Gila Reservation Blues Band takes the stage at Flagstaff Blues Fest

Bluesman Mike watches while Jijjy Von plays the harmonica at the Flagstaff Blues and Brews Festival June 18 at the Continental Driving Range in Flagstaff. Stan Bindell/NHO

Bluesman Mike watches while Jijjy Von plays the harmonica at the Flagstaff Blues and Brews Festival June 18 at the Continental Driving Range in Flagstaff. Stan Bindell/NHO

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - Smokestack Lightning, a blues band from the Gila River Reservation hit the big stage at the fourth annual Blues and Brews Festival June 18 on the Continental Driving Range in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Smokestack Lightning has been performing on the Arizona casino circuit, but moved up a notch by performing at what has become arguably Arizona's top blues festival.

Smokestack Lightning has been together for six years and two years ago won the Arizona Blues Showdown - they represented Arizona at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee.

Frontman Robert Jackson, who plays harmonica and performs vocals, said the Flagstaff Blues and Brews Festival ranks up there as one of the band's best experiences.

"It makes us feel real special," he said.

The rest of the band members drums and vocals.

Smokestack Lightning has two CDs out: In 2012 they cut "Soul Left Blind" and recently came out with "SSL."

Smokestack Lightning performs Chicago blues as well as their originals.

"I'm inspired by all the blues classics: Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, John Lee Hooker," Jackson said.

In September, Smokestack Lightning plans to compete in the Arizona Blues Challenge again with the hopes of getting back to the International Blues Challenge in Memphis.

"I can't wait to get back there," Jackson said. "I love the culture, the history and that music is everywhere. It's the birthplace of rock and roll, and you feel it everywhere."

Jackson said Smokestack Lightning was the only Native American blues band in Memphis. He said there are a lot of Native American bands, but they don't play blues.

"It was good to be a part of it," he said. "It was also cool to be there because the valley doesn't get that green."

Jackson said going to Memphis during IBC was incredible because of meeting the other bands that were performing there.

"Everybody was friendly. It was a good vibe, and the barbecue was spectacular," he said.

Jackson said Smokestack Lightning performed in Jerry Lee Lewis' club while in Memphis.

Jackson said their own Gila River Reservation strongly supports them.

"Anytime we go anywhere we let them know and we're proud to be from there," he said.

The other three band members played together before Jackson joined the group, but they didn't play blues. They played a little bit of everything.

Antone said Jackson made the band complete.

"It was all brand new to me," he said. "The more I was exposed to the blues the more I liked it. When we got together I wasn't sure what was going to happen, but it all just clicked."

Antone credits the Phoenix Blues Society with promoting their band.

"When we won the Blues Blast in Phoenix, when they called our name, there was no better feeling," he said.

Jackson said Smokestack Lightning is successful because all of the band members are dedicated to the craft.

"I want to thank Flagstaff Blues and Brews because playing here was a real thrill," he said.

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How do you make a great band better?

By adding an experienced female vocalist and harmonica player. Bluesman Mike and the Blues Review Band added Jijjy Von.

The Blues Review Band mixed their originals, such as "Stop the Train" and classics before closing with "Ride Sally Ride," which had everyone up their feet and clapping their hands while many were dancing. One veteran blues lover told Von that she could sure play that harmonica

Bluesman Mike recently added saxophone performer Rob Thompson to the band and Thompson suggested that Bluesman Mike listen to Von. It didn't take long for Bluesman Mike to bring her on board.

Von, who is part Cherokee, called the Arizona Blues and Brews Festival one of the best in Arizona.

"It's a great experience. People are just wonderful. Music is my favorite activity. I love the people and sharing music with the people," she said.

Von grew up in a house of music. Both of her parents were musicians and she heard a lot of folk and rock and roll. Her brother played the guitar so she taught herself the harmonica just to be different.

Von said her parents discouraged her from going into music as a profession because of the lifestyle of being on the road all the time. She said her parents were right, but she doesn't have any regrets.

