For four days during the first weekend in May, crowds are poised to flock to San Diego’s Spanish Landing Park for the annual Gator by the Bay Festival. It’s a bash that unites lovers of crawfish, as well as blues and zydeco music, and one of this year’s featured performers is Encinitas’ own Ben Powell.
“I think this is my sixth year at Gator by the Bay,” Powell said from his apartment in Encinitas on a recent typically sunny Wednesday afternoon. “It’s my favorite festival I play at for sure. It’s a very fun setting and it’s great to get to see my friends perform. Everywhere you go there’s different smells and sounds, and it makes it really fun.”
Powell has been having his share of fun creating music since he was just a kid. He was first inspired by just looking at his father’s record collection. “I was mesmerized by them,” he remembers. He soon developed an interest that intensified his love of the craft by listening to radio legend Casey Kasem’s countdown show every week and working out his musical muscles in any way he could.
“In fourth grade I began taking music classes in school and I chose the sax. I played it until 11th grade, and along the way built drum sets out of tupperware and put on shows where I’d lip synch,” Powell said.
Despite a brief foray into skateboarding, Powell stuck with music and has developed his own unique sound over the intervening years. “I was asked what my sound was like yesterday and it comes down to blues,” he noted, adding it can also be regarded as roots as well. “It’s a weird thing to quantify. It’s blues-influenced but I’m actually creating my own sound, and if you play music long enough that’s the idea.”
Powell puts it another way: “I’m a stripped-down guy with some instruments and not a ton of technical help.”
Powell, with his resonator guitars, a homemade wine-box footboard, and rack-harmonica has refined his live performances over the years and is no stranger to the festival scene. He’s a veteran of numerous national festivals, including Austin’s famed South by Southwest and the San Diego Blues Fest. In addition, Powell won first place at Colorado’s Telluride Brews and Blues fest in the blues category.
Powell’s set lists are made up of tracks from the singer-songwriter’s past six albums and beyond. (His most recent, Rise Up Singing, was nominated for a San Diego Music Award for Best Blues Album in 2014.)
All along the way, Powell continues to be inspired by living in North County, a place he’s called home for the past 18 years. “Once in a while I’ll get an inkling to go somewhere else,” he says. “But then I’ll pull out a map to see where to, then fold it up and put it back. I live right by the beach and it’s hard to leave that.”
Ben Powell brings his unique sound to the 2016 Gator by the Bay Festival on Saturday May 7, at 1:20 p.m. For more information, check out www.gatorbythebay.com.