Eight miles south: Ephrata residents didn’t have to travel too far for roots and blues

By on February 11, 2015

This past weekend, the second annual Roots and Blues Festival took place in downtown Lancaster, with several Lititz residents playing a part in its success.

The two-day celebration of music, organized by local promoter Rich Ruoff, brought together more than 50 artists who played to large crowds spread out over eight venues throughout the city. Although the main focus was roots and blues, iconic artists such as Iron Butterfly and Live (who began in nearby York) also played the event, offering a true “something for everybody” vibe.

Lititz resident and local businessman Greg Shenenberger helped make the festival possible. His company, Shenny Enterprises, was one of the many sponsors.

Jay Farrar at the Chameleon during last weekend’s Roots & Blues Festival. (Photo by Neidermyer/LNP)

Jay Farrar at the Chameleon during last weekend’s Roots & Blues Festival. (Photo by Neidermyer/LNP)

“Rich Ruoff and I go back 25 years. We reconnected on a personal level, and then a business level, a few years ago. Rich is an outside the box thinker, and knows what it takes to promote a show, and runs the kinds of events my companies need to be a part of. We will support his ventures as long as he allows us to do so. I am not sure there is a bigger name in regional promotions than his. It has been that way for close to 35 years,” said Shenenberger.

In addition to the multitude of live performances, a total of five master classes were held, which provided a rare chance for attendees to receive instructions and tips in an intimate setting by seasoned artists. Musicians such as Kenny Aaronson, who has played bass for the likes of Joan Jett, Bob Dylan, Brian Setzer, and many others, held a program on the bass guitar; and Liberty DeVitto, who played in Billy Joel’s band for 30 years, conducted a class on the drums. In between, the artists shared personal stories about the business, and what inspired them to become musicians.

Chris Shinn of the band Live performs at the Lancaster Convention Center. (Photo by Marty Heisey/LNP)

Chris Shinn of the band Live performs at the Lancaster Convention Center. (Photo by Marty Heisey/LNP)

Another very popular master class, “From the Parlor to the Plantation: The Evolution of the Acoustic Guitar in Pre-War Blues,” described the early history of the instrument and how it helped shape music in the early part of the 20th century. In front of a standing-room-only crowd, Lititz resident Tom Wentzel, along with his business partner Bruce Roth (who both operate Vintage Blues Guitars, an online business based in Lancaster), led the discussion. The partners, who have been in business for over seven years, were a vendor at last year’s festival, and decided to take their knowledge one step further this year.

“Bruce and I chatted with Ruoff at the end of last year’s show, and Rich stated that he wanted to expand it this year. Last summer, we met him for lunch, and pitched the idea to him to hold this seminar, and he agreed.”

In addition to the oral history that Wentzel and Roth presented, special guest Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton was also on hand, and briefly played each guitar that was discussed. This created the very unique opportunity for attendees to not only learn the history behind the instrument, but to also hear it played live. Paxton, a celebrated blues musician and vocalist, performed two shows that weekend as part of the festival.

“Roots and Blues is a fantastic way to be exposed to new music of many different genres,” stated Lititz native Gary Miles.

Miles, who was a VIP ticket holder, attended a multitude of live performances from a variety of acts including Jay Farrar (alternative country), The Reach Around Rodeo Clowns (rockabilly), and Joanne Shaw Taylor (blues). “All of the performances were top-notch. I’m already looking forward to next year,” he added.

Cory Van Brookhoven is a freelance writer for the Record Express. When he’s not busy heading the Lititz Historical Foundation or working with his Borough Council colleagues, he enjoys attending and supporting local events such as the Roots and Blues Festival. Lititz will soon see Ruoff’s promotional expertise first-hand when the Rock Lititz bike races return to Main Street in April.

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