The 19th Annual Pocono Blues Festival, slated for this weekend at Big Boulder Ski Area, includes a line-up that will appeal to both hardcore blues aficionados as well as the more casual fans.

The festival, scheduled for July 23-25, is one of the biggest blues events on the East Coast and takes advantage of Big Boulder's natural amphitheater. It has become an annual pilgrimage for lovers of real deal blues and roots music, with patrons traveling from 30 states and 10 countries.

"Last year was a record year for us," said Michael Cloeren, festival director. "We had between 10,000 and 11,000 people for the three days. Our advance sale is good, so we are expecting another real strong crowd this year."

This year's line-up features 20 national acts, performing over the three day period on three stages. The full spectrum of the genre will be showcased including contemporary and traditional acoustic and electric blues, sacred steel gospel music, Southern soul and zydeco music.

Friday kicks things off with Jimmy "Duck" Holmes, Johnny Rawls and Lady Bianca.

On Saturday, Chicago blues legends Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin, Bob Stroger, Willie "Big Eyes" Smith and Bob Margolin will headline on the main stage.

Mavis Staples, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee with The Staple Singers ("Respect Yourself"), will headline Sunday's line-up, which also includes The Fabulous Thunderbirds, who in addition to a 30 year career in the blues have scored pop hits such as "Tuff Enuff" and a cover of Sam and Dave's "Wrap It Up".

"We are thrilled to have Mavis back," said Cloeren. "She last played at Pocono in 2004 and last year she played at our Vermont festival. To have the Fabulous Thunderbirds on the same day is amazing."

Also performing this weekend will be CJ Chenier, Theodis Ealey, Johnnie Bassett, Chick Willis, Wanda Johnson, The Campbell Brothers, Homemade Jamz, Alabama Mike, Joe Krown Trio featuring Walter Wolfman Washington, Russell Batiste, Diana Braithwaite and Chris Whitely Band, Veronika Jackson, Marquise Knox and Roy Roberts/Barbara Carr/AJ Diggs.

"Each year, putting the line-up together is like playing with a card deck," said Cloeren. "Whatever you are dealt, you work with.

"We try to mix it up and make it diverse. The formula we try to follow is one-third legendary artists, one-third artists who really want to come to northeast Pennsylvania, and one-third artists that even blues experts might have heard of but never seen."

The Pocono Blues Fest has become a major vehicle for many of these artists.

"Blues is our music, but unfortunately a lot of these artists often have to go to Europe to be appreciated and better paid (than in this country)," noted Cloeren. "Here, we try to give them great exposure."

The location has plenty of free parking, with over 70 vendors, scenic chairlift rides and many southern soul food outlets. There is also plenty of nearby lodging and camping available.

The Pocono Blues Festival was the recipient of the Blues Foundation's "Keeping the Blues Alive" award for excellence in promotion.

For more information go to poconoblues.com.