If you knew Lionel Young when he worked here 25 years ago, you’d have been more likely to hear him playing Beethoven than blues. But not long afterward, the concert violinist who won the Carnegie-Mellon Concerto Contest and played with the Pittsburgh Ballet/Opera Orchestra, traded in Horowitz for Howlin’ Wolf and has since won even more acclaim.
On Saturday, July 23, Young brings his unique electric blues violin stylings back to town as one of the featured artists in the Pittsburgh Blues Festival at Hartwood Acres. Truth be told, Young, who started playing at age 6 in Rochester, N.Y., was always into the blues. His mother was a pianist who liked 60s funk and R&B, and his father, being from New Orleans, was a fan of that style jazz.
But as he told Blues Blast magazine in May, his greatest influence may have been Jimi Hendrix.
“It was later on that I became obsessed with Hendrix and the Beatles, and even later after digging up their influences when I caught the blues & boogie woogie flu that I felt I had to play the blues…I got so obsessed with violin music and the blues, that I’d skip school and go to the library to listen to and later play music all day,” he said. “Nothing inspired me more than hearing Hendrix. I can still remember trying to imitate what he did on the only thing I knew how to play at the time, the violin.”
Young and his band take the stage at 7 p.m. just prior to Saturday headliners the Tedeschi Trucks band, led by husband and wife Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks, who last year played the festival with their own separate bands and whose debut disc together “Relevator” was just released to rave reviews.
The three-day festival kicks off on Friday, July 22 with what is basically “ladies night.” Taking the stage at 5 p.m. is Pittsburgh’s own Olga Watkins Band, followed by Blueswomen of Pittsburgh at 6 p.m., Cincinnati-based Kelly Ritchie, who has been called “Stevie Ray Vaughan trapped in a woman’s body with Janis Joplin screaming to get out,” takes the stage at 7 p.m., leading up to the 8:45 performance by vocalist Janiva Magness.
Saturday’s blues stew begins cooking at 1:45 p.m. with the local flavor of Jimbo and the Soupbones. Following them, the Girls With Guitars tour, featuring Dani Wilde, Samantha Fish and Cassie Taylor cranks it up at 3 p.m. The Pittsburgh All-Stars take the stage at 4 p.m., and at 5 p.m., rising harmonica and vocal star Joe Nemeth sets the stage for Young.
Festivities again start at 1:45 on Sunday with local favorite the Bottom Shelf Band, followed by The Igniters at 2:45. Then at 3:45, the festival gets a blast from the past as Savoy Brown, which has been rocking audiences for more than 40 years, takes the stage.
Berg favorites Jill West and the Blues Attack heat things up at 5:30, and are followed by California guitar star Tommy Castro, who will do his best to get the crowd ready for the weekend’s climatic performance by blues guitar legend Johnny Winter.
Winter who has stopped in Pittsburgh at least once a year for decades, burst out of Texas in the late 1960s with The Progressive Blues experiment and hasn’t looked back since. Though he has taken breaks to collaborate with his brother Edgar on occasion, and produced and played on a legendary string of Muddy Waters recordings in the 1970s, he is on the road much of the time playing his jaw-dropping brand of high energy finger style and slide guitar.
As always the festival benefits the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank and is its largest annual fundraiser. And again this year, admission is free on Friday for anyone donating a bag of nonperishable food items. For additional information, go to www.pghblues.com. or call 412-460-2583.
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