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Revisiting An Interview With David Maxwell

DavidMaxwellPianoEyesSometimes it is only in retrospect that we can truly appreciate a moment, or a word, shared with another human being. For me, this human being was David Maxwell, a man I had the wonderful opportunity to interview a few years ago. When I heard of his passing I wanted to revisit the conversation we had and in doing so I realized some wonderful things. In essence, David told me that music was ultimately a healing experience for him and that, above all, he has lived a rich life and he has been “basically, pretty happy…”

 

Maureen Elizabeth: David what is your perception of “the state of the Blues” today?

David Maxwell: That’s a tricky question. Things have to evolve, art forms go into modification. There was a pretty big watershed when SRV was around. He was an amazing guitarist and I think he set the tone for a lot of guitarists after him. Then there’s the old school kind of stuff. I was influenced by Muddy Waters, Otis Spann, all those piano players like Pinetop, and Slim – I knew them personally. And there were so many more that I heard on CDs or with whom I got together, like Charles Brown. I think that there are a lot of really talented Blues artists out there today. The palette has really changed a lot – it has expanded – and I am all for that. I play a lot of jazz, world music, and I think there is a lot of soulful music all over the place. I’m not saying that I’m a died in the wool pure Blues player, but when I do play the Blues my reference point is the kind of stuff that came out of Chicago, primarily, and all its influences from Mississippi and all the deep Blues that came out of there. Some people say “well there’s Deep Blues – capital D, capital B, almost like it’s a museum piece. I try to keep it alive and when I play I stick to the language, but I add my jazz predilections or whatever and I stretch it a bit maybe rhythmically or in its tonality, but I really try to stick to that sound that, to me, really represents the Blues.

ME: You stay true to the sound while still breathing new air into it?

DM: Yeah. I think that the danger is groups sounding too generic – where you have the guitar playing overriding everybody in the rest of the band, where it’s just a rug or a vehicle for the guitar player to shine, or the singer, or whatever. I liked it when everybody was contributing, just as it was back in those days, like with Muddy’s band, Howlin Wolf-all those bands out of Chicago. But not only there, other cities as well, but it was more of a group spirit. I think that there are some really good players out there today. I record with Chris James, Pat Rynn, Rob Stone- they’re on Earwig -and they kind of keep to that tradition. But there are so many other musicians who maybe don’t play in that style because if everybody did it would be kind of boring, but they have their own style and I think they are great. There are some great singers out there and a lot of my old friends. So there’s a combination of the so called old school and some of the recent developments of great players as well.

DavidMaxwellWithRonnieEarlME: Your style is often described as as post-war Chicago Blues…

DM: Well, there’s Chicago blues – I guess they use the war as a demarcation because we‘re dealing with more electrified instruments and clubs where you have electric guitars and microphones. It’s not the acoustic kind of blues that you might associate with some of the clubs of the 30’s and 40’s when the so called “rediscovery period” happened. When I was growing up in the mid 60’s and I was at club 47, I heard people like Skip James, Son House, Booker White and Fred McDowell. Later, Muddy Waters came through with James Cotton on harmonica and Buddy Guy, Jr Wells… but that was something different, that was considered kind of “too electric” in a way by some of the standards of the time. You know, we were sort of gravitating toward the kind of thing where you wanted these deep acoustic blues or folk music. I heard that stuff, but when I heard Otis Spann with Muddy Waters I just thought “wow” – there was something so soulful with his playing that just led me to really want to go after that kind of sound. I fell in love with it – I was really passionate about it

ME: So Otis and Muddy really opened the door for you…

DM: Well, yeah. In high school I really didn’t hear that much blues. I was into jazz and I was playing piano so I learned a little about chords, but it was around the early 60’s where I began. I knew Alan Wilson, he lives in the town next door to me, and he later joined Canned Heat, but in high school he played trombone and we used to have jam sessions. We’d be playing soul, jazz stuff – he’d always been into Dixieland, New Orleans, real rootsy stuff -and then he got into the early Mississippi blues and he kind of turned me on to that. I was getting into it and then we found Muddy Waters and everything kind of changed. I really began to try to learn that style, that Otis Spann style, Sunnyland Slim, and I started to play with people to back people up and it went on from there.

ME: I find it fascinating that when I talk to musicians about their early experiences hearing the Blues there is always a real passion or a real draw…

DM: Well, I’ll tell you what happened to me. In 1963, I was in my junior year abroad in Paris. I had been going to the University of Rochester for two years and I wanted to get away from the college –it wasn’t really happening for me- It was a little bit stultifying for me.

