Blues lovers will find occasion to celebrate at the annual Rogue Valley Blues Festival to be held this weekend at the Historic Ashland Armory.

Blues lovers will find occasion to celebrate at the annual Rogue Valley Blues Festival to be held this weekend at the Historic Ashland Armory.

Headliners at the festival will include Mississippi-based boogie pianist and blues vocalist, Eden Brent; gospel 'n' rhythm group, the Gospel Hummingbirds; and the Ben Rice Band, an up-and-coming group from the new blues generation.

"I'm hoping that Gospel Hummingbirds will attract new people to the festival," says Ariella St. Clair, organizer of the event. "This is the first time we've had a gospel group."

The Gospel Hummingbirds are known for tight harmonies and inspirational music with urban rhythms. The Hummingbirds started as a church group and went on to perform at the Mile High Club, a blues club in Oakland, Calif. Since, the group has performed around the world. It has six albums to its credit and was nominated in 1993 for a Grammy Award.

The Hummingbirds' smooth harmonies are in sharp contrast to the gravelly blues vocals of Brent, who was winner of the 2006 International Blues Festival.

Acoustic blues guitarist Michael "Hawkeye" Herman will open Brent's show tonight, along with Gary Joe Wade, Chuck Yates and Cindy and Mark DeGroft.

This year's blues festival got a helping hand from the newly formed Ashland Blues Society. ABS booked the free shows at local clubs and found advertisers for the event's program.

ABS President David Pinsky and His Rhythm Kings, along with the Ty Curtis Band, will open the show for The Gospel Hummingbirds on Saturday. Information about ABS will be available at the festival.

The Ben Rice Band returns to the festival this year. The band was a semifinalist at the 2007 International Blues Challenge. Gabe Young and Friends and the Gunnar Roads Band will open the show on Sunday.

Doors open at 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 5:30 p.m. Sunday, for a barbecue dinner from Geppetto's Restaurant. Tickets cost $30 for the Friday and Saturday shows, $10 and $5 for ages 17 and younger for Sunday's show.

Festival tickets do not include dinner. The event is open to all ages. Beer and wine will be available to ages 21 and older.

Brent, The Gospel Hummingbirds, Herman, Pinsky, Curtis and Rice will offer blues workshops Saturday and Sunday during the festival. See the schedule on this page for descriptions and times.

The workshops cost $20 each. Weekend festival passes are available for $55 and include all concerts and workshops.

"Some new bands have been booked for the free shows," St. Clair says. Free performances will be held Saturday and Sunday afternoons at Standing Stone Brewing Co. and Alex's Plaza Restaurant in Ashland and Avalon Bar and Grill in Talent.

The newer bands will include Broadway Phil and the Shouters, Robby Lee Chaffee, Robbie DeCosta, the Main Street Blues Band and a few others.

Festival tickets are available at online at www.stclairevents.com or by calling 541-535-3562. Tickets also are available at the Music Coop and the Chamber of Commerce in Ashland, Tom's Guitar Warehouse in Medford and HeartSong in Grants Pass.

Concert details are available at www.stclairevents.com.