"It's a hard life if you don't make it big," she said. "It's a constant struggle. I played in all the small places from New Orleans to Florida. You wake up in one town and there's no reference about what day it is or where you are."

When her children were small she stopped touring, but kept her hand in music by playing locally in the Phoenix valley.

Von has some great musical memories. In one of the bands she played in, the band drank before the show. The drummer was so tanked that he fell off the stage. His fellow band members picked him up and propped him up against the wall where he continued to play the drums.

"That could only happen in New Orleans," she said.

Von also plays steadily with Sound Scape, a jazz trio that performs in the Phoenix valley.

"My sincere reward is that people have a good time," she said. "Music is about sharing love and I hope to do it for a long time."

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Greg Dollerschell moved from Chicago to Flagstaff about 18 months ago and brought his Chicago blues with him as he started the band Arizona Hired Guns.

Arizona Hired Guns, which plays blues and southern rock, has performed at the Orpheum, Museum Club and Twin Arrows Casino.

"We were lucky to get on this bill," he said.

While Dollerschell loves Chicago blues, he will take Flagstaff over Chicago anytime.

"Chicago was never like this. People in Flagstaff get along," he said.

Dollerschell is the frontman on guitar. The other band members are Tommy Young on guitar, Ray Pochatko on drums, Frank Marbut on bass and Joe Kay on organ.

Dollerschell is self-taught on the guitar after listening to the Allman Brothers Band, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix.

"I was lucky to meet people in town and they were receptive to our music. We were well received. We were blessed in the sense that everything has been going our way and people will come to see us," he said.

Dollerschell also likes the blues because of a concert he saw when he was a youth. The lineup included Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

"Being from Chicago, I've seen them all: Koko Taylor, Buddy Guy and all the greats. I drew a lot of my guitar playing from that. These are national celebrities, but in Chicago you could see them in the clubs," he said.

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Karen Lovely, who has performed internationally, rocked the crowd with "Ain't Gonna Die in the Company Graveyard."

Lovely said the Flagstaff Blues and Brews Festival was amazing because everybody is so sweet and event organizers went out of their way to take care of the artists.

"I wouldn't want to be anywhere else," she said.

Lovely said spectators weren't only friendly, but loved the music.

"I love playing for crowds that like good music. Some crowds don't pay attention. They are just drinking, but here they love the music and that makes it better for us," she said.

Lovely was turned onto the blues early by Ma Rainey, Big Momma Thornton and Bessie Smith, but in 1987 she came down with stage fright and that took her away from music for 20 years.

In 2007, Lovely started going to blues jams.

"It was more and more fun. It was too much like my living room," she said.

Lovely slowly worked her way back to the stage because she loved playing the blues. Aside from her U.S. tours, she has performed in Canada, India and Australia. Two years ago, she was on the legendary Blues Cruise and the Karen Lovely Band has two recent CDs including last year's "Ten Miles of Bad Road." It doesn't mean that she doesn't get stage fright anymore.

"I just close my eyes and feel the music," she said.

Lovely has won numerous awards including in 2010 she placed second in the International Blues Challenge.

The blues has brought her some great memories. She was performing in Herb Alpert's Bravado Club in Los Angeles once when the crowd was ignoring her because everybody was getting autographs from somebody in the front row. It turned out to be Billy Withers.

In March, Lovely performed in Iceland. She ended up sitting with the ambassadors from America, Canada, Britain and Finland. One of the ambassadors gave her the country's pin, which she still has on her hat. She was wondering what all the ambassadors were doing there.

Two days later, the Panama scandal broke.

Lovely loves touring because she gets to travel and meet people. She also loves music festivals because she gets to listen to the other bands.

"I love the chance to listen to my friends perform because I am also a fan," she said.

tion of the blending of successful academics with healthy sports activity.

"Most of the student athletes not just succeeded in their chosen sports," Longreed said. "They are also members of the National Honor Society and that makes us all so very proud."

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