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Brews and Blues Festival brings music and craft beers to Springs Preserve

Think of it as a sort of open-air blues club where fresh air replaces the cloud of cigarette smoke, your beverage choices are classy craft brews instead of mass-produced domestics, and your fellow concertgoers may include actual wildlife watching from off in the distance and not just wild-eyed guys burping on the next bar stool.

Or just think of it as this year’s edition of the Springs Preserve Brews &Blues Festival, which kicks off Saturday afternoon for a four-hour celebration of blues and the beverage that best accompanies one of America’s favorite musical genres.

The festival runs from 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday at the Springs Preserve, 333 S. Valley View Blvd. Admission — open to persons ages 21 and older — is $35 in advance or $40 at the gate, which garners guests a commemorative tasting mug and unlimited beer samples.

However, because admission will be limited to 2,500 persons, Tom Bradley, a Springs Preserve spokesman, recommends that patrons order advance tickets online (www.springspreserve.org). Previous editions of Brews &Blues have come close to selling out.

For some of the touches that make the Brews &Blues Festival so popular, thank J.C. Davis, event coordinator, who has been a home brewer for about 20 years and brought to Brews &Blues some of the less-than-optimal experiences he has had at other beer festivals.

For instance, one thing Davis didn’t like was the “parking lot ambiance” he found at so many beer festivals, “because a lot of times it literally (was) a bunch of tents in a parking lot. So when I was looking at the kind of events we might want to use at Springs Preserve to fill our calendar, I said this would be a perfect place for a beer festival.”

The Springs Preserve has beautiful grounds, an amphitheater perfect for bands, and grounds spacious enough that “you’re not huddled together because, particularly in the summer, it can get a little toasty,” Davis says.

Early on, the decision also was made to limit ticket sales to prevent stifling crowding.

“Normally you sell beer festival tickets until you can’t sell anymore. You just take every dollar you can get,” Davis explains. “But, for us, it’s more of an opportunity to get the community out there. So we actually limited ticket sales to 2,500.”

Which, by the way, also helps to minimize waits in line.

“I don’t like to stand in line for a half-hour,” Davis says, adding that, last year, “I actually timed the lines — I’m that kind of geek — and usually the lines are averaging three to four minutes and heavy lines might go for eight or nine minutes. But half-hour lines for beer service just don’t happen at Brews &Blues.”

For their admission, guests can sample whichever beers and drinks they wish, without limit. That — unlike the ticket-per-single-sample system some festivals use — means lovers of various brewing styles can focus on the styles they prefer or, conversely, sample a bit of everything.

Saturday’s festival will feature at least 28 beer stations with “on the order of 60 to 70 different taps flowing,” Davis says. Brewers scheduled to participate include Dogfish Head, Great Basin, Firestone, Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, Anchor Steam, Banger, Innis &Gunn, Unibroue and Sonoran.

In response to guests’ desires, “we’re doing more ciders this year,” Davis adds. “Some people either don’t drink beer because of the gluten-issue or just don’t have a taste for beer or they don’t like really hoppy (styles). A lot of people haven’t tried cider, and when they do, they’re like, ‘OK, this is really good.’ So I’m trying to make sure everybody who goes there has a good time.”

And, in accord with guests’ wishes, this year’s event will feature increased food options, with brats and other items available from about a half-dozen vendors, Davis says.

But all of this attention to the beer isn’t meant to shortchange the festival’s musical menu, which this year features South Carolina-based Mac Arnold &Plate Full O’ Blues, headed by Arnold, whose resume includes performing with Muddy Waters and James Brown. Also scheduled to perform are Las Vegas-based favorites Chris Zemba &The Late Shift Band and John Earl &the Boogieman Band.

Davis notes that guest surveys reveal that about 20 percent of guests “are interested in the headliner and the bands, and the other 80 percent is there either (for) the beer part or because they just kind of want the overall experience.”

By the way, the relatively recent three-band format is due, in part, to performers’ preferences, Davis says.

“Now they’re doing longer sets. Obviously, we want to adjust for the guests, but we also adjust for the artists. People get to have a good time on stage, and we’ve had blues bands come on for 45 minutes and (say), ‘That’s my whole set?’ ”

“You know you’re throwing a good party,” Davis jokes, “when you have to turn off the lights and push them out.”

A portion of festival proceeds will go to the nonprofit organization Keep Memory Alive, Davis says.

By the way: If the Brews &Blues Festival should happen to attract a few new visitors to the Springs Preserve, so much the better. Davis says one goal of the event is to introduce people to the property and that previous years’ surveys indicate that 30 to 40 percent of Brews &Blues attendees were coming to the Springs Preserve for the first time.

Contact reporter John Przybys at jprzybys@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0280.

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