South Mountain International Blues Festival “Best of the Fest” — Vol II 

Sept 11, 2016,  12–8pm, West Orange, NJ

By Gregory Burrus 

The South Mountain International Blues Festival is back in West Orange, NJ for the 7th Year with a 2016 "Best of the Fest" — Volume II lineup.  The festival is scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 11, from 11:45 a.m. to 8 p.m., at 9 Cherry Lane in Essex County's South Mountain Reservation.  The Essex County South Mountain International Blues Festival is the largest family-friendly, free, day-long music festival featuring a dynamic lineup of blues artists.

Image: Patrick Hilaire – Board Members of the North Jersey Blues Alliance

Image: Patrick Hilaire – Board Members of the North Jersey Blues Alliance

Orange native and long-time South Orange/Orange resident Mike Griot, the Founder of the North Jersey Blues Alliance, is hosting the annual South Mountain International Blues Festival this year.  The North Jersey Blues Alliance is developing a program and an experience to make this year's festival even better than previous years.  Presenting a Best of Fest lineup in 2016, the festival will feature the following renowned blues acts: Popa Chubby, Bill Sims Jr., Lil’ Bastad, Eliza Neals, and Tomas Doncker and the True Groove Global Soul Allstars.  The complete South Mountain International Blues Festival 2016 Lineup is as follows:

11:45 WELCOME — HOSTS: Mike Griot
11:55 National Anthem/Eliza Neals
12:00 Marel Hidalgo
12:40 Bill Sims Jr.
1:25 Floyd Gray Jr. GOSPEL CHOIR
1:55 Tatiana Lima Music 
2:30 The Nikhil Badlani Foundation YOUTH SAX ENSEMBLE
3:15 Eliza Neals THE NARCOTICS
4:20 Tomas Doncker & True Groove Global Soul ALL STARS
5:45 Popa Chubby
7:20 Lil' Bastad 

In addition to the Best of Fest performers, this year we have a number of local, very special talent that have been added to the Blues Festival lineup which are Marel Hidalgo, the Floyd Gray Jr. Gospel Choir, and Tatiana Lima Music.

Image:  Marel Hidalgo –  Marel Hidalgo Band

Image:  Marel Hidalgo – Marel Hidalgo Band

Marel Hidalgo is an 8-year-old musical phenomenon who plays guitar with the expertise of those many years his senior.  Marel Hidalgo is from Bradley Beach, New Jersey.  He started learning to play the guitar at the age of four-and-a-half and a few months later he did his first presentation in Belmar, NJ, as a guest of local musician Tim P-Dub.  At the age of six, Marel formed his first band “Marel Hidalgo & Friends.”  Ever since, he has performed in numerous festivals and venues including Art All Night and The Levitt Amp Music Series in Trenton, Wonder Bar in Asbury Park, New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, ArtsQuest Center in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, The Brooklyn Conservatory of Music in New York and recently The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.  Marel plays mainly guitar (both electric and acoustic), banjo and bass. 

Image: Tatiana Lima – Tatiana Lima Music

Image: Tatiana Lima – Tatiana Lima Music

Tatiana Lima is also a new performer at the South Mountain International Blues Festival.  One of Tatiana Lima's original songs was submitted to American Idol for the Finale Song (of the Finale Season) and made the top 20 out of 25,000 entries.  Her original song, "Need You Tonight," is now in the category of duets for the Finale Season of American Idol.  She is currently working with Producer Hanan Rubinstein (Birdie Studios, Alicia Keys, and Rita Ora) on an EP which is coming out in 2017.  She is currently perfecting her crafts at Marymount Manhattan College.  She is the holder of multiple scholarships including: John Lennon Songwriting Scholarship and Presidential Scholarship.  Dr. William Riley (Celine Dion's Vocal Coach and Voting Member of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences: The Grammy Awards) stated "Tatiana's vocal range, musical talent and songwriting ability continues to mesmerize audiences, leaving them spellbound!"