ME: What were you studying?

DM: Classical Music – and I was playing a little bit of jazz.   I was doing a music major and a liberal arts major at the same time, so I went to Paris, to a school there, and I got exposed to all kinds of music because many international artists would come over from India, Iran… from everywhere, and I was totally into that stuff. But then the Blues Caravan came over, I think it was probably in ‘64, in the spring. I was probably in the third balcony of this huge theater in Paris, with a friend – and we were diggin’ it- and there was Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Muddy Waters and then Otis Spann played something solo – he played “Goin’ Down Slow” and what he did was just… I’m not sure if I knew it was Otis at the time or I figured it out later. There were other piano players there – there was Memphis Slim- but this was not Memphis, this was Otis, the style. What it was, was that this guy was just so magnetic and so electrifying, and a little inebriated – I think he almost fell over on the piano bench – but he was singing and he was playing this stuff with all this right hand figures – it sent shivers down my spine. Now that’s the moment that you are looking for. Later on, when I got back to Cambridge and went back to school, Muddy came through with Spann and Cotton and the Band, I heard Spann again, and that began a relationship ship that lasted until Span died in ‘70. I got to know him, and eventually I got to sit in with him at the jazz workshop up in Boston. I kinda’ followed him around a little bit and Muddy was really supportive. One night I even replaced Spann on piano when he was sick – this was the late ‘60’s when Paul Oscher was in the band. Paul and I are fast friends, we’ve been friends forever – but that was the key, when I heard that sound. I had a friend who taught art classes at MIT- those were the days when you could just requisition the student lounges, so we staged these jam sessions – and one time, when Muddy was in town, we had the pianos back to back, you know, Otis Spann and me – it was great – stuff doesn’t happen like that anymore. That’s when Big Momma Thorton came through and I backed her up for a week. I would play with a bunch of local Boston musicians as well; J. Geils and all those people – you know, that was a breeding ground. But for me, when I went out on the road with Freddy King in the 70’s, I would have my Eric Dolphy tapes and my Cecil Taylor tapes at the same time and my Otis Spann and Freddy King tapes too, so I’ve always been interested in more than two facets of it.

ME: When the music speaks to you – you must answer its call…

DM: Exactly. Lots of music speaks to me, but the Blues speaks to me in a way that really comes from the heart – you have to play it with subtly, getting the right inflections, the right kind of feeling to it, otherwise it becomes just another form.

ME: It’s not an intellectual exercise…

DM: No, not at all. I’ll save all my intellect for figuring out Herbie Hancock or somebody like that – it’s all about expression and communication from that point, where you are dealing with a specific language – you don’t want to violate the language, but you want to enhance it.

DavidMaxwellAtPianoME: And you want to make it your own…

DM: Exactly.

ME: Looking back, what would you consider a peak moment in your career?

DM: I’ve had many, many, many, and I’ve probably forgotten half of them because it’s always the gigs where you say ah man that was so great, we couldn’t have done it any better than that. But if you want some names, playing with Freddie King undoubtedly was one of my greatest experiences. I played with him for a couple of years- baby grand or grand piano- and it was great to be a part of that. It’s on DVD – they were big on the video cameras back then in ‘72, ‘73 and it’s on You Tube – I have muttonchops and a beard and my hippie beads and my platform shoes. I was the only white guy in the band so I was straddling both worlds, but there was definitely some extremely moving moments like when he sang “Have You Ever Loved a Woman” and other slow Blues tunes. I also played with James Cotton in the late 70’s and we had some great, great moments. Playing with Bonnie Raitt was very special. Otis Rush, Hubert Sumlin -playing with those guys, there was something very, very special about that. And Louisiana Red – I recorded an album with him. Red is singularly a huge force – there is nobody like him. And then Ronnie Earl – we have this magic together that is pretty inspiring – I’ve know Ronnie since the 70’s and I recently had a CD release party for Conversations in Blue –it’s about Otis Spann and how I reinterpret his work. Ronnie and I played together many times over in the last 30 years. There’s been a lot of great experiences and to mention one particular gig – the short answer to that is “yeah – there probably is one night where everything magically fell together and I wish we would have recorded it” but I can’t remember the night or when it was but the general answer is all the people I mentioned- those people are really special.

ME: Any regrets along the way?

DM: No too many. I’ve just tried to be who I was. Basically I have been pretty happy.

