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Friday Night Headliner

Jonny Lang mixes blues with rock

Blues-guitar prodigy had big break at a very young age

(Aug. 12, 2016) – Friday night headliner Jonny Lang will take the stage at the Madison Ribberfest Blues Bash at 10 p.m. Friday, Aug. 19.
At only 16 years old, Jonny Lang released his debut album, “Lie To Me.” What followed was incredible success for this American blues, gospel and rock singer, songwriter, guitarist and recording artist.

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Jonny Lang showed his guitar talent early, taking him on a whirlwind career, including overcoming alcoholism.

Born in Fargo, N.D., Lang began playing guitar at age 12. He played guitar for friends on their lake place porch, playing everything from modern hits to the classics. His repertoire consisted of songs learned from his parent’s record collection: Motown, Otis Redding and Steely Dan.
Not long after this, his father took him to see the Bad Medicine Blues Band, one of the few blues bands in Fargo. Lang started taking guitar lessons from Ted Larsen, the band’s guitar player. Several months later, he joined the band as their frontman, and they took on a new name, Kid Jonny Lang & The Big Bang.
From 1993 to 1996, The Big Bang was Lang’s backing band. The group consisted of three founding members of the Bad Medicine Blues Band: Ted “Lightnin’ Boy” Larsen on guitar, his brother Michael Rey Larsen on drums, and Jeff Hayenga on bass. Keyboardist Bruce McCabe joined The Big Bang in 1995.
At age 13, his father gave him his first guitar. The Big Bang moved to Minneapolis and independently released the album “Smokin’” when Lang was 14

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The Ghost Town Blues Band kicks off the Blues Bash at 6 p.m. Friday, Aug. 19.

Two years later, Lang had his big break. A&M Records spotted him at a showcase in Minneapolis, and he became the latest in a trend of amazing young blues-guitar prodigies that included Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Derek Trucks. That year, on Jan. 28, 1997, Lang released a blues album, “Lie to Me,” which went multi-platinum and hit No. 1 on Billboard’s New Artist chart.
His second album came at age 17 with “Wander This World,” which earned him a Grammy nomination. But today he says of these early efforts that listening to them is, “like torture. It’s like going back and looking at your high school yearbook or something. But no, I wouldn’t change anything. It’s all a part of where you are presently as a person.”
Lang’s 2006 album, the gospel-influenced “Turn Around,” won him his first Grammy Award. At this point in his career, Lang became an independent artist on his own label, SayRai Music. The songs “Only a Man” and “Thankful” from this album are about his belief in God.
After a long period of alcoholism and drug abuse, Lang came clean and became a Christian in 2000. In his own words he said of his conversion that he formerly “hated Christianity” and “despised the things of God,” but now wanted to share Jesus’ love with others.
On Sept. 17, 2013, Lang released his first studio album in seven years, “Fight for My Soul.” Lang said, “The inspiration for the songs on the record vary widely. Some are about personal struggles; some are focused on injustices I have seen. Some are random fictional stories that hopefully can relate to people in some way that is a blessing to them. I’ve wanted to make this album for a long time. Creatively, I think there is a lot more going on inside of me than I’ve been sharing on recordings.”
In more than 10 years on the road, Lang has toured with the Rolling Stones, Buddy Guy, Aerosmith, B.B. King, Blues Traveler, Jeff Beck and Sting. He also appears regularly as a part of the Experience Hendrix Tour along with many other well-known guitarists to pay tribute to the deceased guitar legend.
His current band line up includes Barry Alexander from Minneapolis on drums, James Anton from Minneapolis on bass, Akil Thompson from Nashville, Tenn., on rhythm guitar, Dwan Hill from Nashville on keys, and Missi Hale from Los Angeles on background vocals.

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Junior Brown will take the stage at the Blues Bash follows at 8 p.m. Friday.

American original Junior Brown will perform before Lang at 8 p.m. Friday. Born in 1952 in Cottonwood, Ariz., Brown showed an affinity for music at an early age when the family moved to a rural area of Indiana near Kirksville.
Brown then experienced Country music and remembers it as “growing up out of the ground like the crops – it was everywhere; coming out of cars, houses, gas stations and stores like the soundtrack of a story, but Country music programs on TV hadn’t really come along much yet; not until the late ’50s.”
But he also became aware of the music college kids were listing to, probably due to his father’s employment at small campuses throughout the next decade as the family moved two more times.
As a young boy, he showed me how to support myself by writing and publishing.”
In the early ’90s Brown and his band, which included his wife Tanya Rae, relocated to the active Austin, Texas, music scene. They landed a weekly gig at the Continental Club. His unique combination of singing, songwriting, instrumental and production skills led to a seven record deal with Curb Records that began with “Twelve Shades of Brown” in 1993.
Brown has received several Grammy nods, a Country Music Association award for “My Wife Thinks You’re Dead,” movie and repeated TV appearances. He also recorded a duet with bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley, for which Brown received an International Bluegrass Music Association Award. He has collaborated with the Beach Boys, George Jones, Leon McAuliffe, Ray Price, Leona Williams, Lynn Morris, Lloyd Green and Doc Watson.
He may be best known for his unique invention, the “Guit-Steel,” a double-necked instrument combining standard guitar with steel guitar. The Guit-Steel allows Brown to switch instruments quickly in mid-song while singing. His latest album is “The American Original,” set for release mid-summer 2016.
Taking the stage before Brown will be the Ghost Town Blues Band at 6 p.m. Friday. Having been characterized as “not your grandpa’s blues band,” their live show has been captivating audiences in both the United States and Canada since 2009.
The band was created in Memphis, Tenn., and play their own brand of gritty, electric, blues, soul and hill-country funk. With an intimate knowledge of both blues and rock, this modern band has a raw energy and intensity that gets the crowd moving.
Mark Uricheck wrote in “Living Blues Magazine” in April 2012, “With a shoot-from-the-hip Memphis attitude, and a STAX-busting explosion of modern blues vision, Ghost Town Blues Band represents a welcome changing of the guard.”
The band is a mix of North Mississippi blues, New Orleans style brass and an Allman Brothers style approach to improvisational jams. What makes the band unique is the array of instruments members play: organs, cigar box guitars, harmonicas, electric push brooms, brass and percussion.
Drummer Preston McEwen has said, “Whatever we play has to speak to our soul and the souls of our fans.” The band won second place in the 2014 International Blues Challenge representing the Memphis Blues Society.

“Ghost Town Blues Band shows what can happen when the past is distilled through young sensibilities, voices and instruments. This is 21st century blues at its best,” according to “Living Blues Magazine” in 2011.

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