HANFORD — Downtown Hanford is ready to sound like the mighty Mississippi.

The 19th annual Downtown Hanford Blues and Roots Festival will bring the musical that originated on the banks of America’s mightiest river to Civic Park on Saturday, Sept. 21.

The free concert, which begins at 5:30 p.m. will be headlined by San Jose-based blues rockers Tommy Castro and the Painkillers.

“Folks in the Central Valley generally get the blues. Not that they literally get the blues, but they get this kind of music,” Castro told the Sentinel by phones last week. “I don’t know why. There’s the [Central Valley] Blues Society there. They’re pretty strong. They have a good organization of people who are dedicated to keeping this music alive in the community.”

Castro has released 15 albums ranging drawing influences from soul, R&B, rock and – of course – blues. In 2010, Castro was awarded the Blues Foundation honors of Blues Male Artist of the Year, Contemporary Blues Album of the Year, Band of the Year and B.B. King Entertainer of the Year.

Castro, fittingly, has even toured with the latter award’s namesake, opening for King on summer tours in 2001 and 2002, playing on stage with the blues legend during each night’s finale.

Castro began his music career by playing in blues bars as a youth in the San Jose-area. The Bay Area was a whirlwind of different kinds of music and ideas – the psychedelic and heavy metal scenes were blossoming at the time – but the sound that kept drawing his attention was blues-based rock, which was finding itself on the radio more and more regularly thanks to the British Invasion and bands like The Rolling Stones.

“Whenever I heard the blues-based stuff, whether I knew it was blues or not, it really appealed to me. So that was a good fit. Most people when they hear this kind of music, they can’t resist it,” he said.

Playing music eventually moved from hobby to unlikely career, though, for Castro the life of a traveling musician was the only path that made sense.

“I sucked at sports and I sucked at school, but music was something I could do. I had a feel for it,” he said. “As years went by, I realized it was what I was meant to do and I got serious perusing it. Eventually, I had a band that was working 350 days a year.”

Castro said that the fact he’s been able to tour the world with his own band and make a living from his music for the last quarter century is “amazing” and that even after thousands of shows, it’s still fun.

“That’s what got me into this business in the first place – I just wanted to have a good time. I said, ‘What kind of job can I get where I’d just be having fun?’ and this worked out perfectly,” he said.

Castro, along with his band, The Painkillers — bassist Randy McDonald, keyboardist Michael Emerson and drummer Bowen Brown — released the live album, “Killin’ It Live” earlier this year. The 10-song album features songs like, “Make it Back to Memphis,” “Calling San Francisco” and “Them Changes.” 

Also performing at the annual downtown Hanford event will be AC Myles and Bill Clifton’s Chicken & Whiskey Band.

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Contact the reporter at pbowman@hanfordsentinel.com

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