"In just nine years, the June Bug Blues Festival has become a tradition in the southwest," said "Shakey" Joe Harless, the event's mastermind, designer, director and prime moving force. "It provides a level of entertainment, education and culture that no other blues festival in Arizona comes close to."
Not to mention music, music, music which, this year on June 1, will be provided by such national acts as San Francisco's High Roller Band, Luther Tatum from Los Angeles, and Arizona blues-meisters the Top Cats, Walkin' Cane Mark, Sistah Blue, Buzzard Luck, Shri, and Payson's own John Scott Band.
Beyond the blues, however, what makes the June Bug different?
"Design, concept and intent," Harless says without a moment's need to search for the answer.
The June Bug is one of those ideas that's better in action than it was on paper: good-time music, great food, ice-cold drinks, arts and crafts, a massage-therapy booth, and lots of folks enjoying a full day of, as Harless says, "kickin' back and soaking up the happy for only $12. The whole idea is to provide a well-rounded, diverse experience that educates while it entertains."
But mostly, the festival entertains with more shades of blue than can be found on a painter's palette.
"There are so many kinds of blues, it's amazing, and we just about have 'em all," Harless said. "One day at the June Bug Blues Festival puts you in direct contact with everything from Delta, Piedmont, Texas, Chicago, West Coast, Urban, Country, Acoustic, Electric and old-time Folk Blues to the New Blues."
Another thing that sets the June Bug apart, Harless said, is the depth into which it has been integrated into the Rim country community.
"This festival gives back to the local economy, he said. "For example, 50 percent of the proceeds from beer sales go to (Santa's List); all the aluminum cans are donated to the Humane Society; and local food vendors are always given first shot."
So are many other locals. Instead of hiring a big sound company from the Valley, Harless relies on a small local company even though, he said, it ends up costing more.
"The rationale is simple: Loyalty, trust and common sense," Harless said. "Wes Clark, who owns R & B Sound, has lived in Payson for years, he played for a long time at the Oxbow Saloon, and he's helped with the June Bug since the beginning. He is extremely knowledgeable and as reliable as rust. Plus, he's part of the community. If local businesses support local businesses, it all comes back."
Harless also invests his loyalty, trust and common sense with the Payson Police Department and a number of civic- and safety-minded businesses.
"The June Bug has a great reputation as family-oriented fun; responsible people enjoying themselves," he said. "If people choose to consume alcohol, the June Bug promoters have arranged a free taxi service for the entire day which is paid for by Golden Eagle Distributing, a.k.a. the Michelob people, as a safety effort."
The Town of Payson's probation department also gets into the act.
"Local young people who have to perform community service hours work the festival to keep the area clean," Harless said. "This has a double benefit. First, there's the maintenance aspect. But more important, it puts the young people in a productive environment with role models, adults, and musicians who have succeeded in life."
The local Rodeo Association handles the parking and turns over 50 percent of those proceeds to help support Payson's twin rodeos, Harless said.
"Something new for 2002 and real special is that we'll have shade," he said. "I got together with Roy Sandoval, the fiddle guy, and Bob Ware, the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce guy, and we each bought two great big 40-foot shade canopies for a total of six that we'll share for all of our Payson Events Center functions. Not only that, we'll have a giant misting system hooked up to the tents."
But wait! That's not all!
"Aqua Illusions will also be setting up a 9,000-gallon scuba-diving pool at the festival, and letting people take dives," Harless said. "What an opportunity. Listen to the blues and go scuba diving, all for 12 bucks. Sounds cool to me!"
Tickets to the June Bug Blues Festival will be available at the gate. Group rates for local businesses are available. For more information, call 474-2448.
2 - 3 p.m. - Buzzard Luck
3:15 - 4:15 p.m. - the John Scott Band
4:30 - 5:30 p.m. - the Top Cats
5:45 - 6:45 p.m. - SHRI
7 - 8 p.m. - Sistah Blue
8:15 - 9:15 p.m. - Walkin' Cane Mark
9:30 - 11 p.m. - the HIGH ROLLER BAND