Yes sir, the Blues are alright

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 29, 2006

What is blues music?  Turns out it's a whole lot more than a mournful tune, the image so many of us seem to carry around in our heads.

Life can be sad, no doubt; the people who established the blues, slaves who worked the cotton field of plantations, certainly knew about tragedy and heartache.

But they also knew a little music and rhythm jointly shared could somehow improve their situation, instill hope for a better day.

The field holler started it all - a call and response between a respected leading field hand and the other workers.

The field holler went into black churches, as the words of gifted preachers rose and fell and their congregations joined in. Music and words met, producing work songs that fit the rhythm of their daily labors. Spirituals were the voice of their souls and jubilee songs celebrated their special times.

Whether it was joyous or mournful, the music was always deeply felt and rhythmic.

Saturday night, as I ventured to the stage to take photos of the performers at Sweet Gum Bottom Blues, the speakers pulsated beside me. They felt like a heart almost beating out of its chest as the musicians played all sorts of blues - jump blues, boogie-woogie, country blues, acoustic blues, urban blues, electrified harmonica blues.

As Thomas, the nimble dancing machine who got there almost too late this year (he was one of the highlights of the evening at last year's event), said, &#8220Yes, sir, those blues are alright.”

What a pleasure it was to hear so many different acts bringing their own brand of blues to the stage in an open-air venue (albeit a nippy one; thank you, Priscilla Davis, for loaning me your blanket).

Instant coffee never tasted so good. It was football weather with blues musicians instead of gridiron gladiators to cheer on. Whereas other venues maintain such tight security you can hardly get near the stage without some muscle-bound creature steering you away, there was an informality at our blues festival I found positively refreshing.

I could stand inches away from performers to take their photos, and slip backstage to snap a picture of Keb' Mo' having a quick rehearsal before his jam session without anybody trying to drag me off. I like that. Maybe that will all change as the event gets bigger and bigger every year, but I hope not.

What a wonderful thing, too, having a movie about blues music being filmed right here during our blues fest. As  I guess everyone knows by now, the event was delayed two weeks, so the festival would coincide with Keb' Mo' being in town. We couldn't actually advertise it; all we could do was keep our fingers crossed this gifted performer would decide to stop in.

Like everyone else I have so far encountered in dealing with the film, Keb' came across as a genuine person, down-to-earth and very un-Hollywood. And young Gary Clark Jr. was a revelation. As Carol Connally-Walters said, &#8220Whoever chose him for the film chose well. He exudes the music from every pore on his body!”

Yes, sir, the blues were just fine in Greenville last weekend. I hope we have many more memorable musical weekends in the Octobers to come.

Angie Long is Lifestyles reporter for The Greenville Advocate. She can be reached at 382-3111 ext. 132 or via email at