The blues are free at weekend Falls festival - The Buffalo News

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The blues are free at weekend Falls festival

NIAGARA FALLS – The blues are back for their yearly visit.

The Niagara Falls Blues Festival, a free three-day event, will be held on Old Falls Street from Friday through Sunday.

“We do it for the love of the blues,” said festival founder Toby Rotella, who ran the Imperial Garage, a blues club on Third Street in the early 1980s. “And to try to educate people about the music and the roots of American music.”

The theme for this year’s festival – the sixth annual – is “Imperial Garage Legacy,” and organizers are bringing in many artists who had performed at the club, which closed in 1984 and later became Icehouse.

“If it wasn’t for the Imperial Garage, we wouldn’t be here, probably,” Rotella said.

Rotella and Sherry Kushner run the nonprofit organization that puts on the festival, the Niagara Festival & Entertainment Group. Rotella is the artistic director, while Kushner is the financial director and assistant artistic director.

The major change from previous festivals is that this year it’s being held on Labor Day weekend. It previously had been held the weekend after Labor Day.

Musicians are coming from across the country, including Chicago, Pittsburgh and as far away as Texas and Florida. Some of the scheduled performers include Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater, Falls native Richard Ray Farrell and Donnie “Mr. Downchild” Walsh.

The day before the festival starts, organizers will hold their seventh annual classic car and motorcycle cruise and kickoff party.

The cruise will leave Sal Maglie Stadium on Hyde Park Boulevard at 6 p.m., head down Pine Avenue and end up at Legends Bar & Grill, First and Old Falls streets, for a set by Big Mike & the Motivators.

Everyone is welcome, even if you don’t have a classic car or a motorcycle, organizers said, and those who wish to participate should “just show up.”

“It’s just something that we do that starts the ball rolling,” Kushner said.

The cruise is done in memory of Rotella’s nephew, Dave “Toby” Rotella, who died in a motorcycle accident at age 40.

The festival’s main stage will sit on Old Falls outside Legends. A smaller stage will be put up Saturday near Rainbow Boulevard and Old Falls. That’s where the Treble Rousers from West Seneca will perform.

For the duration of the event, Old Falls Street will be closed, as well as a section of Rainbow Boulevard near Old Falls.

The Niagara Falls Blues Festival began with a one-day show on Third Street in 2008. It grew to two days in 2009 and has been a three-day event since 2010.

Its precursor was a series of annual Imperial Garage reunions, the last of which took place in 2007.

Rotella and Kushner peg attendance at previous festivals at about 12,000 annually.

Organizers are still looking for anyone wishing to volunteer at the festival. Volunteers will be needed to sell raffle tickets and 50/50 tickets, help park motorcycles and direct cars to parking. Qualified security guards also are being sought. For more information, contact organizers by emailing

Proceeds from the guitar raffle will be donated to a yet-to-be-named charity.

Food and beverage vendors will be on hand.

For more information, visit the festival’s website,

Here’s the full schedule of performers.


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