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Blues pianist and vocalist Davina Sowers and her band, the Vagabonds, will open the Rolling River Music Festival on June 29.

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By Ruth Nerhaugen

When Rolling River Music Festival organizers got together to pick acts for the 2013 event, they had a simple guideline: "We wanted great summer concert fare," Sheldon Theatre Executive Director Sean Dowse said.

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Davina and the Vagabonds, Ruthie Foster and the Lovin' Spoonful fit the bill.

The lineup of musicians is both diverse and interesting, Dowse explained. "They will appeal to everyone in Red Wing."

The festival has never had a problem attracting a big crowd to Central Park. Five years ago, on July 4, 2009, Jones Family Foundation philanthropists presented a new band shell to the community with an eye toward making the park Red Wing's outdoor living room.

Each year the Joneses have brought in a national act. When Lawrence Transportation Services and Red Wing Shoe Co. became partners, the concert expanded into the Rolling River Music Festival, a celebration of Red Wing's connection to the Mississippi River.

Each year the number of sponsors has grown; new major partners this year are Sturdiwheat Inc., Dave Syverson Ford and Wylie Wilson Truck Centers. Also, Edward Jones came forward to sponsor Davina & the Vagabonds.

"This has turned into such a community event -- a community-funded event," Jones said. "The community truly has rallied around this concept" of bringing in top quality entertainment on an annual basis for a celebration that is open and accessible to everyone.

The other supporters are: Riedell Shoes Inc., Missy Donkers, Robert and Carolyn Hedin, Anderson Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, State Farm Insurance, Red Wing Chevrolet and Ford, Coldwell Banker, Mark

and Becky Poss Big Fish Digital, White Rock Bank, Alliance Bank, Associated Bank, Merchants Bank, Grant Thornton LLP, Gary and Pamela Alvord, Indigo Properties and Red Wing Arts Association.

"This has been a dream of ours," Jones said. "People really stepped up."

The organizers are looking forward to hearing this year's lineup. "In the past we've had 2,000 to 2,500 people. I would not be surprised if that number was exceeded this year," he said.

"We are really feeling good about all three acts," Jones added, describing Ruthie Foster as "a blues singer extraordinaire" and Davina as "fabulous."

And, he said, "People are excited about the Lovin' Spoonful" -- especially the generation of music lovers of enjoyed them the first time around.

The fourth annual festival will get under way a little early with some bonus entertainment. The 4:45 p.m. preshow will feature young people from the Universal Music Center, a school established here by Lovin' Spoonful drummer Mike Arturi.

Students Brook Theon and Sam Ketcham will sing original music they wrote while attending the school. Following them will be The Road Flares -- a three-piece rock band consisting of students Henry Patterson, Isaac Gadient and Mason Swanson -- also performing original music.

Davina & the Vagabonds will take the stage around 5:15 p.m. Dowse recommended the group after seeing the singer at a booking conference and hearing her and the band perform.

Davina Sowers is a classically trained pianist who has been performing since age 5. She hit the Midwest music scene in February 2005, moving to Minnesota from Key West, Fla., and was a hit at Duluth's Bayfront Blues Festival from 2006 to 2008. "This is a new, emerging group in the Twin Cities," Dowse said. "She is one of the most vital and creative" artists on the Minnesota music scene, he added, and was described by one reviewer as "the hardest working blues woman in frigid Minnesota."

Ruthie Foster will take the stage around 6:30 p.m. Her eclectic musical history embraces what has been described as "a combustible blend of of soul, blues, rock, folk and gospel."

She came from humble church choir beginnings in rural Texas, followed by a tour of duty with the U.S. Navy Band, and then a career in New York City.

Foster's achievements include Best Folk Artist in 2004-05 and Best Female Vocalist in 2007, 2008, 2012 and 2013 from the Austin Music Awards; 2009 and 2012 Grammy nominations for Best Contemporary Blues Album; and four Blues Music Association awards for both Best Traditional and Best Contemporary Female Blues Artist.

Doug McPherson of Keyboard Player Magazine wrote: "While Foster is not a self-consciously retro artist, she is definitely a singer from the old school whose huge, full-bodied voice has drawn frequent comparisons with such legends as (Aretha) Franklin and Ella Fitzgerald."

The Lovin' Spoonful will play around 8:15 p.m.

People are encouraged to bring their own lawn chairs and blankets. The show will go on, rain or shine.

Food will be available in the park from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Vendors will include Randy's and the Brickhouse, which also will have beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages for sale. The Goodhue County Historical Society will be selling root beer floats and ice cream.

If you go ...

Rolling River Music Festival

Who: Davina & the Vagabonds, Ruthie Foster and the Lovin' Spoonful

When: 5 p.m. Saturday June 29

Where: Central Park Band Shell, Fifth Street and East Avenue, Red Wing

Cost: Free

More info: www.sheldontheatre.org

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