Remembering Mitch, Nani Jay and Matt ‘Guitar’ Murphy at Mitchfest

Remembering Mitch, Nani Jay and Matt ‘Guitar’ Murphy at Mitchfest

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WESTERLY — What’s the best way to mark the 10th anniversary of a popular annual musical extravaganza?

By making it a two-day event, of course. And, that’s exactly what organizers of Mitchfest — a jam-packed event that attracts fans and musicians of all stripes to the Knickerbocker Café each year — decided to do.

The organizers are the immediate — and extended — family of the late James “Mitch” Christina; his two daughters, Adele Sykes and Paula MacLeod, his five sons, Jim, Steve, Franny, Rich, and Bob; and all the spouses/significant others, Gene, Betsy, Nancy, Pru and Erin. Over the years, Bob has taken the lead in the show’s planning, and this year, Paula jumped in to help.

“Bob wanted to make this an extra-special event considering it was the 10th anniversary and there were so many musicians who wanted to contribute,” said Paula, Mitch’s youngest daughter, who’s been throwing her heart into this year’s show with its two-day line-up of musicians and giving her brother a hand.

“We’ve got some amazing music this year,” said McLeod. “Some really great performers.”

The Christina family, who lost their mom, Josephine “Jay” (Trebisacci) Christina, earlier this year, are legends in the history of local music-making. Their house on Narragansett Avenue was always full of family and friends. Visitors were always welcome to stay for laughs, for dancing for storyelling for soupy-making and for singing. 

They began Mitchfest in memory of their father, but also as a fundraiser to benefit Hope Hospice and Palliative Care of RI. Westerly resident Lisa Masucci and the staff of the hospice organization took such good care of Mitch in his final days that they wanted to do something special to show their appreciation, Paula said.

“The Toni Lynn Washington Band will be coming down from Boston,” McLeod said. “Toni Lynn is considered the queen of the blues in Boston … she’s really dynamic and got started singing gospel in church. She’ll be joined by Cheryl Arena, who’ll play blues harmonica.”

McLeod said her brothers Bob and Franny plan to join the band for some “dueling drums.”

Her brother, Fran, who will arrive Friday from his home in Marfa, Texas, played drums back in the early days of Roomful of Blues, the legendary Westerly blues band that got its start in 1967. Legend has it that band members would often practice at the Christina homestead and knew they could always find some good home-cooked Italian food when they got hungry. Nani Jay and Mitch loved hearing the boys practice, the story goes.

Her brothers plan to sit in with a few different bands during the two-day show, McLeod said. 

Mitchfest 2018 kicks off Saturday at 5 p.m. with a group of young musicians from the Cranston-Warwick area who call themselves “Middle Ground,” followed by Tyler Gaccione, better known as “Gatch,” the son of local surgeon, Danny Gaccione, with his band, The Tyler Gatch Band.

Next up is Lisa Marie and Johnny Juxo followed by the Toni Washington Band and closing with the Joe Moss Band with Rick Harrington, Tom Ferraro, Dickie Reed and Dave Howard.

On Sunday, Brothers of Harmony featuring Brian Templeton will kick things off beginning at 2 p.m., followed by Johnny and The East Coast Rockers, the Chris Leigh Band with Mr. Nick and Phil Diorio, and ending with a “Tribute to Matt ‘Guitar’ Murphy,” with Nick Adams, Doug James and other special guests yet to be announced.

Matt “Guitar” Murphy, guitarist for the Blues Brothers and noted sideman for blues legends like Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Memphis Slim, died earlier this year at the age of 88. A veteran of the legendary Chicago blues scene of the 1940s and 50s, according to Rolling Stone, Murphy worked alongside artists ranging from Ike Turner and Etta James to blues musicians like James Cotton, Willie Dixon and Sonny Boy Williamson.

“Matt Murphy played at Mitchfest,” said McLeod. “We want to end Sunday night paying tribute to him.”

Visit for tickets, and stop by the Railroad Ave cafe for two nights full of great music and some very fitting tributes.


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