By Frank McKinney
The Times 

12th Annual Walla Walla Guitarfest


March 16, 2023

Courtesy photo

Elvin Bishop's Big Fun Trio headlined "The Large Show."

WALLA WALLA-Spring officially arrives on March 20, but the 12th Annual Walla Walla Guitarfest on March 10 through 12 gave audiences in eastern Washington an opportunity to shake off the winter blues and replace them with blues of a different flavor.

Performances over the three-day festival featured an array of blues, rock & roll, jazz, and gospel musicians scattered throughout downtown Walla Walla wineries, restaurants, the Marcus Whitman Hotel, and the VFW.

2019 Grammy-nominated musician Sugaray Rayford returned to Walla Walla's Marcus Whitman Hotel for the opening concert on Friday evening with spirited performances of his music imploring everyone attending "to get on your feet."

Additional scheduled performances on Friday included Eoghan Murphy, Gary Winston & The Real Deal, The Wasteland Kings, Mike Mendoza & Feedback, Bill Stoops & The Dirt Angels, The Vaughn Jensen Experience, Denny Sedam, Mulholland, Payton Drury, Rick Phillips & Lance Smith, and Siol Nua.

Saturday afternoon's main event, "The Large Show," was headlined by Elvin Bishop's Big Fun Trio. Additional performances included Coyote Kings with Tiphony Dames and Ben Rice & The Hustle with Tevis Hodge, Jr.

Local musician, Diego Romero, energized one of Saturday's "Guitar Crawl" events with an eclectic mix of hits from artists such as the legendary blues artist B.B. King and more uptempo work from Prince. Additional artists scheduled for Saturday evening included The Shades, The Rae Gordon Band, Polly O'Keary & the Rhythm Method, Steamboat Rocks, and Whack A Mole.

Other performances scheduled throughout Saturday included Patrick Byrnes, Ian Huerta, Mike Edmundson, Joanne "JoJo" Mohrland, Gustavo Alonso Lopez, Saint John, Gay Hemenway & Friends, Gary Winston & The Real Deal, and The Bowling League.

Flamenco guitar player Gustavo Alonso Lopez, who played at Kontos Cellars in Walla Walla on Saturday, also performed in Waitsburg at the Royal Block to a packed house last month.

An improvisational, open-mic jam session at midnight signaled the end of the Saturday performances. Sunday morning's musical events started with a Gospel Brunch performance by Rae Gordon's Gospel at the Marcus Whitman Hotel.

Guitarfest wrapped up Sunday afternoon at the VFW with "Jazz at the Fest" hosted by Michael Agiduis. A band of performers from the previous night's sessions eased the audience into the afternoon, beginning with Cole Porter's "Night and Day."

Agiduis later dedicated a song by songwriter/musician John Holmes to long-time Walla Walla resident Bill Schwerin who passed away at the end of February. "Bill was one of the first to provide consistent live music in downtown Walla Walla," said Agiduis.

This year's Walla Walla Guitarfest was the first since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020. Both Saturday's "The Large Show" and Sunday's Gospel Brunch were sold out, according to Robin Barrett, host of Guitarfest.

2021's 10th Annual Guitarfest was delayed until October 2021, with only 250 attendees allowed at any event. That number included musicians, staff, and guests. The next year's show followed only a few months later, in early 2022.

Barrett spoke about the challenges that the festival has faced since 2020. "Covid wounded us, but we weren't dead," said Barrett. "And Washington State was generous with grant relief to help keep the show alive."

As Sugaray Rayford said on Friday night's stage, "It's good to be back!"


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