Blues and Jazz Festival thrives from 'feeling of community'
by Nathan Hardin
SALISBURY – Having lived in New Orleans and owned a jazz club in the 1970s, Lula Lowe Lewis knows how music can affect a community.
Lewis said she was shocked to learn four years ago that Salisbury had an annual Blues and Jazz Festival.
Especially since she has relatives here.
“I’ve been coming every year since,” she said, laughing.
Lewis heard about the festival online. She’s been helping event organizer Eleanor Qadirah the last few years.
The now-Floridian Lewis was one of several hundred in attendance for Saturday’s 14th annual festival.
Lewis has attended large jazz festivals in Pensacola and New Orleans, but Salisbury’s atmosphere is much more personal for attendees, she said.
“This is important to Rowan County – to Salisbury,” Lewis said. “It loses its feeling of community when it gets too big.”
Volunteers and viewers said they were expecting a larger crowd, but the performances didn’t disappoint.
The festival included musicians from elementary school to senior citizens.
Saturday kicked off with a tribute to storyteller Jackie Torrence outside the Rowan Public Library from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
At 2 p.m. – in New Orleans-style – Overton Elementary School’s Mini Funk Factory marched the festival ahead, followed by Salisbury High’s Jazz band.
Fruteland Jackson followed, with the Joe Robinson Jazz Band after.
Renowned Memphis street musician Richard Johnston, Harper and Midwest Kind, and Mac Arnold & the Plate of Blues finished out the night.
Bill Valley, who sat watching with his wife near the rear, said he was pleased with the artists.
“The performances are good,” he said. “I wish more people would come out and see.”
Valley said he had been to the event several times, including back when it was free, and expected to return.
Patricia Adams said she and two other friends decided to stop in during a cross country road trip.
The group hadn’t planned to go, she said, but stopped in town for a break. When they heard music, they decided to stay.
“This is great,” said Adams, a Georgia resident. “I wish we had something like this back home.”
This year, organizer Qadirah said she wanted to focus on teaching youth about jazz and the blues and the meaning behind it.
“It’s good because the small children will end up teaching adults,” Qadirah said.
Street performer Richard Johnston made several references to young music fans during his energetic performance.
“You don’t need a fancy guitar,” he said. “You don’t need a fancy anything.”
Johnston, a cigar box guitarist, then quickly rattled off the items that comprised his instrument.
“If I can do it, children can do it,” he said.
In the early 1970s, Lula Lowe Lewis said she started Lu and Charlie’s jazz club in New Orleans because she couldn’t find any modern jazz in the city.
The club did exactly what she hoped. It grew to influence several of the genre’s most renowned musicians, she said.
The club closed in the late ’70s when she move to Florida to start a family.
But after nearly 40 years, Lewis said she still loves the music and its community impact.
So, Lewis said, she’ll continue returning to Salisbury each year.
“Music is a universal language,” she said. “I hope it continues.”