Image: Floyd Gray Jr -  Floyd Gray  Jr. Gospel Choir

Image: Floyd Gray Jr - Floyd Gray Jr. Gospel Choir

This year we have a way to energize Blues Festival-goers on this memorable 9/11 day with a divinely inspired lineup addition of Floyd Gray Jr. Gospel Choir.  Floyd’s musical odyssey began at the age of four when he would watch his Godfather play the piano and then mimic what he saw and heard, and that's when it became obvious that Floyd had been gifted with the ability to play by ear.  This musical prodigy honed his musical skills by regularly playing the organ at the church he attended.  Floyd has traveled both nationally and internationally sharing his gift of music with the world.  Notable accomplishments include performing to over 20,000 concert-goers across France; the McDonald’s Gospel Superfest where he accompanied Cissy Houston on the Hammond B3 along with Nat Adderley Jr. in a record breaking event in the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest choir.  A constant fixture of the music scene, Floyd Gray Jr. is always in high demand but has found time to create a new musical group called The Tri-County Chorale.  This 30-member gospel choir will be performing this year to add magic & spirituality for some and a heartwarming connection for all our Blues Fest attendees.  Bring your heart and enjoy.

Image: Gregory Burrus - Virginia Mayhew leading the Nikhil Badlani Foundation Sax Group

Image: Gregory Burrus - Virginia Mayhew leading the Nikhil Badlani Foundation Sax Group

Finally, this year, The North Jersey Blues Alliance and the Festival are partnering with the Nikhil Badlani Foundation to educate and enrich the lives of our children through music.  Leading the Nikhil Foundation -- Sax Group Youth Ensemble will be none other than the notable saxophonist, composer and bandleader Virginia Mayhew.  Her 2012 recording, Mary Lou Williams: The Next 100 Years, was selected by DownBeat Magazine as one of the Best New Releases of 2012 and by Rhapsody as one of the ten best new CDs of 2012.  Virginia Mayhew has performed in many of New York City's major jazz venues, including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Town Hall, Jazz Standard, the Blue Note, Sweet Basil, and Small's, and has performed throughout the United States, Europe, Australia, Southeast Asia, as well as in the Caribbean and Bermuda. Another little known fact is Mayhew earned a black belt in Seido Karate so she's a bad a sax player and a Full Contact Seido Karate expert. 

The Nikhil Foundation - Sax Group Youth Ensemble has been learning under the tutelage of Virginia Mayhew for the last 3-5 years. The group has performed at various venues such as Hat City Kitchen, Arbor Glen Retirement Community, Susan Komen Run/Walk, NJ Sharing Network 5K as well as at the annual Musical Celebration and Tribute to Nikhil. The group consists of West Orange High School seniors Paulo Rojas (tenor sax), Zeke Timen (alto sax), Brendon Fils (tenor sax), Kevin Zeligson (alto Sax) and Freshman Massimo McCormick (alto sax) and Roosevelt Middle Schooler Mathew Holland (bari sax). It's amazing to see the progress and the level of maturity that these students have attained in a few years.  They are a very special treat for Festival Blues attendees.

Between the Best of Fest II returning performers which are heavy duty crowd pleasers and the new local talent the day is shaping up as a really special day. The festival is free, food and drink are available onsite all day. Vendors are allowed to offer festival specials and sponsor spots are still available.  It is sponsored by Essex County and Mike Griot's PWI Entertainment & Media.  For more information, visit

About the Writer

Gregory Burrus, Board Member North Jersey Blues Alliance is a supporter of local businesses, community events, jazz, blues musicians and local art exhibitions.  On a regular basis Gregory promotes art, music, business, history, government and local community events through social media marketing, writing articles, blogging and photo journalism.  Gregory Burrus resides in beautiful, historic town of South Orange, New Jersey, the home of beautiful gas lamps, many historic buildings, some wonderful old trees, the South Orange Performing Arts Center, Seton Hall University, South Mountain Reservation and many gorgeous, vibrant, growing communities in the surrounding North Jersey towns and cities of Essex County.  Having fun living life while helping others.
Connect with Gregory Burrus:  Facebook | Google+ | YouTube | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest | Vimeo