ME: You’ve lived your life doing what you love…

DM: Sometimes I think, well, maybe I should be playing more jazz or maybe I should be composing more, but you generally do what you are good at and you continue to work at the other things that you want to accomplish.

ME: What is your hope for the next generation of musicians?

DM: What I hope is that they really just find what they are interested in and really give voice to that and appreciate whatever turns them on. That may sound simple, but a lot of kids are pressured to do this and do that and some of them are working 35 hours a week and don’t have time to practice. But just to revel in the beauty and the sensuality of the music… music is ultimately a healing experience for me, that’s where it goes, that’s the primary thing. For years I’ve been intrigued by other musical systems like Turkish or Persian where they have particular scales that relate to particular ailments. I’m totally into that and I play a lot of what you might call totally improvised music where I’m just painting or sculpturing or making architecture with just sound…

ME: That’s beautiful…

DM: It is, at its base, kind of mystical and at its best it’s, hopefully, uplifting and cathartic…

ME: Is there any other thoughts that you would like to share with our readers?

DM: It’s been a pretty rich life. I’ve been able to play with a lot of cool people, a lot of legends… We make our choices and we do what we want… and I’m always open to new things…

ME: Thank you David for being such a gift to us…Rest in Peace…

 

Prior to his passing, David was nominated for a 2015 Blues Music Award for
Pinetop Perkins Piano Player of the Year.
You can vote for David by clicking the icon below:

 

All photos in this article were used by kind permission of DavidMaxwell.com

 

Throwback Thursday: Devon Allman – On The Cigar Box Guitar and Breaking All the Rules

With the Allman Brothers Band calling it quits this year and winding down in New York City this week and next, I thought we’d take the opportunity on Throwback Thursday to look backward and forward with this piece by Maureen Elizabeth. It was previously published at our alma mater American Blues News.

Maureen spoke with Devon Allman who quite organically found his way to the family business. Devon is making music on his own terms and like his father’s band, he cannot be pigeonholed into one genre. He makes music. Honest, soulful music done with integrity, care, and skill. In that way he is carrying the family tradition into the 21st Century. So as the Allman Brothers Band disappears into the distance, we can rest assured Devon Allman will be out there making music for years to come. Remember to check out our review of his tremendous new album Ragged & Dirty.

Alright Bicuiteers, step into the WABAC machine and hold on to your hats…

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Inspired? Yes. Intentional? Not really. Beautiful? Absolutely. Devon Allman’s first evening spent with his own cigar box guitar inspired a melody in a quiet moment that soon became a fan favorite – “Yadira’s Lullaby.” Devon spoke with American Blues News about how the gift of his cigar box guitar reconnected two families and the excitement of playing an instrument that has no rules…

When was your first introduction to the cigar box guitar?

It’s kind of a funny genesis. I was playing a show in Tennessee and I have a fan who comes to all the Tennessee shows. He had mentioned on a fan site that he was going to be bringing a gift for me and I thought “cool!” He came to the show and my assistant brought him backstage. He has this thing in his hands and I said “what do you have there, Jim?” And he pulls it out and he said “man, this thing, I just have a feeling that you are really going to dig this” and he gave me this cigar box guitar. I was blown away! I had never seen anything like it. I had always been a pretty traditional guitar player and I just sat there immediately and started plucking away at it. I just fell in love with it.

What is it about it that attracts you?

I don’t know, I think just… visually – it is so unique – there’s no doubt about that. And when you play it the tonality of it is so Americana and I really dig that aspect of it. The guitar is such a standardized thing – you have a certain body style and neck radius and number of frets- and this kinda’ breaks all the rules.

From what I am hearing, that seems to be a large part of the appeal….

It’s cool – especially with getting down to 3 or 4 strings. It really makes you think differently, melodically, and I found that you can pop on the top string with your thumb and hold the base line while you get melodic with the other strings – it’s a cool approach.

It offers something a little different – a little new…

Definitely.

I would be curious to know your opinion – what do you attribute this renewed interest in the cigar box guitar?

I don’t know what to attribute it to, really, because the dynamic of people being attracted to something is so fleeting – people are fickle, you know – it’s one thing and then it’s on to the next. For me, I would think that the simplicity of the instrument and the unique look definitely draw people in. Once you play it- the different vibes that it embodies are definitely astounding – it can bluesy, it can be country, it can be swampy, it can be classical and that is pretty cool.

That’s amazing for one instrument.

