After being sidelined by the pandemic, the Blues return to Bonita this week

Andrea Stetson

Don Rynard had five dozen brownies ready to sell at the 14th Annual Bonita Blues Festival in 2020. Kevin Barry had all the performers in town ready to go. Fencing was up, vendors were set, a tractor trailer was filled with beer, 50,000 pounds of ice were ready and tickets were sold. It was the day of the performance, 1.5 hours before the show was to begin, when the city canceled the event due to the pandemic.

Hundreds of Blues lovers blanketed the lawn during the Bonita Blues Festival held at Riverside Park in Bonita Springs, Friday March 9.
Scene from the Bonita Blues Festival held at Riverside Park in Bonita Springs, Friday March 9.
Harlis Sweetwater and bass guitarist battle it out during the Bonita Blues Festival held at Riverside Park in Bonita Springs, Friday March 9.
Bonita Springs Blues Festival acts perform at the outdoor stage at Riverside Park in downtown Bonita Springs.
The Reba Russell Band performs during the 7th Annual Bonita Blues Festival, at Riverside Park in Bonita Springs on Friday March 8, 2013. The festival will continue on Saturday from 11:30a.m. - 9:30p.m.

“It was a heartbreaker,” said Teri Lamaine, who helps organize the event.

Now the annual Bonita Blues Festival is ready to return. They are calling it the “15th ish” annual festival since the 14th never really happened. Organizers say they are not only making a comeback, but they’re also making it with bigger and better performances than ever.

The headliner is Shaun Murphy, who recorded an album with Meat Loaf, and has been on tour and done studio work with Bob Seger, Eric Clapton, Joe Walsh, The Moody Blues, Alice Cooper, Phil Collins, Leon Russell, Ted Nugent, Glenn Frey and many others.

Friday performances will be by the David Julia Band, Scott Holt Band, Women of the Blues, Damon Fowler and Friends and The Nighthawks. Saturday highlights include Joe Connors with The Howell Brothers & Friends, McKinley James, King Solomon Hicks, Honey Island Swamp Band, Mike Zito's Big Band with Albert Castiglia & ​Kat Riggins and culminating with the performance by Shaun Murphy. There will also be food and craft vendors, beer and wine vendors and an after-hours jam hosted both nights at Maria’s Restaurant.

All the money raised goes to three local charities including the Bonita Springs Assistance Office, Music for Minors Foundation and a music therapy program at Golisano Children’s Hospital. In 2019, $18,000 was given to each of the three groups. Almost $400,000 has been given away to the three charities since the first concert in 2007.

Kevin Barry co-founder of the Bonita Blues Charitable Foundation, said with the skyrocketing prices this year for everything from security and fencing to permits, he expects each group will receive about $15,000.

Organizers at the charity groups are grateful for this. Lamaine, who is also president and executive director of the Bonita Springs Assistance Office, says the money will be used to help senior citizens.

“We are going to allocate it to our senior care and share program,” Lamaine explained.

“It is the fastest growing program and the fastest need in our community. When I first started it was the single moms. Now the whole pendulum has switched to our senior clients. Many of our senior clients never expected to live this long. They have no portfolio, their insurance has gone up, everything has gone up. They are the people in our community that can’t go out and get a second job to make ends meet.”

Lamaine said the money will pay to give them healthy food, incontinence products and things like toilet paper, laundry detergent and more.

“This year we will utilize the Bonita Blues festival money to not only grow the program, but to give them the products they truly deserve,” Lamaine said.

In the last 15 years the Bonita Blues has given the Bonita Springs Assistance Office over $106,000. Rynard, head of the Music for Minors Foundation, said his charity almost closed years ago, but was saved by funds from the Bonita Blues Festival.

“They started supporting Music for Minors and the Blues Festival took off and they kept us alive,” Rynard described.

About 40-50 youngsters are part of the Music for Minors program. The money donated to the organization will be used to buy instruments for the students and help fund music lessons and college scholarships.

“That $15,000 pretty much runs our operating costs for a year,” Rynard said. “That is what has kept us going. Even without the money not coming in the last two years, we had a little socked away.”

Private donations also kept the group going during the pandemic.

Funds also help a music program at the hospital.

“The support we receive from the Bonita Blues Festival allows our program to continue its mission of providing exceptional music therapy services for our pediatric patients and their families during some of their most difficult moments,” stated Tracey Failla, Music Therapist, Golisano Children’s Hospital. “We are able to purchase instruments and other equipment for our patients to use during sessions to help them process and cope with their hospitalization.”

Barry hopes this festival will attract lots of people and raise lots of money. He’s excited to have Murphy as the highlighted performer but is also touting the credentials of the other musicians. He said many of them are up for Blue’s music awards including Damon Fowler and the Women of the Blues.

“Check out this King Solomon Hicks. He is 24 and touring the world and playing with some of the biggest artists, and we got him to come down and play with us. It is nice to bring in these young guys that are doing these great things and mix them in with some more experienced people,” Barry exclaimed. “We put up a really good lineup of some up and coming people and some staples of the business. Let’s hope we can crush it and give away a whole bunch of money.”

If you go

Bonita Blues Festival

  • At Riverside Park, From 1 until 9 p.m. Friday, March 11; and 11 a.m. until 9 p.m., Saturday, March 12
  • (After Parties: March 11 and 12 beginning at 9 p.m., Maria's Mexican Restaurant, 27080 Old 41 Road)
  • Cost: $40 for Friday, $45 for Saturday or a weekend pass for $60
  • Bring: Blankets, sunscreen, chairs, money for vendors (No coolers or outside food or beverages allowed)
  • bonitablues.com