Youth movement part of this year's Blues & Jazz Festival
By Mark Wineka
SALISBURY – Eleanor Qadirah says she started the Rowan Blues & Jazz Festival because the music is therapeutic to her.
That doesn’t mean holding and organizing the event every year is easy.
“This festival is done on a shoestring budget,” Qadirah says. “Contrary to what the public may think or believe, I’m a volunteer.”
The 14th annual festival takes place this Saturday in the expansive parking lot at West Fisher and South Church Streets, across from Rowan Public Library.
The gate opens at 1 p.m., and featured performers start at 2 p.m. and play until 11 p.m. The festival includes international food vendors and arts and crafts booths. Festival-goers bring their own chairs, blankets and coats and usually make a whole day of it.
Tickets are $15 the day of the event. They also can be purchased online, sometimes at a discount, at www.rowanbluesandjazz.org.
In conjunction with the Blues & Jazz Festival and in cooperation with Rowan Public Library, the N.C. Association of Black Storytellers also will be having another “Jackie Torrence Storytelling Festival” from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. on the library’s front lawn.
Storyteller-guitarist Fruteland Jackson of Chicago, who will perform at the blues festival later, will be featured at 11:30 a.m.
Admission is free to the storytellers festival.
Over the years, Qadirah’s therapeutic mission has brought some great blues and jazz performers to the festival, which has built a solid reputation across the country.
“I have many, many good stories to tell about the 14 years,” Qadirah says, “and each year is different.”
Last year’s theme for the Rowan Blues & Jazz Festival was women performers. This year’s theme is a bit more eclectic. Once again, Qadirah has tried to involve youth, including the Mini Funk Factory band of Overton Elementary School, the Salisbury High Jazz Band and the storytelling festival.
Her blues and jazz performers encompass acts such as Memphis’ Richard Johnston, who routinely plays as a one-man band on Beale Street, to Mac Arnold, who strums a guitar made from an old gas can, to Peter Harper, who stars with the harmonica and didgeridoos.
Several of the musicians are arriving in Salisbury a few days early to hold demonstrations for kids or, in Johnston’s case, providing pre-festival music at 7 p.m. Friday at the Black Box Theater on North Lee Street.
Johnston, the subject several years ago of a Max Shores documentary called “Richard Johnston: Hill Country Troubadour,” will not be performing at Saturday’s event.
Chicago’s Jackson will lead one of his “Blues in the Schools” workshop at 1 p.m. Friday at Isenberg Elementary School.
Harper, who now lives in Michigan, also will demonstrate instruments as part of his “Blues in the Schools” appearance at 3:30 p.m. Thursday at the Kiddieland day-care center on Long Street in East Spencer.
Overton’s Mini Funk Factory heralds in the festival with a performance at 2 p.m., followed by the Salisbury High Jazz Band at 2:30 p.m.
“We like to have the youth kicking things off,” Qadirah says.
The Mini Funk Factory plans to make a grand entrance marching down West Fisher Street from South Main Street to lend sort of a New Orleans flavor to the festival.
Overall, the festival performers range from second-graders to senior citizens.
“I have a lot of variety in it,” Qadirah says.
Here’s a quick look at some of the entertainers, from information on their websites:
Robert Johnston – Though he has performed around the world, Johnston makes his “home stage” the sidewalk of Beale Street in Memphis. His outdoor shows sometimes attract crowds larger than the nightclubs lining the street.
His Hill Country blues out of Mississippi are said to have influenced groups or individuals such as Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones in the 1970s to Iggy Pop and Bono in the 1990s.
In reviewing the Shores documentary, David Fricke of Rolling Stone Magazine wrote “the mule-team muscle in Johnston’s picking and the dirt-road fiber in his voice are the real appeal.”
Mac Arnold & Plate Full O’ Blues – Soul icon James Brown used to join in on the piano with Mac Arnold’s high school band. By the time he was 24 in 1966, Arnold joined the Muddy Waters Band and the electric blues sound that influenced some of the rock ‘n’ roll music of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Regular guests of the Muddy Waters Band in those days included Eric Clapton, Paul Butterfield, Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop. Arnold played for more than a year with Muddy Waters before he formed the Soul Invaders, which backed up artists such as The Temptations and B.B. King.
Arnold worked on the set of the “Soul Train” television show from 1971-75, followed by his stint with Bill Withers. He now lives in Pelzer, S.C.
Harper and Midwest Kind – Peter Harper’s music has been described as an amalgamation of blues, rock, funk, soul and world music. It depends heavily on Harper’s creative use of the harmonica and didgeridoo, as he combines the traditional and modern influences of Western and Aboriginal music.
Many have labeled it “world blues.”
“Harper’s unique sound is reflected in his use of rhythms and a tribal spirit he experienced growing up in Perth, Western Australia,” his online biography states.Fruteland Jackson – Jackson is labeled as an author, storyteller and musician. He grew up on Chicago’s West side, and he is a three-time Blues Music Award nominee and a recipient of the Blues Foundation’s Keeping the Blues Alive Award.
He created the “All About the Blues Series/ Blues in the School” program.
His website says: “Fruteland plays guitar with a focus on pre-war and post-war blues, ranging from Robert Johnson, Big Bill Broonzy to Etta Baker, plus his personal interpretations. His study includes ragtime, Piedmont, Delta and other styles.”
Joe Robinson Jazz Band – Robinson is a fixture and favorite at the Rowan Blues & Jazz Festival. Qadirah says Robinson will introduce an up-and-coming male jazz vocalist and a new flutist from Greensboro, Julia Price.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.
Rowan Blues & Jazz Festival
When: Saturday, Oct. 20. Gate opens at 1 p.m.; featured performers start at 2 p.m.
Where: The parking lot at West Fisher and South Church streets, across from Rowan Public Library.
Cost: $15 at gate; tickets also can be purchased online at www.rowanbluesandjazz.org.
Schedule of performers: 2 p.m., Overton’s Mini Funk Factory; 2:30 p.m., Salisbury High Jazz Band; 3 p.m., Fruteland Jackson; 4:30 p.m., to be announced; 5:30 p.m., Joe Robinson Jazz Band; 7 p.m., Harper and Midwest Kind; 8:30 p.m., Mac Arnold & Plate Full O’ Blues; 10:30 p.m., Finale jam.
Extras: food vendors and arts and crafts booths.
Additional feature: Jackie Torrence Storytelling Festival, from 10 a.m.-1 p.m., on the front lawn of Rowan Public Library. Free to the public.
FYI: Bring your own chairs, blankets and coats. No coolers or pets allowed. Free parking is near the site.
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