Jefferson State Blues Society
By Jon Lewis
The State of the Blues
By Jon LewisThe blues wasn’t built in a day, and neither was the Jefferson State Blues Society. Although the former is a uniquely American art form dating back to the start of the 20th century, the latter is in its fifth year and growing steadily.
Photo: Jeannine Hendrickson
One measure of that growth: The two local bands slated to open the society’s second annual festival on June 25 will be paid. Odessa and the Blackwell Brothers won’t get rich from the gig, but that isn’t the point.
“Last year, the local bands played for free. This year, I said they’re getting paid even if it’s out of my own pocket,” says Michael Brown, the blues society president. “A lot of people don’t realize how hard musicians work to not only learn a song, but to do everything else—practice, get along with everybody, travel—and to have them play for $100? That’s such an insult.”
Another indicator that the society is flourishing: the number of musicians and fans who turn out twice a month for jam sessions held in the lounge atop the CookHouse at Bridge Bay Resort. “We’re getting 100 to 125 people up there attending the jams, and that’s unheard of,” Brown says of the get-togethers held on the first and third Sunday of each month.
The Jefferson State Blues Society, which welcomes members from throughout Northern California and Southern Oregon, stepped in after the Shasta Blues Society dissolved some five years ago.
The jam sessions tended to be lightly attended affairs as the gatherings moved from venue to venue. After stints at Eddy’s Gastropub (now Kahunas Mongolian BBQ), Old School Restaurant (now Cheesecakes Unlimited), Angelo’s Pizza and the Redding Moose Lodge, the society found a home on the shore of Shasta Lake.
“It’s really growing well. We’re getting a lot of new musicians, and the older ones who used to play. The society is super strong and Bridge Bay is absolutely wonderful to work with. It’s got a beautiful stage, a dance floor and a beautiful view,” Brown says.
Jam sessions are the heart and soul of a blues society. “They’re a great way to continue the tradition of blues music,” Brown says, noting that dozens of Jefferson members played their first licks at the old Shasta Blues Society jam sessions at Lulu’s.
In a similar vein, Brown and his fellow board members have worked hard to develop an education program. The society has hosted a seminar on blues guitar by Bruce MacMillan (owner of the Music Connection stores in Redding and Chico) and one on slide guitar by Steve Canali, a former guitarist with the Doobie Brothers.
Future seminars are in the works on topics like the use of special effects pedals, the theory of blues music and its history. Brown says Andres Acuna, lead guitarist for Cold Sweat and a society member, is interested in teaching a workshop, as is Aaron Lucero, one of the Shasta Blues Society’s success stories.
Some 21 guitarists showed up at Lulu’s for MacMillan’s seminar. “Three-quarters of them had their guitars, but it was more just listening to him talk about blues progressions, minor and major keys, pentatonic scale and how to build as a blues player. It really helped. A lot of the guys really enjoyed it,” Brown says.
In its first years, the society lacked the wherewithal for a full-scale festival, but it did host blues concerts at Grey Pine Farm in Oak Run until that venue closed. Last summer, the society’s board decided it was time to reintroduce the popular festival and they produced the first Singing the Blues Festival at Anderson River Park.
Festival No. 2 is now set for Saturday, June 25, from 1 to 9 p.m. at Anderson River Park’s amphitheatre. The twin goals are sharing a love of the blues and raising money for more equipment.
Headlining this year’s festival will be Lydia Pense and Cold Blood, who joined with Tower of Power to pioneer the San Francisco Bay Area rhythm & blues sound that came to be known as East Bay Grease. Portland bassist Lisa Mann and her band are on the bill along with Crooked Eye Tommy, a representative from the Santa Barbara Blues Society.
Odessa, out of Redding, and The Blackwell Brothers from Dunsmuir will get the party started. “I absolutely love the lineup,” Brown says. “I hope a lot of people come to the festival and have a blast.”
2nd Annual Singing the Blues Festival
1 to 9 pm June 25 at Anderson River Park Amphitheatre
Coolers and lawn chairs welcome; food and drink available; no pets.
Tickets: $20 in advance, $25 at the gate; $10, students 17 and under.
Available at Herreid Music, the Music Connection, Mike’s Music & Sound, and the Cascade Theatre box office.