As president of the Diamond State Blues Society, Gene Fontana obviously has an affinity for homegrown blues music. But, last summer he and the society turned their attention to the quaint streets of St. Georges and the musical history and culture imbedded there.
"We really just want to put the musical history here back on the maps," said Fontana. "People need to know about the landmarks like the Kern Recording Studio and how musicians like George Thorogood recorded there."
To get people interested, Fontana decided to draw on his experience organizing the Wilmington Riverfront Blues Festival and create the St. Georges Blues Festival.
"Last year was our first year and considering how quickly we put it together, we were thrilled with the 500 or so people that showed up," said Fontana. "This year, we expect to see all those people and then some."
The festival begins at noon and will feature musicians like Gary Cogdell and the Complainers, The Billy Walton Band, Jumpin' Johnny Sansone, Mac Arnold and Plate Full of Blues and the Lucky and Tamara Peterson Band, who will be headlining the event.
Even more musicians will be playing just a few blocks away at the St. Georges Country Store, a local restaurant featuring spicy Cajun classics like shrimp étouffeé and alligator bites and even spicier music that keeps the small 200-year-old structure packed with patrons most weekends. The setting is the love-child of Joe and Margi Michini, who opened back in 2001. Six years later, Fontana met Michini as word began to spread about the raucous jams that were happening on a regular basis thanks to several area musicians who were turning the amps off and turning the heat up with finger style swing music and country jazz pickin' acoustic sessions. Seeing a kindred spirit in Michini, Fontana brought another childhood friend and music lover Ben Rizzo into the mix and the three formed the St. Georges Culture and Arts Revival Corporation, an organization dedicated to "build the community back up and reintroduce it the way we see it."
One vision they have is an expansion of the St. Georges Country Store. Proceeds from the blues festival as well as a subsequent bluegrass festival in July all benefit the development project, which includes demolition of an adjacent property that will get reconstructed as a much larger music venue that seats closer to 300 people rather than the 40 or 50 that the Country Store holds now.
The project carries even more weight for Fontana because his friend Michini is sick with lung cancer.
"His last wish is to get this expansion done and carry on the legacy of the Country Store," said Fontana. "So, that's what we're trying to do."
Page 2 of 2 - Originally slated to be complete by next year, the project may actually take a little more time than that.
"Joe is not always able to go to as many meetings like he'd like because he's battling for his life," said Fontana. "Plus, we're all trying to plan the festivals and that takes up time, too. It's coming along, though, and it's going to get done."
- 12 p.m. Cary Cogdell and the Complainers
- 1:15 p.m. The Billy Walton Band
- 2 p.m. Jimmy Richard Duo (at the Country Store)
- 2:45 p.m. Jumpin' Johnny Sandome
- 4 p.m. Randy Barnett (at the Country Store)
- 4:30 p.m. Mac Arnold and Plate Full of Blues
- 6 p.m. Billy Pierce Duo (at the Country Store)
- 6:30 p.m. Lucky and Tamara Peterson Band
- 8 p.m. Kenny Jones Band featuring Alicia Maxwll (at the Country Store)