Two young blues musicians from the Peninsula, singing bassist Logan Layman and guitar player William "MoBetta" Ledbetter, have been picked to be part of an all-star youth band that will open the Chicago Blues Festival on June 6.
Logan, a 12-year-old Williamsburg resident, plays locally with the UnXpected band. William, 17, lives in Hampton and performs as a soloist and with bands including DFD.
In Chicago, Logan and William will join an ensemble called Blues Kids of America made up of as many as 20 young musicians from towns across the nation -- Indianapolis, Irvine, Calif., and Chicago as well as Virginia. The group will play at Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago's Millennium Park, kicking off an evening of music that will include a set by Shemekia Copeland.
"I wanted to try to get a few kids from different parts of the country," said Fernando Jones, founder and operator of Blues Camps for kids in Texas, California, Minnesota as well as Chicago. "I had an opportunity to work with Ledbetter last year and got a chance to meet Logan this past February," Jones said. "I think she is a pretty talented little girl. You want to try to spread the opportunities around."
Jones came to Hampton in February to audition musicians for Blues Camp. While in town, he reconnected with William, who attended his camp in Chicago last summer.
"He can play, he can sing, and, most importantly, he’s a well-mannered guy," Jones said of William. "As you can imagine, I have a ton of guitar players out there, so it's tough ... With Ledbetter, it's the manners and the academic prowess."
Jones' Blues Kids program has been involved with the Chicago Blues Festival for many years, but his all-star group will play a more high-profile role this time.
"The thing that’s special is the kids are opening up the festival," Jones said. "And the cool thing is they will have an opportunity to play around town over that weekend, either with that same combo or in jam-type situations."
Logan's mother, Sandy Layman, said her daughter is excited about playing the festival. "Logan loves Shemekia Copeland, so she said, 'Oh my gosh! I'm going to get to meet her!'"
Jackie Scott, a Norfolk blues singer who helped forge a connection between Blues Camp and Virginia, said the local kids' selection is good news. "I think this is encouraging, not just for the young people but for the musicans who have been out there playing blues for awhile."
Scott said she'll be in Chicago to see the performance by Blues Kids of America. "I wouldn't miss it for all the tea in China," she said.