Brewing up a storm with blues festival at Nashoba Valley Ski Area

Kathleen Kirwin

Area beer meisters will showcase their bubbly brews at the seventh annual Blues ‘N’ Brews festival, which should sound as good as it tastes, with a slate of top blues and folk performers – and taste as good as it feels, with proceeds benefiting a variety of charities.

The foamy festivities are set for Saturday, Aug. 23, noon to 7 p.m. at Nashoba Valley Ski Area in Westford.

Organizers hope the event, presented by the Westford Rotary Charitable Foundation, will reach its peak, so to speak, at its present home at Nashoba Valley Ski Area in Westford, which also hosted the event last year.

Although more than 40 breweries will represent at the festival, one of the biggest beer events happens before the gates even open.

Preparation for the Brews ‘N’ Blues home brew festival starts months in advance, according to Kathy Duprey, Blues 'N' Brews founder and chief executive officer.

“After we present the best brew award at the end of the show, we have people asking us dozens of questions about the contest,” said Duprey.

One of the sponsors of the home brewing competition is Joe Zadrozny, former owner of Zstreet Brewing Co. in Fitchburg and president of the Fitchburg Order of Ale Makers, better known by its easily-remembered acronym, FOAM.

For the first two years of the contest, the judging was done at the festival but that presented many problems, the main one being keeping the beer cool.

It is a bit too late for aspiring brewers to enter their recipes for this year’s festival but Duprey encourages them to start preparations for next year.

“We have people return to compete every year. Many make their own recipe just for the competition,” said Duprey.

There’s no taste like home

But there certainly won’t be a lack of beer, with brewers from all over New England offering up samples of their beer by the cupful.

Big name brewers are not allowed at the festival.

Some of the breweries slated to be at the festival this year are Long Trail Brewing Co, from Vermont, Martha’s Exchange from New Hampshire and more. Many of the brewers return from previous years, said Duprey.

Kyle Foote of Harpoon Brewery said Nashoba Valley Ski Area offers the perfect venue to serve beer. Harpoon has been at the festival before and is bringing five kegs of assorted brews to the 2008 festival.

“This festival really has a great diversity of craft beers from vendors all over the region,” said Foote.

The festival offers attendees the opportunity to try cask ale. Cask ale is beer brewed in a wooden cask in the traditional way. This leads to the beer having a variety of differences from bottled ale including less gas, leading to less head on the beer and more beer in the glass.

“It is a true experience of what real beer actually is. Beer geeks love it,” said Duprey.

Duprey said the variety of different beers could convert people into beer lovers. Duprey admits to being brought over to the brew side when her husband started brewing beer in their home.

The entertainment lineup this year has music that is sure to have people out of their seats with headliner Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters, along with Racky Thomas Band, Ottomatic Slim, Jason James and the Bay State House Rockers, Bruce Marshall Group, and the Love Dogs.

In addition to leaving folks with a warm and sudsy feeling, the festival supports charitable efforts of the Westford Rotary Club, and others, including the Blister Buddies, a fundraising group that aids the National Multiple Sclerosis Society; Merrimack Valley Food Bank; Ronan McElligott Memorial Playground for disabled children; Massachusetts National Guard Family Support Fund and Friends Forever International Peace Program.

The Westford Rotary chooses beneficiary partners for the festival through a thorough hearing process. Beneficiary partners must show they have a real need for the money and be able to provide volunteers for the day of the festival.

“It takes more than 200 bodies to run the festival and if a group wants a part of the money they raise they really have to show they are willing to help out,” said Duprey.

Music to your beers

The concert features a lineup of performers with impressive musical résumés.

The headliner act, Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters, is a longtime fixture on the blues scene, playing with a variety of artists and at venues as varied as the Detroit Festival of the Arts and the Regent Theatre in Arlington.

The Evan Goodrow Band credits include playing with (or backing up) B.B. King, G.E. Smith, Entrain, and Gordon Beadles.

The Racky Thomas Band hails from Boston. Winner of Boston's prestigious Battle of the Blues Bands in 1997, the band has opened for blues greats Luther “Guitar Jr.” Johnson, Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland, Paul Rishell and Annie Raines, and Susan Tedeschi.

Jeff Pitchell has a dynamic stage presence, Pitchell has performed and/or recorded with Rick Derringer, Bo Diddley, BB King, Buddy Guy, Ted Nugent, Clarence Clemons, Dave Mason and James Cotton

The Installers are well known to Blues `N' Brews Festival fans, having appeared in the lineup more times than any other band in the festival's history.

Jay and The Installers have collaborated on a number of special performances at events and area venues, to the continuing delight of local blues fans. For the 2007 Blues `N' Brews Festival, J. Geils and The Installers will be featuring Jay's classic blues music.

Mark Nomad will play a special acoustic performance this year in front of the gates while tickets are being sold.

"People have been requesting music while they're waiting for tickets and we're happy to be able to bring it to them this year," said Duprey.

The details

The seventh annual Blues ‘N’ Brews festival will be held Saturday, Aug. 23, noon to 7 p.m. at Nashoba Valley Ski Area, 79 Powers Road, Westford. Gates open at 11:30 a.m.

Featuring area brewers and live performances by blues bands; barbecue, snacks, raffles, awards for top brewers, and more.

Benefits the Westford Rotary and other area charities.

Tickets: $30 in advance, $35 at the gate; the latter subject to availability.

Children under 12 free; must be accompanied by an adult.

Ticket cost includes ten beer tastings, or equivalent in non-alcoholic beverages for those not of legal drinking age.

Restrictions: no pets, no coolers, no readmission.

For more information and to order tickets: call 978-772-3612 or visit www.bluesnbrews.com.

Kathleen Kirwin is staff reporter for the Westford Eagle, a Community Newspaper Company publication.