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Harvest Moon rising

Winder festival brings out blues heroes

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For the sixth year in a row, a Harvest Moon will rise on Winder for three days. Where past generations honored the symbolic moon as the end of their growing season, music lovers in metro Atlanta see it as a reminder that some of the top musical acts in the country are in town.

The Harvest Moon Bluesfest takes to the red clay amphitheater of Chip's Roadhouse this weekend, featuring legendary names while also highlighting local heroes.

Greg Forrester, festival coordinator, says the venue caters to the attentive patron. "You can see well and hear well, and there's plenty of room," says Forrester. "We've also got one of the best sunsets in the metro area."

The festival, growing since its inception six years ago, has featured bigger-name bands and more of them as the years have progressed. Harvest Moon went from having a few bands inside Chip's to the 2-acre terrace behind the club, and features some of the biggest acts in the blues business.

"We started with five bands inside the first year," Forrester says of the evolution of the festival. "Then we moved outside and eventually got bigger. Every year you try to do something different to improve it, and you continue to tweak it for the people that come every year. We call it a festival but it's really a big background party."

On Friday, the event opens in grand fashion with guitar hero Walter Trout taking the stage. Atlanta fans are seeing Trout at a peak time in his career -- he's in the midst of a string of good reviews from the music press. In early August, Trout was nominated at the Los Angeles Music Awards as the "Guitarist of the Year." Earlier in the year, a BBC Radio poll on the "Top 20 Guitarists of All Time" found Trout coming in at No. 6.

Early in his career, Trout honed his skills with John Mayall and the BluesBreakers, before moving on to perform with blues legends like John Lee Hooker, Canned Heat and Big Mama Thornton. Trout, a resident of Southern California, still tours up to 200 times a year with his band, the Radicals.

Local favorites Randall Bramblett and Tinsley Ellis join Carl Weathersby on Saturday's schedule. Bramblett is a multi-instrumental jam-rocker best known for his work with Sea Level, Widespread Panic and Col. Bruce Hampton. The Atlanta-born Ellis, a local mainstay, has made his name as a blistering soloist a la Stevie Ray Vaughn. Ellis, who was reared on the blues-rock of Yes and Jimmy Page, has recorded with Chuck Leavell and Derek Trucks.

Weathersby, a Chicago native, has been on stage with some of the biggest names in the blues. He played rhythm guitar for Albert King in the '70s, before lighting out on his own recording career. Weathersby, originally born in Mississippi, injects a Deep South influence into his music, a distinction that helped set him apart and garner a nomination for a W.C. Handy Award nomination for Best New Blues Artist at the beginning of his career. He is the veteran of four successful solo albums, including last year's "Come to Papa."

The weekend comes to a close Sunday featuring Sean Costello.

Forrester noted that each individual act helps diversify the audience. "We've got people coming in from neighboring states, and I got a call from Chicago a little while ago," Forrester says. "All of these acts have their own following, so you're going to pull people from all over."

The Sixth Annual Harvest Moon BluesFest takes place Sept. 7-9 at 5 p.m. Fri.; noon Sat.; and 1 p.m. Sun. $15 for daily pass, $30 for weekend pass. Chip's Roadhouse, 655 Patrick Mill Road, Winder. 770-307-2840.

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