Musicians will descend on the KOA campground in Warrenton to perform during the Blues by the Sea festival, Sept. 18-20

A crowd of about six turned out for the first Blues by the Sea festival at the Astoria/Seaside/Warrenton KOA campground four years ago. But things have changed substantially and the festival has come into its own.

Attendance has grown each year and the event was nominated for the Cascade Blues Association's blues event of the year award in 2001.

The lineup of artists scheduled to perform at the fifth annual festival this weekend includes nationally-recognized talent such as guitar slinger Coco Montoya and cutting edge blues funksters The Lloyd Jones Struggle.

All 54 of the campground's cabins have been reserved for six months and camping spaces are nearly full, says KOA manager Patti Simmons. While a KOA (Kampgrounds of America) might seem like an incongruous spot for a blues festival, performers and fans say it works.

"It was a very unusual setting for a blues festival to say the least," says Joey Patenaude, who plays guitar with local group, the Bond Street Blues Band, which has played the event in the past. "But it's out there in nature, and it's very beautiful, and the KOA people are very good hosts."

Tim McAllister, singer and guitar player for Papa Salty, a Portland-based blues band performing Friday, says the "camp- in" nature of the festival allows fans to immerse themselves.

He says in an e-mail, "No phones, no running home to change the sprinkler. Just take off from work early Friday and hang out with friends, listen to great music and enjoy the outdoors one last time before it gets cold."

The scene at the festival has been mellow in years past. Some campers listen to the well-amplified blues licks from atop their RVs, others stake out spots on the lawn in front of the small stage and then there's the beer garden.

"We really have a good time, and I'm just here to make sure that it all stops at 10 p.m.," Simmons says.

When quiet descends on the campground, an electric blues open mic hosted by Northwest blues duo Kinzel & Hyde at the Astoria Red Lion will be just warming up. On Friday and Saturday nights, the Seafare Lounge will be blues central from 9:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Blues by the Sea is the brainchild of promoter and musician Ken Johnson. "I needed a gig," quips the drummer for The Hudson Rocket Band, performing Saturday.

Simmons says the festival, which is the biggest event the campground hosts all year, helps build shoulder season business. Other KOAs host events for the same purpose. In Florida, one campground created the world's largest s'more and another threw a festival devoted to mangoes, she says.

Johnson says the event is a good opportunity for people who visit the community to give something back.

Following the tradition of Portland's Waterfront Blues Festival, which raises cash and cans for the Oregon Food Bank, Blues by the Sea will benefit Clatsop Community Action. Volunteers will collect food and personal hygiene items at all three days of the festival to stock the shelves of a dozen food banks and shelters around the county. Half the proceeds from the Friday and Saturday night jam sessions at the Seafarer Lounge will also go to CCA.

The charity is well timed as CCA gears up to serve those in need when seasonal employment runs out, says CCA's Kathleen Flege.

"It's coming at a really good time for us in the county," she says.

This is the second year Blues by the Sea has collected donations for CCA, but last year's collections were paltry, probably because the food drive wasn't advertised well.

This year, the food drive is on posters organizers put up around the area. Johnson has worked to promote the festival in general interest and blues-focused publications.

The event is good for the local music scene, according to Patenaude and Karl Nordquist, both of whom spin the blues for local community radio station KMUN.

"There's a real small blues scene here," says Nordquist, a Chicago transplant who hosts the Juke Joint on Wednesday latenights. But that seems to be growing, which is a good thing, he says. "Especially in the winter when it's raining out and there's nothing to do, it's great to get out and see some local music," he says.

Here's some of what blues fans can expect to hear this weekend:

The Robbie Laws Band: Robbie Laws, a Portland native, is "an excellent guitar player and an excellent guitar teacher," Patenaude says. His style is "jazzy" and "sophisticated."

Papa Salty: McAllister, the band's guitar player, calls their music "'feel good' jump, swing and Chicago blues. With a saxophone and piano player in addition to the typical guitar/ bass/drums lineup, we get a big, fat, greasy sound that people love."

Coco Montoya: "Oh my God, how did they get Coco Montoya," Patenaude marvels. "He's of the guitar slingers school of electric guitar playing. He can play a lot of different styles. He's internationally known for his guitar playing."

Bill Rhoades & The Party Kings: "Bill Rhoades has been a blues man in Oregon for 30 years at least, if not longer," Patenaude says. "He's an excellent harmonica player front man, and the Party Kings have been his band for about 25 years.

"I think that their name says it all. They're just rocking party music."

The Hudson Rocket Band: Nordquist says this group plays "R & B, rock and roll, boogie type of music."

The Lloyd Jones Struggle: Nordquist describes the Struggle and The Robbie Laws Band as "cutting edge." They play what he calls "West Coast modern electric blues. Real slick. Real tight bands, a lot of notes.

"Even in Chicago, a lot of the bands in the North Side clubs are doing that West Coast electric style. ... There's less Delta influence now than there was when they first plugged in in the '50s."

If you go ...What: The fifth annual Blues by the Sea festival

Where: Astoria/Seaside/Warrenton KOA in Hammond, 1100 N.W. Ridge Road. (503) 861-2606

Thursday, Sept. 18: acoustic jam session for campers only, hosted by perennial event artist Richard Day-Reynolds.

Friday, Sept. 19, 4 to 10 p.m.: The Robbie Laws Band, Papa Salty, Richard Day-Reynolds Band, RJ Mischo, Coco Montoya, late night open mic at the Astoria Red Lion Inn Seafare Lounge with Kinzel & Hyde.

Saturday, Sept. 20, noon to 10 p.m.: Hillstomp, Chase'n the Blues, The New Power Band, Bill Rhoades & The Party Kings, The Kathy Walker Band, The Hudson Rocket Band, The Lloyd Jones Struggle, late night open mic at the Astoria Red Lion Inn Seafare Lounge with Kinzel & Hyde.

Tickets: For sale at the KOA office and the Red Lion (for guests only). Cost is $12 for Friday, $15 for Saturday, $22.50 for both days. Cover charge at the late night open mic is $5 or $2 with festival admission. No advance ticket sales.

Donate: Clatsop Community Action will collect food and personal items for distribution to 12 food banks and shelters around the county. Red Lion will also donate half the proceeds from the late night open mic.

More information: www.bluesbythesea.com

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