If you ask Baton Rouge Blues Festival programming chairman John Kaufman who to check out at this year’s event, you have to give him a second.
It’s not because he’s unorganized. It’s that he wants to list all the artists.
This year’s event hits downtown Baton Rouge on Saturday and Sunday with more than 40 bands performing across multiple stages. As in years past, the festival is free and open to the public.
Without hesitation, Kaufman said a must-see is this year’s headliner — the incomparable Buddy Guy.
“You can’t miss that,” Kaufman said.
Guy will perform at 9 p.m. Saturday at the Foundation Stage. Guy won the 2016 Grammy for best blues album for his 2015 release “Born to Play Guitar.” The album features collaborations with Billy Gibbons, of ZZ Top, and singers Joss Stone, Kim Wilson and Van Morrison.
Another performer Kaufman is excited for is Curtis Harding, an up-and-coming soul singer out of Saginaw, Michigan.
“[Harding] will be different for the festival,” Kaufman said. “I’ve heard amazing things about his live show. He’s not just straight blues. He’s got a lot of soul to him. Think gospel but gritty.”
Harding will perform at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Foundation Stage.
Kaufman said other Saturday highlights include Mighty Fine at 1:30 p.m. on the Foundation Stage, and James “Chicken Scratch” Johnson at 2:30 p.m. and Latimore at 7:30 p.m., both on the Swamp Blues Stage.
“Latimore is a character, man,” Kaufman said. “It will be a sight to be seen.”
Latimore was born in 1939 in Charleston, Tennessee. The rhythm and blues singer-songwriter and pianist has released more than 25 albums since 1973. In 1974, he had a No. 1 R&B hit, “Let’s Straighten It Out.”
Sunday’s performances include a special Sunday in the Park concert where Kenny Neal and the Neal Family will perform a tribute to Raful Neal at 5:45 p.m.
Adia Victoria, a performer featured in Rolling Stone’s 2015 “10 New Artists You Need to Know,” will be another highlight at 4:45 p.m. Sunday on the Foundation Stage.
“The festival is catching [Victoria] on the way up,” Kaufman said. “She’s just fantastic.”
The Baton Rouge Blues Festival isn’t just about the blues. Throughout the event this year, you can catch sets from more rocking bands like Loudness War at 1:30 p.m. Sunday on the Foundation Stage or The Bedlamville Triflers at noon Sunday at the Soul of BR Stage.
You also can catch singer-songwriters like Ben Bell at 1 p.m. and Denton Hatcher with Andrew Duhon in the Old State Capitol rotunda.
“It’s not just all blues,” Kaufman said. “But all of these artists are influenced by the blues in some way. That’s the common thread.”
For a full schedule, visit batonrougebluesfestival.org/lineup.
The Baton Rouge Blues Festival offers more than two days of good music. Check out what else you can see and eat on Saturday and Sunday in downtown Baton Rouge.
Food vendors include Any O’Cajun, D’atz Italian Pizza, Rösch Bakehaus, Chet’s Grill and Cheesesteaks, Barbosa’s BBQ, Martin/MRTN Ventures, The Frying Station, Cool Tiger Ice, Rouge A Roux, Dempsey’s, Taco Sisters and Touch of Cajun. Leroy’s Lipsmackin’ Lemonade will sell lemonade in the Raising Cane’s Kids Zone.
Art vendors include Beneath the Bark Jewelry, Documenting Blues, Emily Annabelle Koro, Gamache Designs, Heather M. Kenyon, Jewelry Designs by Mimi, the Metalsmith, Michelle Elder Illustator, Mimosa Handcrafted, Praising Hands Traveling Shoes, Shaun Aleman and TJ Black.
Other vendors on hand include Bengals & Bandits, Bricks and Bombs, Eveille Jewelry, The Garage Men’s Clothing, JY Choices LLC, Louisiana Music Map, Son of a Slovenian, Tchoup Industries and Wanderlust by Abby.