Article by Ric Holmquest Photography by Lisa Gray
Music fans are in for a real treat when the Ruf Records Blues Caravan 2018 arrives at the second annual Czech Village Blues festival Saturday, August 11. The lineup for this year’s installment of the Blues Caravan features blues music heavy hitters Mike Zito, Bernard Allison and a little stick of dynamite guitar slinger named Vanja Sky. Quad Cities blues rockers Shane Johnson’s Blue Train make a rare return to Cedar Rapids for the event, which opens with Waterloo’s Tim & the Trutones.
Each year since 2005 German based Ruf Records has sent three of their talented performers out on a world tour called Blues Caravan. The label, whose motto is “Where Blues Crosses Over” received the prestigious Keepin’ the Blues Alive Award from the Memphis based Blues Foundation in 2007. Ruf Records was created in 1994 by blues great Luther Allison’s then manager Thomas Ruf, to promote Allison’s career. It’s a very good time to be blues musician Mike Zito. The Nederland Texas bandleader, guitarist and singer songwriter received the Blues Foundation’s award for Rock Blues Artist of the Year at their 39th Annual Blues Music Awards on May 10. The following day Zito’s new record First Class Life debuted at number one in Billboard’s Top Blues Album category. The cofounder of the supergroup Royal Southern Brotherhood has truly hit his stride as a solo artist.
Bernard Allison earned his chops playing early on with Chicago’s “Queen of the Blues” Koko Taylor and his legendary father Luther Allison. Allison is a Bluesblast award nominee for Contemporary Blues Album 2018 for his new release Let It Go. The recording’s party grooves and funky blues reached number two on the Billboard Music Blues charts and hit number one on the Roots Music Report’s Top 50 Blues Rock Album Charts. Allison’s music subtly moves between blues music styles and is genre bending, proving his status as blues funk master.
Ruf Records newest discovery Vanja Sky is from the Croatia capital of Zagreb. A pastry chef turned blues singer and guitarist, Sky picked up the guitar just six years ago. Her debut album Bad Penny is modern electric blues with a straightforward style, named after a Rory Gallagher song that she covers on the record. Sky’s guitar influences include Stevie Ray Vaughn and Albert King, with her style compared to Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits. Low Down and Dirty from the new record is one of the recordings highlights, a triple threat featuring Mike Zito and Bernard Allison. The rollicking Hard Working Woman is guaranteed to get everyone up on their feet.
Czech Village Blues features a return of the Quad Cities popular blues rock band Shane Johnson’s Blue Train. Johnson spends the majority of his time touring the world supporting the rock band Imagine Dragons. Shane still finds the time to get together with his longtime friends and bandmates, John Resch and Tony Carton. The Czech Village Blues performance will feature a new harmonica player from Kansas City, Chris Ryan. The festival’s opener is the Waterloo power trio blues band Tim & the Trutones, with Tim Wagoner’s guitar and vocals, Paul Ferguson’s bass and vocals, with Corey Clark on the drums.
The Linn County Blues Society teams up again with the Friends of Czech Village for the second annual Czech Village Blues. Friends of Czech Village is dedicated to raising funds for and reconstructing the Riverside Roundhouse building in Czech Village. Once rebuilt, the facility will be a venue for farmer’s markets, recreational activities, festivals, social occasions and more. The Linn County Blues Society is dedicated to the preservation, promotion and perpetuation of blues music in Eastern Iowa, providing charitable contributions to other community organizations.
Tickets are only $15 in advance, $20 at the gate. 100 VIP tickets will be available for $80, featuring a catered meal, two beverages of choice and reserved seating in front of the stage. Gates open at 4pm, with the music starting at 5pm. Entrances will be located at the intersection of 16th Avenue SW and A Street and at the corner of A Street and 17th Avenue SW. Additional details are available at czechvillagefriends.com