The Coast News Group
Escondido harmonica blues musician Billy Watson will perform at this weekend’s Gator By the Bay festival in San Diego. Courtesy photo
Arts Community Escondido Escondido Featured

It’s all blues and kazoos for Escondido musician

ESCONDIDO — This weekend dozens, if not hundreds, of musicians will descend on San Diego for the 15th annual Gator By the Bay festival.

The Louisiana-themed music and food event runs Thursday through Sunday at Spanish Landing Park.

For one Escondido blues musician, however, this event is another chance to dive deep into his talents and unleash his skills on the harmonica. Billy Watson has played all types of gigs and is a veteran of Gator By the Bay event.

He will perform each day and will hand out 100 free kazoos to the audience so they can play along during one his sets. Joining Watson on stage, meanwhile, will be legendary guitar player Junior Watson.

“It can range from Chicago-style to whatever it takes,” Billy said. “The sound we put out is something like the early (Rolling) Stones, I think. That kind of vibe.”

Billy, though, takes on a unique perspective to his music as he hires a different band each night. In addition, he doesn’t follow a set list or rehashing previous songs instead taking the audience down a more freestyle concert.

As for Junior Watson, Billy said landing the living legend just adds more depth and quality to his show.

“He’s probably one of the most sought after cult-classic guitarist in that genre,” Billy said. “It gives local bands a chance to get up in front of a bigger audience. And it gives people in San Diego to see big acts for a relatively cheap price.”

Other musical genres include Cajun, zydeco, salsa, country, jazz and swing. There are seven stages, dance floors, free dance lessons and Mardi Gras parades, along with a Louisiana food court with Cajun and Creole dishes and cooking demonstrations.

Since its inception in 2001 the festival has grown to showcase not only Grammy Award winning Cajun and Zydeco artists directly from Louisiana, but also legendary Chicago and California blues artists, rockabilly and roots performers.

This year, guests will enjoy an expanded schedule of more than 90 diverse musical and dance performances throughout the event. The festival has become an annual must-do for enthusiasts of all ages that come not only from the U.S., but also Canada, Mexico, Europe, Asia, New Zealand and Australia.

The festival will kick off with a concert headlined by C.J. Chenier, son of the Grammy Award-winning legendary “King of Zydeco,” Clifton Chenier.

Chenier was born into the musical tradition of southwest Louisiana and Texas Zydeco, a chugging, accordion-led blend of French Creole and African-derived influences.

Watson, meanwhile, is also scheduled to perform in North County three more times throughout the month. He will be at the Coyote Bar and Grill in Carlsbad May 14 (3 to 5:30 p.m.) and May 22 (5 to 9 p.m.) and from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Pala Mesa Resort in Fallbrook May 27.

If you go:

The 15th annual Gator By the Bay festival begins Thursday and runs through Sunday at Spanish Landing Park in San Diego.

Times for the event are: 6:30-10:30 p.m. Thursday; 3:30-10:30 p.m. Friday; 10:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Saturday; and 10:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Sunday.

Thursday night concert tickets run from $25 to $95, Friday tickets are $35, while Saturday and Sunday admission is $40.

For more about tickets and the festival, visit