AW Grads Teamed Up To Introduce Waterville To The Blues

Third Street Cigar Records founder John Henry and Waterville attorney Paul Croy started bringing blues artists to Waterville in the late 1980s. On Saturday, July 29, the eighth annual Blues, Brews and Brats Festival, featuring four national blues acts, will be held on Third Street in Waterville, with gates opening at 5:30 p.m. Henry and Croy created the festival to raise funds for Waterville Rotary Club, an organization that provides scholarships and supports community projects. MIRROR PHOTO BY KAREN GERHARDINGER

BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — When the Altered Five Blues Band, Chris Canas, Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers and the Ghost Town Blues Band take the stage for the Blues, Brews and Brats (BBB) Festival on Saturday, July 29, they’ll continue a tradition that dates back even further than the first BBB in 2015.

In the 1980s, when Paul Croy was a student at The University of Toledo Law School, he called up his fellow 1982 Anthony Wayne graduate, John Henry, to ask a favor.

“I was part of an annual golf outing and thought it would be fun to have a band and a party afterwards, so I called John,” explained Croy, an attorney with RCO Law. 

Those concerts brought blues artists Mudfoot, Curtis Grant, Harmonica Shaw, Big Jack Reynolds and Lazy Lester to Waterville.

“Lester came early one year so he could fish for catfish in my dad’s pond,” Croy recalled of the late blues musician.

Henry found his love for the blues when he was a freshman hosting a blues hour on The University of Toledo’s radio station.

Initially, the radio station operator told Henry he was to do a jazz show.

“He handed me a stack of records, and I realized they were all blues artists,” Henry said. As he began hosting a show, Henry started bringing in many of the musicians for concerts in the Toledo area.

“These guys found you or you found them,” Henry said, explaining that Toledo was a natural stop on routes between Cleveland and Detroit or Chicago. 

Henry continued to support the blues by opening Third Street Cigar Records in downtown Waterville, recording albums for blues legends including Big Jack Reynolds, Johnny Rawls, Bobby G, Chris Shutters and The Good, the Bad and the Blues.

While the backyard concerts came to an end after more than 20 years, the two lifelong friends found a way to continue bringing live blues to more than 3,000 fans while raising funds for Waterville Rotary Club. It was a big step up from the pancake dinners and other smaller fundraisers that Waterville Rotary depended on to generate funds for scholarships and community programs.

“Everyone in Rotary is happy with how it’s evolved,” Croy said. “This has allowed us to significantly expand our giving in the community.”

The BBB allows Water-ville Rotary to provide $2,000 a year to support the YMCA’s Kid Zone, $5,000 in scholarships to graduating seniors each year and $1,000 to support the Anthony Wayne High School Interact Club. Another $1,000 is pledged toward international programs. This year, Rotary has pledged $5,000 to Nature’s Nursery. The remaining money is being saved for a centennial project – when Waterville Rotary turns 100 in 2026.

“We hope to have $100,000 to do a project in the community,” Croy said. “We’ve talked to the city and Metroparks – we’re exploring our options.”

The BBB wouldn’t be possible without Henry’s connections, Croy said. Henry starts working a year in advance in lining up acts. He keeps in mind that the festival is a balancing act – creating a show that appeals to serious blues fans as well as those who just want to come downtown to drink beer and have fun.

The popularity of blues has ebbed and flowed over the years. When Curtis Salgado, an Oregon-based blues musician, met John Belushi during the making of Animal House, he inspired the late actor to create The Blues Brothers, and that had a tremendous boost to mainstream interest in the blues. Salgado is one act that Henry has continued to pursue for a BBB performance.

The blues has had an influence in music for generations, said Brett Bonner, editor of Living Blues Magazine.

“So much of what we hear in popular music and rock today has roots in the blues. Anybody who likes good music can appreciate a good blues band,” Bonner said.

The impact of having a blues fest can be huge, especially in parts of the country that don’t often feature live blues acts on a regular basis.

“The economic impact can be large. Hotels and restaurants see an uptick in bookings and sales. Tourism tax dollars are of course important to a local economy but often hard to get,” Bonner said. “Blues tourism is big in cities and states with major events, and blues fests are great events to bring folks together. It is one of the rare music events that can appeal equally to black and white fans, young and old. They are great family events where families can come together, and all ages can have a good time and enjoy the same music. Kids dig the blues, but so do grandparents.”

The BBB has had an impact on Waterville as well, Croy said. Waterville Rotary has gained new members who learned of the club after attending the festival, and other Rotary Clubs from outside the area have copied the idea. 

“We’re trying to help people see Waterville as an entertainment destination,” Croy said. “We appreciate everyone’s support. Love to see everyone there.”

“I’m hoping Rotary makes a lot of money,” Henry added. “And I hope people have a lot of fun. It’s all about the love of the music and turning it into something positive for the community.”

The eighth annual Blues, Brews and Brats Festival will take place on Saturday, July 29 on Third Street in downtown Waterville. Tickets are $20.00 and available the day of the show. Gates open at 5:30 p.m. Bring a lawn chair to set up on Third Street. Brats and other food, along with beverages, will be available for sale from food trucks.

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