Greg Johnson / CBA President
I hear it all the time. The blues are dying. Bunk! Though it may seem like there are fewer venues and a lot less media attention, the blues as a genre is definitely not on the verge of collapse. It may not look the same as it did twenty, thirty, fifty, or even one hundred years ago. But what does? That may not please everyone’s tastes. There will always be those who want it to remain exactly the same. But it’s all part of the evolution process. If you’re not growing, you’re dying. And believe me, the blues are most certainly growing.
Take a look at the recent Waterfront Blues Festival. I heard many state that there wasn’t much blues at hand. I know I saw a lot of traditional artists, not just Leo “Bud” Welch or Jimmie Vaughan, but a lot of local musicians that could be placed in that very same category. How about Bill Rhoades & The Party Kings/Queens leading the annual Harmonica Blow-Off? Or maybe LynnAnn Hyde & Stu Kinzel, AC Porter, Bottleneck Blues Band, Rogue Rage Duo, Steve Cheseborough, just to mention a few. How about stepping back to the real deal feel of The Ragpicker String Band or International Blues Challenge winners Ben Hunter & Joe Seamons? Jimmie Vaughan, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Dr John, Curtis Salgado, Tracy Nelson — they’re all recognized award winning acts recognized as blues performers.
Never in its history has the blues been so available as it is with online media. It is spreading world-wide faster than you can blink. Over the years we’ve seen acts at the Waterfront from far-off reaches as Israel with Lazer Lloyd, India with Aki Kumar, England with Ian Siegal, Brazil with Igor Prado, and of course one of all-time favorites Australian Fiona Boyes. That’s just a few off-hand.
When you look at the International Blues Challenge it is even more impressive with the climb in numbers of acts from all around the world, this past year alone saw twenty different countries participate. There is so much different flavors of blues music going on at the International Blues Challenge, both nationally and internationally, I have repeatedly stated from the stage in Memphis, “If you can’t find a style of blues to your liking on Beale Street during this event, you’re either not looking hard enough or not breathing.”
I am greatly encouraged by the number of younger players who are taking their hand at performing the blues. They may be laughed at or think that they’re weird by their peers for playing an “old music,” but their commitment is impressive. Look at how many of us have watched the growth of local artists like David Jacobs-Strain, Ben Rice, Mac Potts and Ty Curtis for example. They were all in their early teens or younger when they began and look at them now! I see bright futures for two more youngsters, Justus Reece and Timothy James, as they both pursue the genre and are turning heads already. And Christone “Kingfish” Ingram has caught your attention; he was recognized with the performance of the year at last year’s Muddy Awards through your votes. If you really want to receive an eye awakening, go to the International Blues Challenge and watch the Youth Showcase. It is simply amazing the talent levels that many of these young musicians already have.
It’s also nice to see that the Grammy Awards will be recognizing two blues categories in the future rather than just one. It’s a step in the right direction in receiving media attention again. Next, let’s get the blues Grammy Awards to be broadcast live and not regulated to the scrolling list of awards handed out earlier in the day. And while we’re at it, let’s push for the Blues Music Awards to get aired on all Public Broadcast stations if not paid networks. And not several months after they happen. Why should it be any less important than other genres?
The blues does not happen just one week out of the year in Portland during the Waterfront Blues Festival. It is a year-round happening going on all around town, and we have so many of the best musicians to be found anywhere. In fact, we have a plethora of so many that you cannot keep up following them all. There’s simply not enough hours in a day or days in a week to do so. But you all know that already. You are reading BluesNotes here, so you have a liking for the blues already. So let’s get out there and tell our favorite venues and other media outlets that we want more blues music included.
A dying genre? By no means. As long as we all still love the blues, it’ll live on! Let’s spread the news that the blues are all right!