Growing up in San Francisco with a “beatnik” for a sister, it didn’t take long for Rick Estrin to be introduced to the blues. “When I was 11 years old she started showing me some of her blues records,” Estrin recalls. “I was instantly fascinated.”
Champion Jack Dupree’s first album, Blues from the Gutter, especially impressed the young Estrin. For his twelfth birthday, he received a copy of Ray Charles’ The Genius Sings the Blues, a record that inspired him to learn how to play the harmonica.
Estrin formed the electric blues/swing revival combo Little Charlie and the Nightcats with Charles Baty in 1976. In the years since, the group has released nine albums and a live collection, and have toured the world. Baty retired from music in 2008, and Estrin has taken over as leader and will be fronting The Nightcats this Saturday when they headline Redwood City’s PAL Blues, Arts and BBQ Festival.
The Nightcats released a live record earlier this month called You Asked For It…Live!, recorded at the Biscuits and Blues nightclub in San Francisco. It’s the band’s first live record since Baty’s retirement.
The group still plays songs from Little Charlie and the Nightcats’ catalog, alongside newer songs from the band’s two newer studio albums. “Earlier on, Charlie and I would write songs together to compliment his swing-inspired playing style, but now everyone gets involved,” Estrin says, explaining that the different blues backgrounds of his bandmates help make a stronger, more democratic songwriting process.
Recently, Estrin’s harp playing earned him critical accolades. The Blues Foundation granted him a Blues Music Award for his harmonica playing in 2013, and he and the Nightcats share four other nominations for Blues Music Awards in the past four years.
The Blues, Arts and BBQ Festival is a free event benefiting the city’s Police Activity League. Estrin joins six other acts on Saturday, including Bay Area artists the Aki Kumar Blues Band and Danny Caron’s Good Hands Organ Trio.
Southern California set Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers play on Friday evening.
In addition to the music, Rack and Roll Barbecue will be serving food, and Matagrano Distributors will provide a lineup of craft beers. The Blues, Arts and BBQ Festival takes place Friday, July 25 from 6-8 pm, and resumes the following afternoon from 11am to 6pm. The event is part of Redwood City’s “Art on the Square” series of summertime events, which put a spotlight on Downtown Redwood City.
The Nightcats are looking forward to playing a show in the Bay Area, an opportunity they do not often have due to constant touring. “We only get to play in Northern California 3 or 4 times a year,” Estrin says. “The rest of the year, we’re touring.” Estrin also loves the festival’s lineup. “A lot of blues festivals feature bands that are really just hard rock. But all the bands playing here are blues. They’re the real deal.”
Rick Estrin and the Nightcats
Courthouse Square, Redwood City