Yes. Obviously, the guitar can be all of those things too but typically, when you have a brother or a sister of a guitar…let’s talk about mandolin, let’s talk about banjo, those instruments pretty much lean into one venue of music whether its bluegrass with a banjo, or folk music with a mandolin. The cigar box guitar crosses all genres and when I held it I fell in love with it right there. Later that night I was talking to my girlfriend on Skype – I was on tour in 7 cities-and I just wanted to show her the guitar because I was so jazzed about it. I literally wrote a tune on the spot as a lullaby to put her to sleep and it’s crazy how that song has become a fan favorite. It’s going to be on the next album. The cigar box guitar instantly inspired me to do something that I would have never done which is write a lullaby! Rockers don’t write lullabies! (Laughing) But- personal reasons aside- musically, and on an esthetic level, I was so pleased to be able to do something as simple as a lullaby. And to actually have it be something personal and poignant is cool but to also have it as worthy to put on an album or worthy to pull this out and play on the stage live and get such a crazy response has been a win, win. When I pull the cigar box guitar out you can hear the cat calls from the crowd – “what is that thing?” It’s absolutely a joy to play.

It is inspiring then?

Definitely, definitely! The fan that gave me the guitar put me in touch with its creator, Travis Woodall, and strangely enough Travis’ Uncle was really great friends with my Dad who obviously has been a musician for a long, long time in the Allman Brothers. So it was cool to make contact with Travis and know that our families were connected 30 years ago when we were kids!

There’s a lot to be said for serendipity!

The guy that was stuffing those boxes over in Honduras or over in Cuba 30 years ago -how would he know that this box would become an instrument that would bridge two families and inspire a song- that’s crazy! It’s just cool. The cigar box guitar phenomena –is very much under the radar. But I think that it is just healthy for music you know, it’s doing something a little bit different – it’s shaking things up- and that’s how I feel when I pull it out live and people go “holy cow what it is this thing?”

Maybe people are searching for something new and different- it gives you that little sense of awe because you don’t know what it is or what it can do…

The first time I ever saw one was on Beale Street in Memphis. There was a street performer out there – he is actually kind of known as the most popular street performer in the world – Richard Johnston. BI saw him sitting on the side of the street on Beale Street with a cigar box guitar with 2 or 3 strings – I can’t remember – and he had a kick drum that he worked with his right foot and a snare drum that he worked with his left foot. His thumb was working the base string and his fingers were working the melody and he had a microphone and he’s singing. He was drums, base, guitar, and vocal – a one man band! He was absolutely killing it – he must have had 100 people in a circle around him and he had these huge, these comically huge, cowboy boots that he was using as a tip jar -they were like size 15 and looked like they belonged to Kareem Abdul Jabir!  People were pulling out 20 dollar bills, 10 dollar bills – I know this guy was sitting on a grand right there and it was all because, well… number one because he kicked ass and number two because it was such a unique display! That was my first ever encounter with cigar box madness and it stuck with me.

That would leave an impression!

Richard is a great guy. He’s a monster. You know – people from Japan pay him to go over there and do the exact same street show in Tokyo. I played with him a few years ago and we’ve been text buddies ever since – he’s a great performer.

Have you built, or do you intend to build, your own?

You know, funny enough, once this fan had introduced me to Travis we just got along famously, instantly. I told him -dude it would be neat to have a double neck! He came to a show and brought me a different one – I had a 3 string and he brought me a 4 string and when I started plucking away at it I said “wow, this is an ENTIRELY different sound than the 3 string!” The 3 string was more swampy – more like a base and the 4 string was more like – I don’t even know- more of a twangy – I got more of a Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page kind of vibe out of it – so I thought it would be so awesome to have both of those sounds on one guitar – what about a double neck -3 strings on one neck and 4 on the other? He made it in a month.

And how is it?

It’s a monster! Travis is really, really good in creating these instruments – they are not shoddy in any way. They don’t fuzz out or fret out. He installs the electronics perfectly– when you plug it in it sounds great and that’s the thing. One thing I was really concerned about once I plugged it onto my amp was- how was it going to sound true- how it does it sound acoustically and would there be feedback problems- which there wasn’t.

For something that‘s kind of “kitschy” -like a cigar box guitar- that may not play or sound as well; that’s more just kind of a novelty than an actual playable instrument – it kills! It’s really, really good! I foresaw writing some material on the 4 string and then I started thinking for the live show -it would kind of suck to pull out the 3 string and play the lullaby and then go to the 4 string and play something else – it would be neat if it was all in one.

And without rules it can all be accomplished – you just have to ask!

