PEORIA -- The 30th edition of the Peoria Blues and Heritage Festival kicks off this weekend on the Peoria riverfront with a star-studded lineup perfectly suited to celebrate such an anniversary.
Of course, the majority of those 30 years occurred with the festival purely being a blues celebration, which means that plenty of blues musicians are on the bill this year, including one of the kings of the genre, a young prodigy and several stalwart figures of the blues.
But the recent addition of the "heritage" portion of the music festival has allowed several other genres to flourish at the annual concert. Several bluegrass, alternative rock and indie rock artists also populate the lineup.
Which shows should you catch? Here's a handy guide for some of the best acts to seek out this weekend on the riverfront.
The legendary blues practitioner out of Chicago returns to the Peoria Blues Fest this year two years after his last appearance on the festival bill. The 82-year-old singer still tours regularly and even released new music this year on his 18th studio album, "The Blues is Alive and Well," a 64-minute ode to the genre to which he has devoted his life.
Along with his deep reservoir of musical output, Guy is known almost as much for his influence and mentoring of dozens of younger blues players. Eric Clapton once called him the "best guitar player alive" and has credited him as one of his primary influences for decades. Guy has taken several blues prodigies under his wing over the years, including one teenager on the blues festival bill -- Brandon "Taz" Niederauer.
Guy plays at 10:30 p.m. Friday on the Riverview Stage.
One part classical composer and one part alternative rocker, Ben Folds has contributed to the music culture of the last two decades in myriad ways. The first splash was in the 1990s with his band, Ben Folds Five. That yielded a solo career with rock hits like "Rockin' the Suburbs" and slower ballads like "The Luckiest" along with several popular collaborations with artists such as Sara Bareilles, Regina Spektor and author Nick Hornby. He also featured as one of the judges on NBC's "The Sing-Off" for four years.
However, much of his work in this decade has been as an advocate for arts funding in music. He serves as the artistic advisor to the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center, and has presented to both political parties lobbying for more funding for the arts.
Folds plays at 8 p.m. Saturday on the Riverview Stage.
Brandon "Taz" Niederauer
It isn't a proper blues festival unless a teenage prodigy is on the bill, and 15-year-old Brandon "Taz" Niederauer fulfills that criteria.
Before he could even acquire a driver's license, Niederauer has played at some of the most storied music venues in the country. His reputation and residence in New York has allowed him to play on the same stage as some of the greats, including the Allman Brothers Band, Stevie Nicks, Lady Gaga, Gary Clark Jr., Slash and Robert Randolph. And Buddy Guy himself lent the young prodigy more stardom when Guy invited him on stage as a 13-year-old guitarist to play some songs with him.
Niederauer isn't scheduled on the same day as Guy this year at the Blues Fest, but he has has a headlining set starting at 9:30 p.m. Saturday night on the Gateway Stage to show off his enormous talents.
This young bluegrass and roots musician is perhaps best seen up close and personal. Billy Strings picks so fast while he's playing that he sometimes breaks multiple strings on his guitar over the course of a song.
His playing style evokes the tough lives he grew up around in the American heartland, and those same lives are chronicled on many of his songs. Strings is considered one of the best young bluegrass musicians and will be a must-see act on the "Heritage" side of the festival this weekend.
Watch him at 9:30 p.m. Friday on the Gateway Stage.
Robert Cray Band
Though he hasn't logged as many years as his fellow lineup standout Buddy Guy, Robert Cray is among the most inimitable blues artists of the last 40 years. Born in Georgia but hailing from Tacoma, Wash., Cray cut his teeth on the West Coast in his early years, packing bars waiting to hear his bluesy riffs.
Audiences are still showing up in droves to see Cray, who combines elements of blues, soul, jazz and funk into his music. With his full backing band in tow, this will be one of the best shows of the weekend. Catch the Robert Cray Band at 8:15 p.m. Friday on the Riverview Stage. Stick around and catch Buddy Guy at 10:30.