Set To Detonate

KXCI’s annual blues revue brings a West Coast Blues Explosion to El Casino Ballroom

Billy Watson plays a lightning-fast harmonica.
Billy Watson plays a lightning-fast harmonica.
Since when did having the blues become so fun? Fans of KXCI 91.3 FM don't have to listen for long before hearing the groove and twang of a good blues tune, but now the radio station is hosting an event to see the music performed live—and even better, to dance along. The KXCI benefit show, the eighth annual House Rockin' Blues Review, happens on Friday, August 2 at El Casino Ballroom.

"KXCI has a huge history with blues music," said Cathy Rivers, executive director of KXCI. "Our audience loves the blues, honky tonk, alt-country, and all of that."

This year's theme, the "West Coast Blues Explosion" came about quite naturally for the event's organizer and longtime KXCI collaborator Jeb Schoonover. He initially reached out to blues guitarist Junior Watson, who recommended singer and harmonica player Billy Watson, who in turn recommended virtuoso pianist Taryn Donath. And now, all three are headlining the event.

"They're all unique and they're all from the West Coast," Schoonover says. "They all record with each other, that's how it is out there. All the musicians are very tight-knit, and the whole band is kind of all-stars in their own right."

Junior Watson has been called "Southern California's king of the blues guitar," with more than 30 years of experience in bands like the Mighty Flyers and Canned Heat. His is a style called "jump blues," which is an energetic style of blues guitar heavily influential to the development of rock. Junior Watson's guitar solos manage to be frantic, groovy and technical all at the same time.

Billy Watson, no relation to Junior, is a singer and harmonica player known for his charismatic stage presence. His performances are really something to be seen, as he interacts with the crowd, shares humorous stories and dances around the stage. But most importantly, he plays lightning-fast harmonica and can whip out the inflections and quips of many classic blues vocalists.

The third headliner, Taryn Donath, is a pianist with more than 25 years of experience. Those years have, to say the least, made her quite comfortable on the keys. While playing rapid-fire piano, Donath is known to even get an elbow involved. But even while playing incredibly technical piano, she still manages to sing sweet and classy tunes in the style of soul, swing, funk and more.

"We like to bring in more than one headliner, but there are some things we want to be consistent about, namely the quality of the performers," Schoonover says. "El Casino ballroom is known for their dance floor, so when we bring in bands, we want ones that will get people dancing."

Alongside these three headliners are the "all-star rhythm section" of bassist Troy Sandow and drummer Marty Dodson. The show will open with Tucson's Bryan Dean Trio, a blues and jam band with jazz influences.

This annual event has stuck within the general family of blues music since the beginning. According to Schoonover, KXCI has considered branching out to other genres, but blues music is so well received by their audience, there's no need to break away any time soon.

KXCI is operated by the nonprofit Foundation for Creative Broadcasting, Inc., and supported by locals and listeners. So it's events like this that help keep the station running, according to Rivers.

"We don't host any major galas, so this really is one of our largest fundraising events of the year," Rivers said. "It shows our heritage and vibe and introduces people to what KXCI is all about." ■

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