June Bug Blues Fest A Musical Feast

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Shakey" Joe Harless is larger than life. He drives a flashy car with the top down, long hair blowing in the wind, blues music thumping on his stereo. He wears shades every time he goes outside.

"Everybody gets the blues," he said.

But not everybody listens to them.

Harless doesn't know why after all, country music and rock have strong roots in blues. He thinks everyone should be able to relate to them, especially when they are sung live by big names into a microphone 30 feet from listener's ears.

Harless offers this, along with inexpensive specialty food and play areas for children each year at the June Bug Blues Festival, but doesn't get many takers from Payson.

He has produced the show for seven years and averages crowds of 1,400-2,000 only a third of whom are from the town that hosts it.

"We get people here from all over the country," he said. "We're written up in the New York Times, and charge some of the best ticket prices you'll find anywhere, but we haven't penetrated this town yet."

Harless chalks the lack of interest up to people not wanting to try new things. Being open-minded pays off though, he said, because new listeners are typically surprised at how familiar the blues sound.

"This image of an old black guy strummin' on his guitar is not the way it is anymore," he said. "Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith and ZZ Top, Janis Joplin, Reba McIntyre, the Black Crows they all play the blues."

But even non-blues fans should go to the June 9 festival just because it's something to do, he added.

"We really gear it toward families. We don't even allow pets, because we want it to be a safe place where kids can run around. We put beach balls and frisbees out there for the kids to play with.

"We're very socially responsible," Harless said. "If someone has been drinking, we take their keys from them and call a cab, free of charge. We want a fun, easy-going atmosphere. We've never once had a fight or an arrest."

The festival is at the Payson Event Center on Highway 87.

"We had more than 4,000 people that (first) year," he said. "Every bleacher was full. I've never seen it that full since."

Harless hopes to see the event catch on in Payson, but said he is not worried about crowd sizes.

"We get so many people from everywhere else that we don't lose money . . . but I'd still like to see a more diverse crowd from Payson."

Harless' son, Gus, would most like to see teenagers at the event.

"Hardly any of them go," he said. "They'd rather complain about not having anything to do. It's cheap though, and it's all day and they can hear some great music and eat. We've got some older people who realize that though, and they come out."

Gus will be one of the featured acts with his band, The Backseat Howlers.

"My music isn't traditional blues, it's more new age, but my dad likes it anyway," he said.

One Payson man, realtor Dan Basinski, said the festival is the highlight of his year. "I go every year," he said. "It's my most favorite type of music. I like the stories they tell."

The June Bug Blues Festival is June 9, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tickets are $12 for adults, $6 for children 16 and under. For more information, call 474-2448.

Schedule of events

11am-Noon ... Idle Wild

Noon-1pm ... Buzzard Luck

1-2pm ... Paris James

2-3pm ... SHRI

3-4pm ... Big Daddy D & the Dynamites

4-5pm ... Stephan George

5-6pm ... The Backseat Howlers featuring Gus Harless

6-7pm ... UVON & the Blues Knights

7-8pm ... The James Matthews Band

8-10pm ... Saturday Night Dance featuring THE GARY PRIMICH BAND

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