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July 10, 2007

Annual Blues ’N’ Barbecue Fest reaches down under, snags Fiona Boyes & the Fortune Tellers

Australians get the blues, tooTo Artie Wells, the blues isn’t merely a lens through which people see a depressing world. The idiom and its lyrics and music tell stories about life.“I’ve learned to enjoy the blues; it’s just a feeling you have to have,” says Wells, who sings for the Walnut Street Blues Band.The band was started by Foree Wells and sons Michael, Greg and Foree III; they gigged around town and at regional jazz festivals until Foree passed away in 1997. Then Michael’s wife, Artie, stepped up to the mic.“We’re a traditional blues band, but we do have our own style,” she says, mentioning influences from Gatemouth Brown to Lonnie Brooks to Muddy Waters.Foree Wells played with the likes of B.B. King; Artie’s husband just got off the road with Clarence Carter, the blind musician who taught himself guitar at age 11. Artie says she and her family love playing festivals, and that she has become a true blues fan, though that wasn’t the case until she met Michael and his father.Then there are The Predators, who prefer a more intense brand of blues, says singer Jimmy V. The group has been together off and on for about 15 years, and they enjoy playing the annual Blues ’N’ Barbecue Festival. “Last year, there had to have been at least 4,000 people. The experience was incredible,” Jimmy says. “People bring their own chairs and just relax all day long. Then the music starts going and everyone starts dancing, even all these kids, just having a blast.”His kids, in particular, make the event worth it because they get to watch dear old Dad tear it up on stage.The festival is actually a three-day event; headlining on Saturday are Fiona Boyes & the Fortune Tellers, an electric trio from Australia who range from traditional and Chicago-style blues to swing and New Orleans-style jazz. Her group has been described as an “American musical road trip.”Boyes’ latest album, Lucky 13, earned a nomination from the Blues Foundation for Contemporary Blues Album of the Year. For Boyes, being recognized by the Blues Music Awards, which are the blues equivalent of the Grammy’s, is more significant because she is a non-American playing a predominantly American art form. She is the first Australian artist nominated in the 27 years of the awards. Contact the writer at leo@leoweekly.com