The sixth Big Blues Bender will have a new feel over the next four days, courtesy of its move from Downtown’s Plaza Hotel to the Hard Rock Hotel a mile east of the Las Vegas Strip. This year’s version will feature five venues—the Joint, Vinyl, two pool stages and a stage in the casino—with music scheduled from 2 p.m. on Thursday through 4 a.m. on Monday.
Here are 10 performances you should try not to miss.
Larkin Poe (Thursday, 6:45 p.m., Joint; Friday, midnight, Paradise Pool) These two roots-rockin’ multi-instrumentalist sisters grew up with a melting pot of musical influences in Georgia, from classical violin and piano lessons to their dad’s classic rock records. Their latest album, Venom & Faith, evolved from their experience touring the world and making cover videos as they dug deeper into their catalog of blues favorites.
Gov’t Mule (Thursday, 8:30 p.m., the Joint) Originally conceived as a fun side project by Allman Brothers guitarist Warren Haynes (and late bassist Allen Woody) some 25 years ago, this jammy Southern rock outfit has gone on to amass a catalog of more than 300 songs. The band performs fluid sets that change radically from night to night, wrapping in covers and the occasional Allmans track, too.
Joanne Shaw Taylor (Thursday, midnight, Paradise Pool; Friday, 3:15 p.m., Paradise Pool) This Englishwoman has been making music on her own terms for more than a decade, with her throaty, road-worn vocals cutting through the mix. She has made an indelible impact in the world of blues music, earning kudos from guitarist Joe Bonamassa and other peers along the way.
Robert Cray (Friday, 10:15 p.m., the Joint)As the “new kid” on the blues block in the ’70s and ’80s, the Georgia-born Cray shared the stage with Chuck Berry, Eric Clapton and John Lee Hooker, while building his own solid body of work. He’s still going strong, recording his latest album—2017’s Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm—at Memphis’ legendary Royal Studios.
Gary Hoey (Saturday, 3:15 p.m., Paradise Pool; Sunday, 7 p.m., Vinyl) This Massachusetts native has been immersed in recent years exploring his love of the blues with a trio of releases. Neon Highway Blues is the newest chapter, pulling musically from influences including Jeff Beck, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin.
Vanessa Collier (Saturday, 4:30 p.m., Nirvana Pool; Sunday, 3:15 p.m., Paradise Pool) Collier, a Dallas native, leaves no time wasted in her sets. The saxophonist has delivered jaw-dropping performances worldwide, leaving legends like Buddy Guy speechless. And her vocals are reminiscent of ’70s-era Bonnie Raitt, in all the best ways.
Tab Benoit (Saturday, 8:15 p.m., the Joint; Sunday, midnight, Paradise Pool) This 51-year-old Louisianan has been spreading his love of the blues for more than two decades, pairing his expressive guitar work with a distinctive vocal style that has a delightful Cajun twang.
Little Steven & The Disciples of Soul (Saturday, 10:15 p.m., the Joint) The E Street Band’s Steve Van Zandt has resurrected his ’80s group as a mammoth 15-piece band. The setlist typically features highlights from Van Zandt’s career as both a solo artist and a producer, along with tracks from new Disciples album Summer of Sorcery.
Ruthie Foster (Sunday, 5:45 p.m., the Joint) For some people, music is religion, and Foster found the call-and-response rhythm in her guitar playing by listening to the flow of sermons in church. The Texan also laid down a memorable version of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” on her 2017 album, Joy Comes Back.
One Night on Yasgur’s Farm (Sunday, 9:45 p.m., the Joint) The 50th anniversary of Woodstock has been a major topic this year, and a mix of artists from the Bender lineup will come together to help close out the weekend with a performance compressing three days of peace and music into one epic two hour jam.
BIG BLUES BENDER September 5-8, times vary; Thursday $125, Friday-Sunday $165 per day, four-day pass $500. Hard Rock Hotel, bigbluesbender.com.