Hear "World Blues" at International Festival Feb. 3 at Children's Museum

INTERMISSION, The Oak Ridger, January 11, 2007

A blues band with influences ranging from Latin American to rockabilly will bring its blend of “world blues” to the International Festival Feb. 3 at the Children's Museum of Oak Ridge.

The Hector Qirko Band will make its first appearance at the Children's Museum as the headline entertainers at the festival, performing from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. and again from 2 to 3 p.m. on Feb. 3. The annual festival showcases the world's cultures through performances, food, booths, crafts, and children's activities. More than two dozen booths featuring activities, crafts, information, and cuisine will represent a host of countries and regions of the world.

Qirko himself has visited the Children's Museum, performing last summer as a guest at the “Global Groove” summer camp, which introduced campers to music and instruments from around the world.

“We think of ourselves as a Pan-American blues band, with a lot of Latin influences,” Qirko said of the band that's now in its 21st year together. Joining Qirko, the band's vocalist and guitarist, will be Dirk Weddington on saxophone, Jim Williams on bass, and Steve Brown on drums. Each band member brings his own musical experiences to the band, ranging from jazz to Latin to country.

“We're really delighted to be playing at the Children's Museum, especially at the International Festival, because of our interest in music of all kinds,” Qirko said. The band performs mostly its original music that incorporates a gamut of styles.

The band's accolades include its selection as “Best of the Best — Favorite Local Music Group” in 2000 and “Best Local Blues Band” for at least 10 years in MetroPulse's annual reader's voting.

Down Home, a music venue in Johnson City, has said of the Hector Qirko Band: “Undoubtedly, four of the finest musicians to grace our stage. Not just another blues band. Not just another rock band. Not just another jazz band. They play all these styles and more. But regardless of the direction they take, each and every musical path is truly exceptional.”

Qirko, born in New York City and raised in South America, said he was influenced musically at first not by Latin music, but by rock and roll. His father's job took the family to Columbia, Peru, Venezuela, Brazil, and Cuba, where his mother came from, before Qirko returned to the U.S. at the age of 17.

“The music I listened to in those countries ended up influencing me a great deal later. At first, it was all rock 'n roll. The Beatles were the greatest influence on me when I was a kid,” Qirko recalled. When he went to Chicago to attend college, he performed with Chicago bluesman Lonnie Brooks for several years. “He was really my mentor in terms of playing professionally, so Chicago-style blues has been a very strong influence.”

Qirko moved south to Knoxville, and the band came together when Qirko was teaching guitar at Pick 'N' Grin. All teachers were asked to perform one Saturday afternoon at the store, and Qirko invited some musicians who were friends and whose music he respected to join him for the performance.

“One thing led to another. We enjoyed playing together and began to work up material, which led to our first regular gig. We enjoyed it so much we haven't quit. It was an accidental one-shot deal that turned into a couple of decades,” Qirko said.

The Hector Qirko Band has released four CDs and a fifth that is on the band's Web site. Qirko has recorded with Knoxville songwriter and musician R.B. Morris, and his band has a cut on the new compilation CD, Knoxville Jazz for Justice, the result of a benefit concert to help children in war-torn Uganda. Qirko has also performed with the Lonesome Coyotes in Knoxville and with Balboa in Knoxville and New York.

Qirko is a part-time researcher and lecturer in the University of Tennessee Department of Anthropology. “I couldn't help but be interested in cultural anthropology. Moving like that every couple of years, I really appreciate the similarities and differences in culture,” he said.

Dirk Weddington, the band's saxophone player, started out in rockabilly and country music before studying jazz in college. He has performed alongside the legendary Jerry Lee Lewis and played with Salsa musicians Charlie Palmieri and Tito Puente.

Jim Williams, on bass, grew up in Memphis and brings a lot of country music experience to the band. Steve Brown, on drums, studied jazz and studio music at UT, has performed with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, and fell in love with world music in the late 1970s.

Other performers at the International Festival will include the Chinese Dancers from the East Tennessee Chinese School, classical Indian dancers, Ann Armstrong on bagpipes, and many others. Admission to the International Fest is $8 for adults, $7 for seniors, $6 for children 3-18 and $1 off each category for museum members.

The Children's Museum, 461 West Outer Drive, Oak Ridge, is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Weekend hours are 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. General admission to the Children's Museum is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors ages 62 and older, and $4 for children ages 3 to 18. Admission is free for children under 3 and museum members. For more information, call the museum at (865) 482-1074 or see the Children's Museum Web site at www.childrensmuseumofoakridge.org.