Blues fans sometimes pay big bucks to hear their favorite artists, but at the annual Bluebird Blues Festival at Prince George’s Community College, fans can hear artists for free.
The college is hosting its 20th annual blues festival at its main campus in Largo on Saturday.
More than half a dozen groups will perform on indoor and outdoor stages during the daylong event.
Also on the bill is an early-afternoon Q&A session with some of the performers, food and crafts, and activities for children.
Headlining and performing at the college for the first time will be Memphis-born Bobby “Blue” Bland and his band playing some of his well-known songs, such as “I’ll Take Care of You,” “I Pity the Fool,” Turn on Your Love Light,” “Call on Me” and “Ain’t Nothing You Can Do.”
A member of the Blues Hall of Fame, Bland has been playing most of his life, and at age 82, still travels to gigs six months out of the year.
Bland says he’s sometimes surprised to find young people who recognize his rendition of “St. James Infirmary,” performed by Cab Calloway in the 1930s.
“Maybe they hear it from their parents,” says Bland about younger fans who come to his shows.
Also performing outside on the Novak Field House lot with his band will be Alabama native Clarence Carter, 76, who now lives in Atlanta and has played at the Bluebird festival twice before.
He says he plans to sing some of his hit tunes, including “Slip Away,” “Patches” and “Strokin’.”
Carter says that playing blues that people can move to also brings in fans in their 20s.
“I think the kind of music I play, regardless of what the song is, if it sounds danceable, people like it,” Carter says.
Other artists set to sing on the main stage are Bobby Parker, known for his mastery of the electric guitar, Sonny Til’s Orioles, a band that originated in Baltimore in the late 1940s, and Yahzarah, an R&B vocalist and former singer for Erykah Badu.
Performing inside on the Nap Turner stage in the Queen Anne Fine Arts Building are blues pianist Daryl Davis, who earned a music degree from Howard University, and Phil Wiggins, a Washington, D.C., native who plays traditional Piedmont blues.
Piedmont blues draws on fiddle tunes, gospel, ragtime, ballads and pop songs.
Also on stage will be Little Bit A Blues from Montgomery County, with members Warner Williams of Olney (guitar and vocals), Jay Summerour of North Potomac (harmonica and back-up vocals) and Eric Selby of Washington Grove (percussion).
Summerour, who grew up in Rockville, said performers such as Etta James and Little Richard used to come through town on what was known as the Chitlin’ Circuit, a network of venues catering to African-Americans.
Although he took trumpet lessons until high school, Summerour says he has always loved the harmonica.
“I like the fogginess of it,” he says. “You can do a variety of things with it.”
Summerour and Williams first began performing together in the early 1990s, playing at Gallagher’s Pub in Gaithersburg and later at Smithsonian Folklife events and blues festivals. Selby joined them about four or five years ago.
Like Wiggins, Williams of Little Bit A Blues also is known for playing Piedmont blues.
“There’s a shared string band tradition among both black and white musicians in Virginia and the [Appalachian] mountains,” says Barry Pearson of Hyattsville.
A former musician, Pearson teaches African-American literature and the blues at the University of Maryland, College Park.
“There are black ‘Afro-lachian’ banjo players who are being rediscovered,” says Person, who wrote a book called “Virginia Piedmont Blues.”
Pearson will host a discussion with some of the artists from 1 to 1:50 p.m. in the Queen Anne building.
Pearson says the festival regularly draws fans, many of them older followers, who live in Prince George’s County and appreciate not having to travel far to hear their favorite artists.
It’s as if it is “their party, in their community,” he says.
Meanwhile, Bland and Carter say they’ve never played together on stage, but they appreciate each other’s work.
“He’s my favorite artist,” says Bland about Carter. “He’s a good writer, he chooses some good lyrics, and he’s a good singer.”
The feeling’s mutual, says Carter. “Bobby Bland and B.B. King were my heroes when I was growing up.”
Neither artist shows signs of slowing down any time soon, as both are scheduled to play at the Hampton Blues Festival in Virginia on Nov. 17, where some tickets are selling for $40.
“I’m not ready to retire,” says Carter, who plans to release a new CD at the end of September that will include some of his hits and five covers, including a song B.B. King made popular called “Rock Me Baby.”
Bland also says he has no plans to stop.
“It’s another workday, and I appreciate it,” he says.