Up-and-comers to seasoned vets

The annual Blues Under the Trees will be July 27 and this year the area’s biggest blues concert will feature five artists, from up-and-coming young groups to seasoned blues veterans.

One artist, Hadden Sayers, of Columbus, Ohio, recently made a comeback after some time out of the business.

After building a successful career in his native Texas, Sayers relocated to the Midwest so his wife could pursue a career in cancer research. But, Sayers said, he was trying to run his career and keep up with the constantly evolving music business pretty much by himself.

“Just the fact that I was doing it all myself took a toll on my wherewithal, and my ability to continue,” Sayers said.

“At that point my drummer died; then my wife’s boss, who hired her to move here, also got cancer and died very quickly. It was like a one-two punch.”

Though he never stopped playing gigs altogether, Sayers took some time away from the music scene.

That changed when he started playing with Ruthie Foster, a blues artist from the same area of Texas where Sayer grew up.

He also spent time remodeling a fishing cabin, helping him refocus.

“Sometimes, when you take your focus off what you’re trying to do, it recharges your batteries in such a way that you can get back to it,” he said.

Sayers released a comeback album called “Hard Dollar” in 2011. As he’s gone back on the road, Sayers has savored getting to know his fans a little better.

“A lady used to come see me with her husband. Then her husband passed away, and she would come and request his favorite song,” Sayers said.

She saw him after the comeback and told how she’d read about his work with the cabin.

“She went to Home Depot, took some classes and completely renovated her bathroom,” Sayers said. “I was thinking, ‘Wow, this is a weird life that I lead,’ I really don’t know them that well, but the things that happen in my life that I promote as part of my backstory, they influence people.

“The older I get, the more I’m interested in those stories.”

Most of Sayers’ performance will be from his newest album, “Rolling Soul.”

Bob Wood, president of the Lizard Creek Blues Society, spoke highly of Sayers and the album.

“I listened to it. I really like it,” Wood said. “He’s kind of a favorite of ours because we’ve seen him and followed him over the years.

“We saw him at Bayfront Blues Festival in the 1990s,” he said. “The crowd just loved him up there. He had kind of a modern blues sound, mixed with rock.”

The headliners, Rick Estrin and the Nightcats, have been around for 30 years, Wood said, with Estrin on lead vocals and harmonica.

“He just won the Blues Foundation’s Instrumentalist of the Year award for harmonica. A few years ago he won the Blues Foundation’s Songwriter of the Year award,” he said. “Other than the Grammys, those are the highest award for blues players.

“He’s fun to watch. They have some humor in some of their songs. I remember him singing a song called ‘My Next Ex-Wife.’ They twist things around like that.”

The Chris O’Leary Band will play third. Wood said they have a style that’s hard to describe.

“He plays a Chicago-style harmonica, but they kind of have an East Coast sound. Some people call it West Coast, but it’s unique blues,” said Wood. “People will recognize it as a good blues sound when they hear it.”

“The main focus is really good music,” said Vice President Kyle Ver Steeg, “and we’ll make sure there’s plenty of food.”

Perennial favorite Jesse James will be back, Ver Steeg said, with his cajun food. Usually he brings a rice dish, like dirty rice or jambalaya, and an entree.

“Every year he brings something a little bit different,” Ver Steeg said. “My favorite thing he ever brought was some sausage-and-cornbread-stuffed pork rolls.”

There will be more traditional barbecue vendors, all kinds of beverages, and hopefully no rain.

“Looking ahead we seem to be in a dry patch,” he said. “Last year, we had torrential rain all day long.

“We still have never actually been rained out, because the music went on.”

Tickets are $25 in advance, or $30 at the gate, up $5 from last year. This reflects the price of bands rising, Wood said.

“For them to travel, it gets more expensive,” he said. “We’ve got some of the best acts in the business, and we get them at a decent price. But costs go up. We work hard to keep it as low as possible.”