The 18th Annual Chenango Blues Fest is coming to town this weekend and I couldn’t be more excited. In the past 18 years I’ve attended every single festival but one (I was living in Vermont at the time and have regretted it ever since – Luther Allison performed that year shortly before he passed away) and I have to say the Chenango Blues Association, its Board of Directors, and the countless volunteers who assist them have always put on a great show. This hard-working crew has, year after year, provided local residents with the opportunity to witness some of the greatest blues artists of our time, a true testament to their dedication to both the community and the genre itself.
My love for this event is really not that surprising as I first picked up the guitar the summer prior to the very first Blues Fest. I was 15 years old at the time and a lot has changed since then, yet some things never have. Good friends, plus great music, equals a good time. I can remember being extremely excited, and humbled, when blues harmonica legend Sam Meyers kindly asked me for permission to use my 70’s Fender Twin Reverb for his performance, and though he ultimately decided on another, similar model, my amp at least got to share the stage with Mr. Meyers and the great Anson Funderburgh (who I snagged some nifty blues licks from that day). What can I say, every Blues Fest performer I’ve experienced in the last 18 years has had some kind of effect on my guitar playing and I wouldn’t be half the player I am without them.
A great example of this – guitarist Kenny Neal, one of the few repeat performers at the Chenango Blues Fest and a musician I continue to idolize to this very day (thanks for letting me sit in with the band Kenny). Mr. Neal is a consummate performer and I still have in my possession his broken E string from the 2nd Annual Blues Fest (I keep it in the program from that year, signed by the members of Kenny’s band). I remember how it rained that year, forcing the band to perform in the Exhibition Hall, and if I had to guess I’d say there were approximately 500 to 600 people in attendance. That’s a far cry from today’s festival, which tends to draw around 3,000 people every year. Talk about progress.
For years I myself dreamed of performing on the main stage at Blues Fest, a dream which was realized at the 13th annual festival. I was, at the time, playing guitar for the Badweather Blues Band and I’ll never forget how it felt to stand up there, quite nervous, and perform a set of our strongest tunes, many of which I had recently written for our debut CD. It really was the perfect day to me and remains my favorite performance ever. I look back and realize just how lucky I was at that time in my life and it’s inspiring to think that, one day, I will perform on that stage again.
So if you’ve never had the opportunity to get down to the Chenango County Fairgrounds for Blues Fest, I strongly recommend you do so. Even if you’re not a big fan of the blues there’s a little something for everyone, and it’s a great chance to meet up with old friends and make some new ones. The music is always top notch, thanks to the Blues Association’s Board of Directors, and it truly is a powerful experience. Contrary to popular belief, blues music is not depressing, in fact it’s the exact opposite. It can be uplifting, humorous, inspiring and fun. It’s one of America’s true art forms. The genre itself, and the numerous artists which have performed it over the decades, are an inspiration to me. As B.B. King would say, “every day, every day I have the blues.”
“The blues tells a story. Every line of the blues has a meaning.” John Lee Hooker
“The blues are the true facts of life expressed in word and song, inspiration, feeling, and understanding.” Willie Dixon
“I think the blues will always be around. People need it.” Johnny Winter