Mike and Brad Benton of Thornton flew to Memphis, Tenn. to accept their Keeping the Blues Alive Award on March 4. The duo was given this award for their annual White Mountain Boogie N’ Blues Festival, held the third week in August. (Courtesy Photo) (click for larger version)
March 28, 2012THORNTON— Brothers Mike and Brad Benton flew to Memphis, Tenn. on March 4 to accept an award from Keeping the Blues Alive for Best U.S. Blues Festival.
Each year in the field near Benton's Sugar Shack, the Benton brothers host the White Mountain Boogie N' Blues Festival, which has been going strong for the past 15, going on 16 years.
"We started this because we were into music and played music," said Brad. "We were on the circuit for several years, playing all over New England, and we started what we called 'The First Annual Rockin' Blues Shindig,' which was us with Chris Duarte, who is a famous blues artist now. We started somewhere around '89, and it just grew from there and we swayed toward blues music."
The award that the festival received was a tremendous honor for Mike and Brad, knowing that there was only one award given to a blues festival each year across the nation in select categories.
"You might get a Keeping the Blues Alive Award for being a photographer, a writer, a radio station, a DJ," said Mike. "Keith Richards got an award for the writing part of it. Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones. It's not taken lightly."
Brad and Mike realized quickly that their award wasn't just another award, and the more they told people about it, the more they realized how important it was to the blues community.
"You are on the plane, and people ask where you're going and what you're doing, and we were like 'We got the Keeping the Blues Alive Award' and everyone was like, 'Wow'; impressed, I guess," said Mike.
Being able to fly to Memphis and receive the award was an incredible experience for the brothers, who have dedicated more than a decade to the blues.
"It was an unbelievable experience to sit in an audience and receive this award," said Mike. "I am 44, and have been doing this for 15, almost 16 years, but people like Roger Redding, Otis Redding's brother, who was his agent early on when he was a teenager, and he is 80 years old and has been an agent his whole life, and when he got this award, he broke down and started crying. So it means a lot to people who get this award."
The brothers also found the experience in Memphis a good time to make connections and network with people in the same industry and with similar interests and goals for blues music.
"It was a lot of fun, actually," said Brad. "We met a lot of professional people down there; networked a lot with people that are in the same business that we are in. It was great."
The Keeping the Blues Alive Award may not be about being the biggest and the best, like many other awards.
"it's not saying you're the best; it's saying thank you for your years of putting time into promoting the blues and keeping it alive," said Mike.
There were several different criteria that festivals are judged and voted upon.
"We were the only ones in the United States to receive it this year," said Brad. "It was based on professionalism and presentation of the festival, and was voted upon by your peers — other people that do festivals, and people that are in the business."
The Benton brothers keep the White Mountain Boogie N' Blues Festival a manageable size each year because they feel that it is one of the things that sets their festival apart from other blues festivals across the nation.
"It is smaller in the grand scheme of things throughout the country," said Brad. "There are blues festivals that have tens of thousands of people, but our blues festival is a nice small 3,000 person festival that reminds people what some of these other festivals that have grown started out as. It's like a family feel, and it's a bit more laid back, than some of the other ones you may go to and I think that's what people like about ours."
If over attendance was ever a problem, Brad and Mike would definitely limit ticket sales because for them, it's quality over quantity.
"You have to work with what you have for an area, first of all," said Mike. "Our area is a nice little natural amphitheater, and we want to keep it so that everybody is comfortable. If it gets to a point where we've got to cap the ticket sales, then we will do that."
The family feel festival goers get from the White Mountain Boogie N' Blues Festival is not only evident in the brotherly partnership between Mike and Brad, but is also evident in festival activates, which help to provide and promote a family atmosphere.
"There are all different activities, especially for kids," said Mike. "There is a climbing wall and a bouncy house so parents can enjoy their blues, and kids can climb the wall."
Not only does the festival give off a family feel, but it has the atmosphere of a fair. There is a clown walking around painting faces and creating balloon shapes and animals, and there are a variety of different food vendors to satisfy any appetite.
"We have all kinds of vendors with different food," said Brad. "From typical fried dough and hot dogs to lobster and crab, everything you want is there."
For Mike and Brad, it is important to keep the festival small, fun and family oriented because they have people from as far away as California and France who fly in specifically for the festival each year.
"We want to keep people coming back each year and enjoying themselves," said Brad. "We also want families to be able to come and for kids to Keep the Blues alive and be the next generation of blues lovers."
For more information, visit the White Mountains Boogie N' Blues Festival Web site at www.nhblues.com.