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Charlie West Blues Fest

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Festival brings the blues to Charleston's downtown

By TAYLOR KUYKENDALL · tkuykendall@statejournal.com

CHARLESTON — The annual Charlie West Blues Fest is quickly becoming known as one of the top music events in West Virginia. 

While the state is not as well known for blues as some of its Southern neighbors, West Virginia is setting out to prove there's blues in these mountains. The Charlie West Blues Fest is one of the more well-known blues events in West Virginia. 

This past year's event at Haddad Riverfront Park in Charleston, the fifth annual, included big name acts such as Kenny Wayne Shepherd alongside local acts including the Carpenter Ants, the Wicked Mojos and the Mighty Flyers.  

"It's awesome. We have such awesome acts and it really complements what we are proud of here in Charleston, and that is we are a hip music scene," said Alisa Bailey, the CEO of the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau, a sponsor of the event.

The two-day festival featured free admission, with vendors lining up to sell a variety of food and merchandise. Concertgoers spread among the steps of the park and in the tents on the sidewalk above to take in the tunes and enjoy food and drink between acts. 

The location of the event has moved around in recent years. In 2010, the festival was held at Appalachian Power Park. Then, the event cost $15 admission, except for service members who were allowed into the event free of charge. 

The first event took place at Coonskin Park in Charleston. Unfortunately, high winds took down one of the tents. The second year, the blues festival moved to Oakes Park. 

Setting up two different stages allowed for bands to play the second stage, sponsored by Mardi Gras Casino and Resort, between set changes. Tudor's Biscuit World also provided a "Biscuit and Blues Brunch" to feed hungry festival-goers.

"I came for Kenny Wayne Shepherd," said Jennifer Stevens, who just started playing guitar herself. "He really knows his way around the blues. I didn't know you could really see an act like Kenny in West Virginia." 

Stevens, from Ohio, said she happily made the drive to see Shepherd. Shepherd, 34, achieved success at an early age and has since enjoyed a level of personal success. He jammed with a number of blues greats, including B.B. King, when creating "10 Days Out: Blues from the Backroads."

The event still focuses on supporting the U.S. military. According to the website promoting the event, the organizers partner with the Wounded Warrior Project "to honor and empower our nation's Wounded Warriors." 

"The Charlie West Blues Fest is a tribute to our military and their families," the website states. "We want them to know they are loved. The Fest is produced in the vein of a old-fashioned USO show, giving everyone the opportunity to show their appreciation and support for our troops and families. They give a lot to their country; it's our turn to show that we care for them." 

The 2012 event, which took place the weekend of May 19, included the inaugural Blues on Greens Golf Tournament at the Edgewood Country Club in Sissonville to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project.