The Blues Is Alright: RI Blues Fest returns to Mulligan’s Island for its sophomore summer

Few events add to the lore of summertime tradition like a music festival, and the second annual RI Blues Fest is a great occasion for anyone looking to check a fest off their summer bucket list. Mulligan’s Island managing partner Michael Friedman was encouraged by the high praise the inaugural weekend drew despite some dicey weather, and is optimistic about clear skies for this year.

“The performers were awesome, the attendees had an amazing time, and the feedback was superlative,” Friedman comments. “We’re hoping for nothing but sunshine and rainbows this time.”

Modifications to this year’s festival are aimed at making the experience even more accessible. Most notably, the description of the event now includes one of the best four-letter words anyone can hear in the summer.

“The number one thing we changed is we made it a free show,” says Friedman. “Our goal is to get as many people to come and experience the music and festival atmosphere to grow awareness of the event. Number two, we changed the layout of the field to make it easy for people to enter and stay.”

The term “music festival” might conjure visions of debauchery, but Friedman’s portrayal of RI Blues Fest sounds less like a free-for-all and much more like musical therapy. “It’s become a summertime musical vacation in your backyard to take a day or two to just relax and become absorbed in the music. It’s a really fun experience to bring family and friends and enjoy what is, by most accounts, the best season in New England.”

Anyone who listens to the blues knows that the genre isn’t a monolith; each performer expresses the blues in his or her own way. This year’s lineup honors that variety, and Friedman notes that the festival performers celebrate the tradition of blues artists in New England. Highlights of this year’s all-star lineup include 2019 RI Music Hall of Fame inductees Neal & The Vipers; Providence-based rockers The Silks; and the fiery Lois Greco, returning to RI Blues Fest a year after inclement weather cut her set short. 

“We try to keep the dancefloor in mind to emphasize that music and dance is a thing. It doesn’t always have to be about art or poetry, but you can mix both styles together,” said Tyler-James Kelly, lead singer of The Silks.

Rounding out the lineup are Crossrhode Blues, The Heidi Nirk Band, and Ed Peabody and the Big Blue Thang on Saturday; and Stovall Brown Band and the Travis Colby Band on Sunday. Friedman hints that there may also be a surprise in the works for festival patrons. He explains, “We oftentimes have a special guest addition that people really enjoy – local performers that aren’t on the advertised list of performers, but come in and play, and add a fun alternate dimension.”

In addition to the music, vendors will offer barbecue and other food, local and national craft beers, and a variety of cold drinks for purchase. Visitors can stretch out on four grassy acres for the music, and will be free to come and go to enjoy the attractions at Mulligan’s Island as they please or take a walk in between sets. Friedman adds, “The feedback we got was that it was an extremely comfortable place to enjoy live music.

“It’s a fun breakaway from the grind of life to be able to enjoy the sun and the music on a great afternoon,” Friedman concludes. “Put your toes in the grass, sit back in a lawn chair, and enjoy these compelling artists carrying on the blues tradition.”

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