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SALISBURY — Joe Robinson, the jazz singer who’s been a regular at the Rowan Blues and Jazz Festival, came off the stage downtown Saturday night at the 15th — and possibly final — edition of the show.
“It seems more real this year than ever” that the show will be ending, Robinson said, referring to organizer Eleanor Qadirah’s statements that this year’s event would be the last.
If this does turn out to be the last Blues and Jazz Festival, it will have been among the best, by all accounts.
With a mix of what Robinson called “straight-ahead” jazz, traditional blues and performances by young and old alike, the concert packed a wide variety of music, and brought a respectable crowd to the outdoor festival at the intersection of West Fisher and South Church streets.
Robinson praised Qadirah’s efforts to book well-known acts and keep the festival going, with the Rowan Blues and Jazz Society.
“She’s just kept going on and on. She willed it,” Robinson said. “She’s tough.”
“Our festival is known,” Qadirah said. “It’s known that, when people come here, they’re going to see some good blues and jazz.”
That’s what brought Bernie Mallory and her parents, Billy and Mattie, all the way to Salisbury from Huntsville, Ala.
“I was searching for jazz and blues shows,” Bernie said.
“We wanted to explore,” Bernie said, as the Mallory family sat in lawn chairs, listening to the bass, guitar and harmonica of Washington, D.C., native Phil Wiggins.
She said the family had planned a weekend drive up into the Appalachian mountains and, as jazz music fans, they decided to come to Salisbury, too.
“It’s a really great show, and I’d love to come next year,” Bernie Mallory said, with no prompting about this year’s show being the last.
Apart from the mission of educating people about blues and jazz music, the festival brought people who love traditional music, and more.
A tribute to the late storyteller Jackie Torrence was held Saturday morning.
The Salisbury Mini Funk Factory Band was set to take the stage to open the program, followed by the Rufty-Holmes Center Guitar Ensemble.
Music went on into the night, with Homemade Jamz Blues Band closing out the program.
Jazz and blues fans are like family, with a culture all their own.
Sometimes, members of that family remind you that it’s a small world, after all.
Emily Perry, of Salisbury, brought friends from Charlotte to the show.
Gerry Wallace, of Charlotte, said it was good to be back home – and the music was good, too.
Especially, she said, Joe Robinson’s trumpet playing.
While they were talking, another man overheard. He walked up and introduced himself as DeLafayette Davis, of Salisbury,
Davis said he’d known Robinson in Winston-Salem, where the jazz musician grew up.
“He used to live over on Cromartie Street!” Davis said, and went on to tell how he’d helped get Robinson his first trumpet.
As spectators talked, danced and tapped their feet to the rhythms, Jay Robb and Deanna Mayberry walked over, with her four kids, from dinner at Uncle Buck’s.
“We didn’t know this was going on tonight,” Robb said. He said the music had drawn them to walk a block over and see what was happening.
The festival is also a celebration of culture, with musicians’ albums on sale, along with down-home cooking and a variety of other foods.
Elijah Bolton, cooking at the Divine Catering tent, served up fried fish to order, along with chicken and dumplings and more.
Bolton said he’s volunteered with the Blues and Jazz Society before, especially with shows at the Looking Glass Artist Collective on Lee Street.
“Some of the artists we have had (at the festival) have been featured at the Black Box Theatre,” Bolton said.
Bolton said the festivals help increase appreciation of these musical forms, and it would be a loss for the city if it were to end.
Despite what she’s said, there’s a chance for the annual Blues and Jazz Festival to continue, Qadirah said.
She said it would take “a group of people willing to help with the planning … to go with the philosophy” that has made the show work.
And, Qadirah said, willing to shoulder the effort it takes to get sponsors, write grants, and just put the show together.
Qadirah maintains that, in spite of what’s been said in the past, this year’s Blues and Jazz Festival is going to be the last one she does.
“How you know it’s real is, I don’t have any musicians booked,” Qadirah said. Usually, she said, she starts booking musicians as much as two years in advance.
That said, there’s an opportunity for sponsors and others to step in and keep the downtown music festival going into year 16 and beyond.
All they’d have to do is keep the formula that’s working, be willing to do a lot of hard work, “and don’t forget about me!” Qadirah said, smiling.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.

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