Sultry soul singer Lenny Williams and Stray Cats co-founder Lee Rocker will headline the first High Desert Music Festival at the San Bernardino County Fair in Victorville on May 27 and 28.
The show is presented by Debbie Yopp of Norco, a former longtime Pomona
resident, University of La Verne graduate and founder/president of The Diversified Educational Consulting Group, the festival production company.
“We’re attempting to offer a range of performers so everyone can experience as much music as possible,” Yopp said. “There will be old school, blues, rhythm-and-blues, Latin pop, classic soul, gospel, rock, rock ’n’ Espanol, rockabilly and funk.
“Residents of the Inland Empire, High Desert and San Gabriel Valley should have more entertainment options without having to travel extensive distances and pay extremely high admission prices. We’re hoping these two days of music will saturate people's minds and enliven their cultural spirits,” she added.
The lineup will additionally include performances by acoustic-bass-spinning Stray Cat co-founder Lee Rocker, Tierra’s classic soul sounds, blues and rhythm-and-blues stylings by Oakland’s Caravan of All Stars and Grammy-nominated bluesman Ray Brooks.
Guitarist Jimmy Vivino, music director of the Conan O’Brien Show, will appear as a special guest artist on Rocker’s Sunday set.
The festival on two stages in the fairgrounds' grandstand will also feature regional and local artists.
It is free with the $5 fair admission. Active and retired military will be admitted free with their military identification or honorable discharge papers.
Williams headlines the Monday main stage sets which begin at 3 p.m. Tierra, Brooks and the Blues Masters, 5 Tempting Men’s Motown tribute ensemble, new pop singer Destenee and rhythm-and-blues singer Just Cletus are among Monday main stage artists.
Monday’s high desert stage sets, starting at 2:30 p.m., include Krimzen, a Los Angeles rock band; Manantial De Guego, rock ’n’ Espanol ensemble, and Latin pop artist Gustavo Alcaro.
The Caravan of All Stars, an ensemble of master musicians from the Bay Area Blues Society, will open for Rocker Sunday on the main stage. The group--led by guitarist Ronnie Stewart and featuring tenor and alto saxophonist Carl Green, drummer David “Stix” Boyette, electric bassist Lonnie Mitchell of 5 Tempting Men, keyboardist Dell Whitehead and blues singers Terrible Tom Bowden, Wylie Trass and Big Cat Tolefree--will also play on a special pavilion stage Sunday evening.
Rocker will highlight the main stage entertainment Sunday and be the finale act.
Sunday sets begin at 3:30 p.m. on the high desert stage with gospel vocalists Lillie Scarlett, Rochelle Ellison, Shonna Pope and Kevin Deas and additionally include the Wumbloozo Blues Band. Chase Walker, a 13-year-old blues singer, will lead his own band and Breakthrough, an ensemble of talented teens, will also play the secondary stage. Both Chase and Breakthrough are child prodigies in the Fender Museum youth blues program.
An “Evolution of the Blues” exhibit, displayed throughout the county fair’s run, traces the history and styles of the blues and includes memorabilia noting the impact of the blues on American music.
Visual artists Kenneth Gatewood, Maurice Howard and Demar will exhibit their works.
Williams, born in Little Rock, Ark. and raised in Oakland, initially played the trumpet in elementary school bands. His interest in music shifted to singing and he soared in gospel choirs and groups featuring Andre Crouch, Billy Preston and Edwin, Walter and Tramaine Hawkins. He began as a solo singer and recorded Credence Clearwater Revival John Fogerty’s composition “Feeling Blue” on Fantasy Records before he joined the then new Tower of Power band.
Although he has enjoyed a long and successful solo career since his departure, his distinctive voice is still associated with Tower of Power. His strong lead vocals on “So Very Hard To Go,” “Don’t Change Horses (In The Middle of the Stream)” and “Luvin You” remain classic hits for the group.
Williams made three milestone albums and toured the world with Tower of Power before becoming a solo artist again. When anyone mentions his name, people instantly launch into a cappella versions of his signature song “Cause I Love You,” a classic mega-hit with fans of soul, rhythm-and-blues, classic rock ’n’roll and pop music.
He has shared stages with Aretha Franklin, The Whispers, Rick James, Al Green, Usher, Frankie Beverly and Maze, Alicia Keys, Bobby Womack and The Ohio Players during his musical career and still draws crowds at concerts throughout the United States and Europe.
Rocker, co-founder of The Stray Cats with school friends James McDonnell and Brian Setzer, learned to play the double bass so he could musically merge the blues and rockabilly on an acoustic instrument.
Tierra, founded in East Los Angeles, went from a regionally respected group to national prominence in 1980 with its cover of The Intruders’ classic “Together.” Its popularity grew as the first Chicano band to have four songs on national charts. Its Chicano-influenced rhythm-and-blues music paved the way for such Latino ensembles as Los Lobos and Gloria Estefan.
Brooks, a Texas blues man, worked with blues legends Floyd Dixon, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown and Freddie King in his early career. He later blended blues styles, opened for Tina Turner and Billy Preston, earned a Grammy nomination for “Walk Out Like A Lady” and co-wrote the song “Burbank Brown” for the feature film “Bob, Carol, Ted and Alice.”