Johnny Rawls won’t be in Rockland this weekend for the North Atlantic Blues Festival, but it might sound like it on the radio. Photo James Gregus

The North Atlantic Blues Festival is not happening in Rockland Harbor this weekend, but it may sound like it on the radio and over the internet. Paul Benjamin, the midcoast blues promoter who has organized the festival for more than two decades, is taking the festival on the air and playing music by artists who were scheduled to perform live on Saturday and Sunday.

KISS-FM, a midcoast contemporary-and-yesterday’s-hits radio station, will broadcast and stream (at the 2020 Virtual North Atlantic Blues Festival from 10 a.m to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The radio station typically simulcasts the festival live.

“I am going to be playing full CDs of the artists during the time slots when they were scheduled to be playing live,” Benjamin said. “We will act like the festival is actually taking place. I will be introducing every act, welcoming them to the virtual stage. I will act like I am on the stage, and we will try to do the best we can with it. I don’t know how it will do, but it should be fun.”

He will play live recordings when possible and in between sets will air interviews that he recorded with some of the acts. He also will include a virtual tip jar for the performers and will direct listeners to performers’ websites, where they can purchase the CDs they’re listening to, and others.

For Johnny Rawls, who was scheduled to close the festival on Saturday, Benjamin will play “Rockin’ in Rockland,” a live CD that Rawls recorded in Rockland in 2006. Coco Montoya and Ronnie Baker Brooks were scheduled to jam together for a tribute to Albert Collins on Sunday evening. In addition to playing music by Montoya and Brooks, Benjamin will play Albert Collins and the Icebreakers “Live in Japan” from 1984.

Others who were scheduled to be in Rockland included Tennessee Redemption with Brandon Santini and Jeff Jensen, Jason Ricci, Thornetta Davis, Tullie Brae, Ana Popovic and many others.

Benjamin canceled the festival in April, realizing then it would be impractical to try to host a large gathering in early summer. He also announced at the time that artists who were committed to this year’s festival would perform in 2021, so this weekend’s “virtual” festival also serves as a preview to next year.

The annual North Atlantic Blues Festival usually draws a huge crowd. Photo courtesy of the North Atlantic Blues Festival

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