American poet Langston Hughes and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston in 1930. Featuring music written by Taj Mahal, Neal’s performances garnered a prestigious Theater World Award for “The Most Outstanding New Talent On and Off Broadway,” and he concurrently set two Hughes poems to music on the album Walking With Fire.

Neal’s 2004 release with Billy Branch, “Double Take,” garnered him a W.C. Handy award for best album. More recently, Neal released “A Tribute to Slim Harpo and Raful Neal,” which pays homage to blues harp icon Harpo as well as Neal’s father, who passed away as the album was being completed.

Neal’s 2008 album, “Let Life Flow,” won Album of the Year, Song of the Year awards and Artist of the Year awards. His latest album, “Hooked On Your Love,” is available on iTunes.

The festival runs from 2 to 7 p.m. Music begins at 3 p.m. with The Buddy Emmer Blues Band, followed by Grady Champion and Neal.

Oakwood barbecue and drinks will be available for purchase. General admission costs $32.50. VIP tickets offering concert admission plus a plate of food and a drink are available for $48.50.

For tickets, go to Eventbrite.com and search “Genoa Blues Festival,” or buy them in person at the Genoa Bar & Saloon, 2282 Main St., Genoa.