Bikes, beer and blues: Kent hosts 11th annual Blues Festival

The Greasy Boys play on the Dan Smith Park Stage during the Kent Blues Fest in downtown Kent on July 12, 2019.

David Williams

Motorcycles lined the streets and music filled the air in Kent on Friday as rhythm and blues howled into the night at the 11th annual Kent Blues Festival. The festival was hosted by the Crooked River Arts Council, a Kent-based non-profit organization which also hosts BeatleFest and Kent Reggae Fest.

Thirty-one musical acts jammed at 26 venues around downtown Kent while patrons enjoyed live music at several bars. The Ray Flanagan Trio played in Acorn Alley and a sizable audience assembled at Hometown Bank Plaza to watch Evolution, an Eric Clapton tribute band. 

BC Hudson and Daryl Rowland, a festival favorite, returned this year to play at Bellaria. Rowland has travelled all over the country playing with prominent blues musicians like Johnny Winter, B.B. King, Johnny Copeland and Ray Bailey. The duo takes notes from each of these to produce Hudson’s smooth solid bass line to accentuate Rowland’s rhythm. 

Just up the street a man was tuning his acoustic guitar. When asked if he was part of any bands playing downtown, he responded, “I’m just Tim.” Tim, a resident of Kent, played in Friday’s festival.

“They asked me last minute if I could come down and play at Euro Gyro, and I figured I’d play around a bit downtown too,” he said.

The Blues Fest is also an opportunity for people to show off their rides. A row of motorcycles flanked Hometown Bank Plaza. Plenty of cars from the 50s and 60s were present as well. Duane Warwick drove his Harley-Davidson from Stow to attend the festival. He said he tries to come every year. 

“I think it’s great,” Duane Warwick said. “You’ve got a lot of older groups who’ve been playing for decades, but now you also get plenty of younger fellas and I like what I’m hearing from them.” 

Warwick wore denim, a leather vest and sported a beard down to his chest, a style shared by many at the Kent Blues Fest. He stood outside the fence at Zephyr Pub watching Jarred Goldweber and The Park Brothers play. He says he likes how younger acts are helping bring blues back to prominence.

“It’s really a great thing since you don’t really hear much blues anymore, plus you get to learn about newer bands too. It’s really nice for the town because you didn’t have nearly as many people playing down here four or five years back.”

Food was also for sale at a variety of food trucks. The festival coincided with 101 Bottles of Beer on the Wall’s weekly Food Truck Friday. 101 Bottles has participated in the Kent Blues Fest every year. Barrio, a Cleveland-based taco, tequila and whiskey chain which plans to open its first Kent location this summer, was also on site with a food truck outside EuroGyro.


A full schedule of Friday’s performances can be found here.

David Williams is a senior reporter. Contact him at [email protected].