Blues Fest

MARQUETTE – The award-winning blues band Rick Estrin and the Nightcats are headlining Saturday night’s blues festivities in Mattson Park on Marquette’s Lower Harbor as part of the weekend-long 11th annual Marquette Area Blues Fest.

Described by Living Blues magazine as “infectious, captivating powerful blues” with “witty songs and tough-as-nails grooves,” the band will begin playing at 8 p.m. Saturday following performances by the Fireside Blues Band at 1 p.m., Uncle Pete’s All-Star BBQ Blues Band at 2:30 p.m., Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat at 4 p.m. and Johnny Rawls at 6 p.m.

“We’re not happy unless we wear’em out, man,” harmonica player and singer-songwriter Rick Estrin said. “It’s a great show. All the guys in the band are great musicians as well, but they’re also entertainers.”

Estrin holds the 2013 Blues Music Award for Best Instrumentalist (harmonica) and won the 1994 Blues Music Award for Song of the Year, but the career highlights he values most are more personal, he said.

“Like when the people that I revered gave me validation when they heard me play – that was Muddy Waters, and Robert Junior Lockwood, and Percy Mayfield regarding my songwriting,” Estrin said. “Those kind of people, when they gave me validation about what I was trying to do, that’s the stuff I treasure.”

Estrin, 65, said he’s been playing harmonica for 45 to 50 years and writing songs since he was about 18 years old.

“I was an odd kid that felt like nobody understood my angst, and I heard Ray Charles singing blues, and I heard Jimmy Reed,” Estrin said. “My older sister had some records, and I was fascinated by the records and the titles, and I felt like it was speaking to me.”

Estrin worked closely with soul and funk musician Rodger Collins.

“He was a soul singer and songwriter, great performer, took me under his wings, and he kind of schooled me in songwriting,” Estrin said. “He’s the one that really, by example and also by explaining to me, he’s the one that really taught me the value of editing a song and really sticking with it ’til it’s right.”

With other influences like Sonny Blue Williams and Little Walter for harmonica, and Leiber and Stoller and Percy Mayfield for songwriting, Estrin said he writes about “the human condition, every aspect of it.”

“I don’t write oblique, surreal, poetic, you know – not that my stuff is not poetic, some of it sort of is – but it’s down-to-earth, and it’s about real-life situations, and emotional conditions and human behavior, and all that kind of stuff,” Estrin said.

Originally from San Francisco, Estrin lives in Northern California where the band is based. They’ve been playing together since about 1986, but added a new member in 2008- Norwegian guitarist and vocalist Chris “Kid” Anderson.

“Oh man, he’s a genius musician and a great recording engineer as well,” Estrin said of Anderson. “Just a fearless nut of an entertainer, so I mean, it’s a perfect fit, really.”

Their latest album, “You Asked For It…Live!,” was recorded at San Francisco’s Biscuits and Blues in October in response to fans who wanted an album that captured the energy and excitement of a live performance. They will be selling and signing CDs at the show.

Mary Wardell can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248.