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In tune: Virtual 7th Annual Blues Festival benefits youth music program

The High Desert Blues Band will perform virtually during the 7th Annual Blues Festival on Oct. 17. (Courtesy of The High Desert Blues Band)

Phil and Linda Oliveira were not about to let the COVID-19 pandemic stand in the way of raising money for their cause that helps troubled youths.

The couple have organized a blues festival for the past six years to benefit the Freedom in Music Project, which they founded. The project provides guitars and lessons to youth detention centers and men’s and women’s recovery academies to give them a positive outlet.

Many of the guitars have been donated over the years from private citizens and companies such as Gibson and Fender. In December, the Oliveiras were contacted by Keeping the Blues Alive, a foundation created by singer-songwriter and blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa to keep music in the schools. The Freedom in Music Project received a $3,000 grant from Bonamassa’s foundation. It used the money to purchase guitars and accessories to donate to the Youth Diagnostic and Development Center in Albuquerque.

“We got 12 really beautiful Epiphone acoustics, two with hard cases, because two are acoustic electrics, which went to YDCC,” Phil Oliveira said. “Long story short, we delivered 32 guitars at the beginning of the year, along with everything else. It’s not just a guitar (that we donate). It’s extra strings, it’s extra picks, it’s tuners, extra batteries, stands, gig bags, humidifiers, songbooks, curriculum and teaching DVDs. They get the whole ball of wax.”

The blues festival is the largest fundraiser for the Freedom in Music Project. Past festivals have featured artists including the High Desert Blues Band, which the Oliveiras perform with. This year’s show will be a virtual concert by the High Desert Blues Band beginning at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17. It will be livestreamed from Moonlight Recording Studio inside Lesmen’s Pro Audio, Lighting, & Video.

“We’re going to play live probably for an hour, maybe 12 songs, going to play a bunch of songs from the CD that we recorded down there at their Moonlight Recording Studio,” Phil Oliveira said. “They’ve really helped us out tremendously the last 10-plus years, Lesmen’s Entertainment Group. … They’ve given us sound equipment, sound people, lights, they threw a fundraiser for us last year. … They did the sound and all that stuff. They did a great job there. They raised enough money, so they gave us 10 really nice steel string acoustic guitars. So they’ve been a great help to us.”

The master of ceremonies, Abe Torres, will provide information on the Freedom in Music Project’s mission and what it has accomplished over the years. The concert is free to watch on Facebook or YouTube. Viewers can donate to the cause by purchasing packages, High Desert Blues Band CDs and other items for sale during the show. The Popa Chubby package includes a signed guitar, CD, and poster commemorating the blues singer and guitarist’s 30th anniversary. A hat, guitar picks and a T-shirt are also included in the package. The Justin Johnson package include one of his shovel guitars, a couple of signed CDs, a tutorial DVD, a guitar slide, and a signed print. The packages will each cost $500. Another package featuring a gold-top Gretsch Electromatic guitar signed by blues guitarist Tinsley Ellis will cost $1,000. A painting of Mick Jagger done by renowned speed painter Michael Ostaski will also cost $1,000.

“We’re going to have several packages to sell that night,” Oliveira said. “People can get in touch with us through our email or through the website, and it’s first come, first served if they want to buy something.”

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