New England Winter Blues Festival hits the Rex for the first time

Jan. 25—The Rex Theatre will host the 13th annual New England Winter Blues Festival on Sunday — the first time the event has been held at the venue.

"I've been talking about trying to bring it to Manchester for a while. We're really glad we were finally able to converge on a date," said promoter and musician Nick David, who lives in Concord.

The festival — which offers an early start time of 4 p.m. — features a trio of guitar slingers: Mike Zito from Texas, Nick Moss from Chicago, and Robert Morbioli from Italy.

The Wicked Lo-Down, a Northeast band featuring Texas blues guitarist Paul Size and David on harmonica and vocals, will open the show and serve as the backing band for the headliners.

David first brought the festival to Blue Ocean Music Hall in Salisbury Beach, Mass., one of four dates booked this year and the only constant in the festival's history.

The package tour hits four venues this weekend: the Fallout Shelter in Norwood, Mass., on Thursday; Blue Ocean Music Hall on Friday; Black-Eyed Sally's Southern Kitchen & Bar in Hartford, Connecticut, on Saturday; and the Rex Theatre on Sunday.

Over the years, David has been able to book some of his favorite blues musicians, including fellow harmonica players Rick Estrin and the late James Harman, and guitarists Junior Watson and the late Charlie Baty.

"Usually what I do is I'll bring in one or two national or international blues and have one or two regional acts," David said during an interview last week.

"Some of the regional acts that I have are international acts, too. They are just people who live in the area, people I don't have to fly in."

In addition to booking the acts and the venues, David acts as tour manager. He's also the guy who makes sure the musicians have clothes if their luggage gets lost.

"Eventually I'd like to get it in enough venues where I could just hire a tour manager and just be one of the guys, and not have to make sure so-and-so has their tea," David said.

He still gets to be one of the guys once the Wicked Lo-Down hits the stage to open the shows and support the visiting blues musicians.

"Selfishly it's really fun for me. I get to bring in some of my favorite people on the planet," David said.

Through his festival and similar events, David has made connections in the blues world, including Mike Zito, whom he met at the White Mountain Boogie and Blues Festival, a longtime annual event in Thornton.

"I really liked Mike Zito. I thought he was a really good guy, and he's certainly a big name in the blues world," David said.

Nick Moss, whose resume includes playing in the late Chicago blues great Jimmy Rogers' band, has played the Winter Blues Festival at least a couple of times, David said.

"He's loud and gregarious and silly. I'm drawn to people like that," David said. "And he's really the real deal. Nick Moss has a real blues pedigree that not many people in the blues world have. He has really studied the great blues guitar players."

Italian guitarist Roberto Morbioli, known for his work with his band, Morblus, has built up a following in the region by visiting once a year.

"He has been coming to New England for the last 14 years. He's usually here for two weeks or a month," David said.

While David is used to importing his headliners, he notes how many of his heroes reign from the region, including Duke Robillard, Sugar Ray and the Bluetones, and Jerry Portnoy.

"We have an embarrassment of riches in the New England area as far as blues music goes. There's a lot of really, really good players," David said. "Some of my big heroes that I grew up listening to are from here."