The Blues, Brews & Barbecue festival is quickly becoming an early summer tradition in the Lehigh Valley. The annual summer event returned to Allentown last weekend marking the sixth appearance of the festival which debuted in 2008. Vendors lined the 800 block of Hamilton Street while 8 bands played throughout the day on Saturday including WDIY favorites the B.C. Combo and the Alexis P. Suter Band.
"I think the rain yesterday really helped," said Crystal Calla from Fat Boys House of BBQ as she took orders from hungry attendees. "People were looking for a reason to get out of the house today." Despite a chance of rain, the day turned out to be pleasant with the sun peaking out over the clouds occasionally. "We've been pretty busy today. There's been a steady stream of people all afternoon."
While the smell of barbecue lofted in the air, the music echoed all afternoon into the night from the stage set up just off of 9th Street. The B.C. Combo is certainly no strangers to WDIY listeners or blues fans in the Lehigh Valley. The band has won several Lehigh Valley Music Awards and has become a regular Musikfest performer. Singer Bev Conklin has been active in the local music scene helping to set up the annual Lehigh River Blues Jam in Catasaqua, PA as well as the Women's Blues Alliance in 2006.
The B.C. Combo's set this year boasted a slew of guest musicians. As many as 8 performers packed the stage at one point featuring saxophone, trumpet, and keyboards. Probably most noteworthy of the guest performers was Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski who sat in for a song behind the drum kit. After an enthusiastic crowd response, Conklin quipped, "If this politics thing doesn't work out, we may have a job for him."
Another highlight of the day was the Alexis P. Suter Band who took the stage next. WDIY blues fans should be familiar with their track record for bombastic performances and their set certainly delivered on that promise. The band kicked off their set with the brooding traditional gospel song "John the Revelator." After the first song concluded, Suter's trademark top hat came off and the band launched into an energetic set which included a mix of original and cover songs.
While the barbecue, beer, and live music flowed, there were a handful of local artists among the vendors. Toronto-born Alexander Clare who now resides in Bethlehem displayed his painting and illustrations which take inspiration from sci-fi and pop culture. Clare also created a new piece live that afternoon at the festival.
Fellow Bethlehem artist Bobby Zeik was also there displaying his work and creating new pieces in front of festival goers. Zeik started off as one of the founders of the Alternative Gallery in Allentown but now only displays his work there. He was happy to be part of the festival. "I like it a lot. I mean, it's three great things: blues, beer, and barbecue. There's not really much you can add to that."