Niagara Gazette — Old Falls Street will look more like a blues juke than a city thoroughfare this Labor Day weekend.
The Niagara Falls Blues Festival will take over downtown again, with the popular event continuing for a sixth year on Aug. 30, 31 and Sept. 1.
Toby Rotella, noted blues maniac and one of the founding organizers of the festival, said as the festival has grown from year to year it has become part of Niagara Falls’ story.
“We’re building a history right now,” Rotella said.
The theme of this year’s festival will be a celebration of a Third Street blues juke Rotella owned where some of the genre’s biggest names, like Muddy Waters, graced the stage.
This year’s theme — The Legacy of the Imperial Garage — will pay homage to Rotella’s club and the many performers that howled out blues tunes inside.
“If it wasn’t for that Imperial Garage there would be no blues festival in Niagara Falls,” Rotella said.
This years’ line up will include many familiar faces for Rotella who he had booked at his club so many years ago.
National acts for the show include Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater, Mississippi Heat, Mahajibee Blues, Bill “The Sauce Boss” Wharton, Richard Ray Farrell, Cheryl Arena and Donnie “Mr. Downchild” Walsh.
Mayor Paul Dyster, who has been a supporter of the festival since it began in 2008, said it has become an internationally known festival because of the level talent that Rotella and his fellow volunteers have been able to attract over the years.
“The festival organizers have put a lot of thought into programming,” the mayor said. “They have been able to attract people from all over who are very knowledgeable in the blues.”
One year, Rotella was able to get the original members of Muddy Waters’ band together to play the festival. It ended up being the last time they played together as some of the members have since died, Dyster said.
Moments like that do make Niagara Falls a part of history and that is as important as the extra tourist dollars that come with the festival-goers, he said.
“It’s not just about economics,” Dyster said. “It’s about American history and culture.”
The festival will continue on this year, Rotella said, thanks to many corporate and individual sponsors. Festival organizers have had contributions from many area business including;
• The Niagara Gazette
• Modern Disposal
• Certo Brothers Distributing
• Old Falls Street
• The Quality Inn and Suites
• Seneca Niagara Casino
• Allentown Music
• Misty Thunder Limousine
Rotella said he and other event organizers would have a tough time without the support of sponsors.
“We couldn’t do it without them,” he said.
For more information on the blues festival, visit www.niagarafallsbluesfest.org.Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257