Blues players gather for annual Anti-Freeze fest

Patrick Dunn
Special to The Detroit News

Guitarist Bob Margolin spent seven years in the ’70s backing up blues legend Muddy Waters, but he says making a career in blues music has never been easy.

“This music never was commercial,” says Margolin, who will headline the Magic Bag’s 22nd annual Anti-Freeze Blues Festival this weekend. “It’s still not easy for people to make a living doing this. A lot of the people that are well known are really struggling. The bottom line is you just have to make the best music you can all the time and treat people well and get out there.”

Margolin good-naturedly addresses the ups and downs of touring life on his new album “My Road.” The song “My Whole Life” makes reference to playing a gig at a sports bar where the patrons are less than interested in listening to the music: “The sports fans didn’t mind us / But a touchdown made them roar.” Margolin admits that the days of such modest venues are behind him — mostly. He recalls a recent gig he played to a crowd of 80 in a grocery store.

“I was playing there right next to a shelf full of individual rolls of toilet paper,” he says. “Didn’t do a lot for my dignity, but when I got out there to sing that song, ‘My Whole Life’… I realized just where we were and what we were doing could be another verse in that song, although I think it might be hard to write a song and make something rhyme with ‘grocery store.’ ”

Margolin will be much more the center of attention in his appearance at the Anti-Freeze festival. He will headline Saturday night’s show, while Chicago guitarist Eddy Clearwater will take the spotlight Friday. The national acts will be supported both nights by a variety of local blues acts including Thornetta Davis and Tosha Owens. Owens, a Detroit-based vocalist, says the local scene is small but vigorous, fueled partly by regular blues open mic nights across the metro area.

“There are a lot of newcomers finding their way in for the first time,” Owens says. “There is still that built-in crowd that we’ve always had, too, that just waits for these events to happen.”

And when fans find events they like, they’ll travel remarkable distances to get there. Owens says musicians regularly come from out of state to the open mic night she hosts at Pub Froggy in Roseville. And Magic Bag promoter Willy Wilson tells about two Australian men who happened upon the Anti-Freeze festival several years.

“They were like, ‘Wow. We want to come back and do this again,’ ” Wilson says. “And two or three years later they came back.”

The North Carolina-based Margolin expresses particularly high regard for the Detroit blues scene. He recalls playing at the storied Soup Kitchen Saloon, both with Waters and with his own solo band. He says he enjoyed the “discriminating audience” there.

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.

Anti-Freeze Blues Festival

Eddy Clearwater

with Thornetta Davis, Erich Goebel and RJ’s NOLA Band

7 p.m. Friday

Bob Margolin

with the Kenny Parker Band, Tosha Owens and Chris Canas

7 p.m. Saturday

The Magic Bag

22920 Woodward, Ferndale

Tickets $20 per night

(248) 544-1991