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Thursday, March 30, 2006 03:27 am

Honking on the harmonica

Jason Ricci performs Monday at Illinois Central Blues Club

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Jason Ricci
Thirty-year-old Jason Ricci is one busy musician. With his group New Blood, the harmonica-playing blues-rocker has logged about 300 dates a year for the last several years. That, my friends, is a good sign. You don’t play that many gigs unless you are getting asked back for more. Ricci began his professional career at age 21 by winning the Sonny Boy Blues Society contest in Helena, Ark. During that very productive 21st year, he played the main stage at the King Biscuit Blues Festival, competed in the International Blues Competition in Memphis, jammed onstage with Susan Tedeschi, and released his first CD. After that, the young virtuoso jammed with everyone around, eventually landing a steady gig with Junior Kimbrough and occasional dates with R.L. Burnside over in Holly Springs, Miss. After recording his second CD, Ricci left the South for his home state of Maine to put together a blues band of his own. Nick Curran, familiar to local audiences for his scorching blues shows, was one of the guitarists Ricci nearly worked with, but Curran landed a working gig with Ronnie Dawson. Instead, the harp-blowin’ young man hooked up with a guitarist by the name of Enrico Crivellaro and hopped over to Europe for a little blues tour. In 1999 the well-worn youngster (all of 25 by this point) beat out more than 1,000 other wannabes to win the Mars National Harmonica Contest and sat in by request at a New Orleans House of Blues show with the Fabulous Thunderbirds. By 2001 he was traveling cross-country with Big Al and the Heavyweights, knocking down 250-plus dates a year. After some 15 months with Big Al, Ricci left to form New Blood. They’ve been on the road ever since, paying their blues dues in a big way. His current schedule for the next few months is jam-packed, with only a couple of open dates before the end of May. After that the group will make a quick trip to Europe to play in Belgium and France, then head back to the States for a solid summer with nearly daily gigs booked through October. I told you Jason Ricci was busy.
Jason Ricci and New Blood host the Illinois Central Blues Club’s Blue Monday Jam from 8:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m. on April 3 at the Alamo.

What can I say about this show? Last summer I wrote about Mark Bilyeu, in the fall about Backyard Tire Fire, and a month ago about Cindy Woolf. All received high marks and much praise. Now they’re all playing together at the Underground City Tavern (700 E. Adams St., 217-789-1530) on Friday, March 31. The match-up seems somewhat incongruous at first, but the musicians have in common a thread of good songwriting and fine musicianship that draws people and obviously, bands, together. Remember the good old days, when unions and workers were considered heroes, before big, bigger, and biggest business ruled the world? Neither do I. Regardless of your economic beliefs you should support the Springfield & Central Illinois Trades and Labor Council and attend an “Evening with Charlie King and Rebel Voices” at the Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 137 Hall, (2880 E. Cook St., 217-544-0556), at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 30. Proceeds from the $25 tickets go to the families of Boilermakers Local 484 in Meredosia locked out by the Celanese Corp. since June 2005. King comes from the Woody Guthrie school of folk music, believing songs can be tools for social change. Ladies and gentlemen, please take note it’s time for another fine Cabin Concert. This time, it’s Grammy winner Laurie Lewis and her most excellent playing partner, mandolinist Tom Rozum. Lewis was twice named Female Vocalist of the Year by the International Bluegrass Music Association and she’s played most major bluegrass festivals in her over 30 years as a performer. I saw her and Rozum at Merle Fest one year, sitting next to the late John Hartford, who was lamenting the fact that he couldn’t write a “real” bluegrass song the way Lewis could. Now that is a compliment. Call 217-626-1091 for reservations for the March 31 and April 1 shows. I know you’re out there, all you Barbershop Quartet lovers. Now is the time to rise and declare your undivided loyalty and unabashed admiration for male vocal harmony singing. Bring along the mate of your choice to the Hoogland Center for the Arts (420 S. Sixth St., 217-523-2787) at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 1, as the Land of Lincoln Barbershop Chorus presents “A Fool for Love.”
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