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Thursday, Aug. 27, 2009 03:25 am

I got the Blues & BBQs Blues

Black Diamond Heavies
The blues style of music originated as a form of deep therapy that allowed people to self-proclaim problems through lyric, rhythm and melody in the hopes of dispelling those troubles. The blues is a way of singing out the bad stuff, somewhat like talking to a friend about tough times, not that it makes the yuk go away, but it helps you feel a little better just getting the whole business off your chest.

So here is my blues romp on the upcoming Old Capitol Blues and BBQs festival. Even though the event sports a tremendous lineup of varied blues performers, I’ve heard some grumbling among the masses. Comments abound such as, “I’ve never heard any of these bands,” and “Why couldn’t we get somebody big?” and “How come no local bands are playing?” and “I don’t like to be surprised.”

For all of you who looked up the entertainers online or asked a friendly fan of the blues for personnel clarification I commend your actions. Through that simple act of pursuing knowledge on your own, I’m sure you came away mightily impressed with the credentials and diversity of the booked performers. For those who just started moaning the blues, this note’s for you: I’d rather C-sharp than B-flat.

As in most cases there are at least two ways of looking at things. In our blues festival scenario, one way would be to place your trust in Sean Burns, the man behind the bookings of Taste of Downtown, Bedrock 66 concert series, and the OCBB for the last several years. The other way would be to doubt someone who has produced an incredible number of shows and nearly single-handedly incredibly raised the bar of entertainment quality in central Illinois. Granted, Burns did not act alone and the sponsors deserve the credit for coughing up the dough and many others worked to get the shows on the streets and stages, but his choice of performers is ultimately the make-it-or-break-it factor in gauging the outcome of these popular events.

“You really have to go out and look for the music,” said Burns. “The Blues & BBQs has a diverse lineup of eclectic groups who are professionals that are very good at what they do.”

Finding bands that fit the event’s professed style of music is tough enough, but then working within budget constraints and tour schedules is a daunting, and in Burns’ case, often thankless job. In the case of the aforementioned grumblers it goes beyond thankless, venturing into the land of criticism. But overall reactions are good and often surprisingly complimentary.

“A promoter and blues guy from St. Louis called and said we always have one of the best, most interesting and diverse shows he’s ever seen,” recalled Burns. “I think almost everyone walks away liking someone they probably never heard before.”

Indeed the acts on the bill go from the boogie-woogie stuff of Carl “Sonny” Leyland to the 70s-based, riff blues of the Black Diamond Heavies, from the jazz-tinged stylings of the Modern Sounds to the varied classic blues of Junior Watson, Toni Lynn Washington, and Big James and the Chicago Playboys. Most folks are likely to associate the blues with the highly charged, electric guitar formulated sound based in a blues-rock style but, as Burns says, “the blues means many things to different people.” And he’s right you know, the venerable music that permeates our entire popular culture comes from a fountain of sources and truly represents the worldly mix of ethnicities that form our society and define our nation.

“We even have blues for people who don’t like the blues,” said Burns. “I look at it like this: you wouldn’t want all the BBQ to taste the same, why would you want the music to all sound the same?”

Hmmmm, I never thought of it that way before. I feel better now getting to sing out my bit o’ blues about the blues. How ’bout you?

Contact Tom Irwin at tirwin@illinoistimes.com.
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