With all the blues that life naturally brings, we could all use a healthy shot of the uplifting kind of blues that great musicians can provide. Enter the inaugural Sunshine Blues Festival, a three-day event that gathers top artists including Grammy-winning headliners the Tedeschi Trucks Band, New Orleans legend Dr. John (“Right Place Wrong Time”), The Wood Brothers (featuring Chris Wood of avant-jazz trio Medeski Martin & Wood) and guitar legends Sonny Landreth, Joe Louis Walker and Walter Trout, among many others.
The festival, which kicks off Friday in Fort Myers, hits the Mizner Park Amphitheater in Boca Raton on Saturday before wrapping up in St. Petersburg on Sunday. And blues junkies who plan on catching all three shows can expect enough diversity from night to night to keep things interesting.
“There are a lot of bands that we’re friends with and fans of, and we’ll see how much sitting in goes on,” says Derek Trucks, a slide-guitar prodigy who by age 13 – while still playing Little League Baseball – had played with Buddy Guy and toured with the Allman Brothers, and along with wife Susan Tedeschi leads TTB. “But we try to change our show night to night regardless, to keep the people onstage inspired and interested, and you hope that translates to the audience.”
Fans will hear favorites such as “Midnight in Harlem” and “Bound for Glory” plus more tracks from the group’s Grammy-winning debut album “Revelator,” says Tedeschi, whose powerful, husky voice and guitar work matches her husband’s musical intensity. But it’s what the band can’t play that’s a bit frustrating.
“One thing that’s hard is that we’re getting ready to go into the studio and make a record, but nowadays you can’t just play those songs out, because people tape stuff and put it on YouTube,” she says. “So we have all this amazing new material we wanna work in, but we can’t do it until the record comes out.”
Both Trucks and Tedeschi had extensive solo careers before uniting musically after a decade of marriage. So why did it take so long?
“We just never had the opportunity to even try it out,” says Tedeschi. “And then it finally opened up where I could get out of my record deal, and Derek asked me if I wanted to join forces, and I was blown away, honestly. I think so highly of him musically that it’s a great honor to be in a band with him. So I was like, “Of course. I’ll start tomorrow.”
And the couple never looked back.
“Once we decided to do it we had to go all the way,” says Trucks, who is ranked the No. 16 guitarist of all-time by Rolling Stone, and at age 33 has already won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for his work with the Allman Brothers. “We couldn’t keep our bands and do it part-time – it had to be the main focus. I really feel like if you’re gonna do any meaningful, lasting work, there really can’t be a safety net – you just have to throw it out there. So we did, and it’s been a pretty amazing ride so far. It’s only been two years, but I feel like we’ve packed in quite a bit.”
Especially over the past year, which has been a whirlwind for the band by anyone’s standard. In addition to the Grammy win, TTB was asked to perform at the White House for the Red, White & Blues concert with Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Mick Jagger and Booker T.
“It’s certainly fun to step back and look at the year and have those “holy s—t” moments where you’re standing between the President and B. B. King and playing music with your wife,” says Trucks. “That’s great stuff, but that’s not stuff you’re planning on making a career out of.”
But the amazing highlights kept coming. The group was supposed to perform at a tribute to Hubert Sumlin of Howlin’ Wolf’s band at the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem. And then Sumlin died.
“Instead of canceling the show, people like Eric Clapton and Keith Richards and Jimmie Vaughan and Elvis Costello all decided to come out and play the show,” says Tedeschi. “So we played with all of them.”
And there’s more: “Herbie Hancock asked us if we would come and play International Jazz Day with Robert Cray, to show how blues has transformed into jazz,” Tedeschi says. “And it was at the U.N. in New York City, and we get there and they’re like, “Oh, by the way, you guys are in the encore.” And it was a Stevie Wonder song, and I was singing a verse, so I was trying to learn it on the spot, and oh, by the way, Stevie’s playing it with you. So I was having a heart attack, like, what is happening?
“It was amazing – Derek played guitar, and the keyboard players were Herbie Hancock, George Duke and Stevie Wonder. I was like, Are you kidding me? It was so over-the-top, and I figured, hey, if the world’s really gonna end, then this is a hell of a way to go out.”