Willfest VI: All Star Birthday Jam | Blue Note Grill | Clubs & Concerts | Indy Week
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Willfest VI: All Star Birthday Jam 

When: Sun., June 5, 3 p.m. 2016



Most bar hookups are fleeting affairs. But the woman who picked up guitarist Will McFarlane in a bar gave him an apprenticeship he calls "the greatest in the music business" and a career that still sustains him. The woman was Bonnie Raitt, and their working relationship lasted between 1974 and 1980.

McFarlane was playing a bar in Massachusetts. The promoter and photographer Dick Waterman, founder of the first booking agency for blues artists, was helping Raitt recruit her first major touring band. With Raitt, McFarlane got to hang with blues royalty and perform at the No Nukes Concert at Madison Square Garden. "Even if it wasn't an old-school blues artist opening for her, it was the likes of Little Feat, Roomful of Blues, or Asleep At the Wheel," McFarlane remembers. "We were always in the company of excellent musicians."

After leaving Raitt's entourage in 1980 because he and his wife, Janet, didn't want to raise their children in Los Angeles, McFarlane moved to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and joined the town's legendary studio musicians, The Swampers. He played on records by Etta James, Johnnie Taylor, and others.

For Willfest, his annual birthday party, he will lead three days of concerts, including an acoustic evening on Friday, a group that features his family on Saturday, and an all-star jam on Sunday. The weekend will also mark the first anniversary of the Blue Note Grill's new location on Washington Street, where it's become an essential part of Durham's thriving downtown. Not much to be blue about there. —Grant Britt

BLUE NOTE GRILL, DURHAM Friday: 9 p.m., $10; Saturday: 8 p.m., $10; Sunday, 3 p.m., free; www.thebluenotegrill.com

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