Grammy-winning Austin bluesman Johnny Nicholas and his band, Hell Bent, will share the stage with the Grammy Foundation Award-winning Honokaa High School Dragons Jazz Band for three shows this weekend.
Show times are 7 p.m. Friday at Honokaa People’s Theater, 7 p.m. Saturday at the Palace Theater in downtown Hilo and 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Gertrude’s Jazz Bar in Kailua-Kona.
Nicholas, one of the premier blues and roots music artists around, has played the Big Island numerous times with Hell Bent, and also backing up fellow blues and roots R&B legends Delbert McClinton and Marcia Ball. He’s also shared the stage with the Dragon Jazz Band, a select group led by teacher Gary Washburn, a former house arranger for Motown-Los Angeles.
This will be the third year Nicholas has played with the celebrated Honokaa band.
“The involvement of Gary’s very talented group of kids is a collaboration that has provided for a very exciting show and a tremendous learning experience for the fledgling Honokaa musicians,” said Nicholas, a vocalist and multi-instrumentalist who has spearheaded similar educational projects in Texas over the last 20 years.
“It is amazing to see what kids can do when they get involved and excited by musical stimulus and exposure of this nature and professional level.”
Nicholas’ latest original release, “Fresh Air,” was recognized in the January 2017 issue of Downbeat Magazine as one of the five best blues albums of 2016.
“Free of cliches, the album reveals a sense of self-discovery in the process of recording strong, quick-witted originals and shining arrangements of Willie Dixon’s ‘Back Door Man’ and Sleepy John Estes’ ‘Kid Man Blues,’” the magazine proclaimed.
Nicholas is the musical real deal, having been a member of the renowned Texas swing band Asleep at the Wheel, and performing with blues legends such as B.B. King, Big Walter Horton and Johnny Shines. He’s on the Big Island with his drummer-percussionist John Chipman, and is spending this week working with Washburn and his charges on their ever-expanding repertoire.
This year’s incarnation of the Dragon Jazz Band will include, in addition to the talented horn section, a bass player, keyboardist, guitar player and singers, all of whom will perform as a part of Nicholas’ band in the show.
“The opportunity to tour and perform with Johnny Nicolas and Hell Bent offers many educational opportunities not normally offered in the high school education system,” said Washburn.
“Students work with and experience the real professional tour and road expectations and responsibilities. Setting up, sound checking, rehearsing while on the road, and interacting with professional musicians offers a great mentoring opportunity.
“When touring with Johnny and his band members in 2015, I witnessed his band members willingly tutor the young musicians to help improve their musicianship, inspire developing improvisational skills, and have fun at the same time.”
Tickets for the Honokaa show are $25 general, $30 premium, available at brownpapertickets.com (with an additional service fee) and at the door.
Advance tickets for the Palace show are $25 general, $35 side reserved and $45 center reserved, available at the Palace box office 10 a.m.-3 p.m. today and Friday. Tickets are $5 more the day of the show and doors open at 6 p.m. Saturday.
Doors open at 6 p.m.
Tickets for the Kona show are $25 advance, available at gertrudesjazzbar.com and $35 at the door. Doors open at 5 p.m.