Men Among Giants

You can always expect a blues giant to close the weekend-long 2006 Doheny Blues Fest with a bang, and this year's headliners, Etta James and B.B. King, are poised to do just that. But what truly makes the annual event so intriguing is how often a lesser-known act completely blows you away.

Last year in the intimate setting of the Backporch Stage, Alvin Youngblood Hart played an eerie, spookily mesmerizing set of acoustic blues. And in 2003, Canadian singer/songwriter/guitarist Sue Foley and her frequent collaborator, producer/guitarist/songwriter Colin Linden, transformed her electric-guitar-fueled blues into a stripped-down, call-and-response session that was warmly playful.

This year's candidates for Most Likely to Steal the Show year include Belgium's the Electric Kings, featuring the dynamic presence of lead singer/harmonica player Big Dave; five-time WC Handy Award nominee Henry Butler, a blind New Orleans native who offers a stirring mix of jazz/Caribbean/R&B/blues/classical; and the buzz-worthy James Hunter, the British retro blues soul singer/songwriter/guitarist who composed all 14 tracks on his new, sparkling U.S. debut, People Gonna Talk. While his sound and style is certainly derivative of the legendary Sam Cooke, Hunter injects just enough freshness and verve to help establish his own cool persona.

And finally, if you're interested in unique, rockin', rootsy American music, be sure to make your way to the Renaissance Stage by 5:30 p.m. on Sunday to experience John Hiatt backed by the North Mississippi All-Stars. Trust me, they are truly something to behold.

The 2006 Doheny Blues Festival at Doheny State Beach, 25300 Dana Point Harbor Dr., Dana Point, (949) 360-7800; Sat., 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Single-day general admission, $40; two-day general admission, $65; children 6-12, $10; children five and under, free. VIP and backstage passes available. All ages.

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