He was really great and I think his company has a really bright future – it’s nice when someone like Travis has it together that young and can stay under the auspices of his own creation – if he sold out to some company tomorrow they could easily drag the quality down.

And the fact that he is an artist creating something and therefore putting a piece of himself, his soul, into it there is an intimate connection that raises the value not just in terms of money but as in what has been created.

Absolutely, because you are making art on this piece of art. When you mass produce it you lose that soul. It’s like if you go to a store and you buy a thousand dollar Gibson Les Paul- yeah, it’s a nice guitar but if you buy the $5,000 custom shop -you’re not just paying for the name “Custom Shop” – you are paying for the guys who take the time, use the finest material and instead of cranking out 500 guitars in a factory that day – they maybe cranked out 5. And that attention to detail is what gets lost when these companies get big. That is my wish for him – that as he grows he keeps that personal touch.

When I was talking to Travis about the resurgence in popularity of the cigar box guitar he talked about how people turn to music no matter what the hardship is they are facing and that this instrument is a bridge for people who have always wanted to play but felt they couldn’t or couldn’t afford to. So it becomes that accessible instrument that anyone, really ANYONE, can hang on to –if they want to produce a little bit of music in their backyard.

It’s true. Somebody picks up a guitar for the first time – if it only has three strings – it’s a little less intimidating. You can kind of pluck away at it without thinking what should I do with all these other strings?

When you pick up the cigar box guitar what does it do for you?

It’s something different. If I had to give it a really lame analogy- it’s like if you already drove a really great car- say you drove a really nice Cadillac every day – you love it, you’re used to it, you’re comfortable in it but then you get to go off road in a really cool jeep – it’s a completely different feeling. Well, that’s how it is grabbing the cigar box guitar- it’s just kind of… there’s no rules… it’s a nice diversion.

So getting back to my earlier question…would you ever build one yourself?

You mean physically, with my own hands? (Laughing) Oh no, no, no, I don’t build them -I just play them! I’ll leave that to Travis!

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Throwback Thursday – Richard Briggs Interview 2012

Next Friday, July 11, 2014, the Briggs Farm Blues Festival will kick off its 17th annual event with a stellar lineup of national and local acts, great food, and an eclectic array of vendors. In 2012 I had the opportunity to chat with festival organizer Richard Briggs on the occasion of the festival’s 15th Anniversary.

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Let’s fire up the Wayback machine for a short trip in time to 2012 and Richard Briggs…

 

Briggs Farm is a 350 acre family-run farm nestled in the small, rural Pennsylvania town of Nescopeck and one weekend every July since 1998 it has been home to blues musicians and fans from around the world as they gather for the Briggs Farm Blues Festival. 2012 marks the 15th anniversary of the Briggs Farm Blues Festival which has hosted dozens of artists from legends like David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Big Jack Johnson, Eddie Shaw, Louisiana Red and Johnny Rawls to local favorites Clarence Spady and upstarts like Vandelay Industries. The festival features acts on the Main Stage and the Porch stage which is literally a back porch set up under a tent and the spot where Honeyboy Edwards sat telling stories about his time with Robert Johnson, Harper instructed the crowd on the finer points of didgeridoo playing, and festival favorite and BBQ Pit Master Lonnie Shields perennially lights up the night with his electrifying performances. For the 15th anniversary, the folks at Briggs Farm have put together another all-star lineup including Sam Lay on the Back Porch, Friday headliner Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater, Saturday headliner Bernard Allison, plus Moreland & Arbuckle, Rory Block, The Butterfield Blues Band, Linsey Alexander, Alexis P. Suter Band, and many others. The festival takes place on July 6 and 7, 2012 and is sure to be a hot weekend of blues.

Alexis P. Suter makes sure Jimmy plays it right for you.
Alexis P. Suter makes sure Jimmy plays it right for you.

The Briggs Farm Blues Festival is the brainchild of Richard Briggs, blues and roots music fan and former TV producer. We caught up with Richard recently to take a look back at 15 years of Blues and family fun down on the farm. Richard Briggs’ experience as a producer gave him a different perspective when he attended festivals as a fan, “I like to go to other festivals, not just to see musicians but to see how it’s produced. I produced TV shows for PBS station WVIA and I was there for 22 years. I started this project here on the family farm while I was still doing TV, so I come from that background and I really enjoy putting on a show.” The idea for the festival came to him at the Philadelphia Folk Festival, “I always thought I could do better. I was at the Philly Folk Festival thinking ‘I could do this.’ Everything was ready and I just had to put it together. It took a few years to get it together and convince people that it wasn’t outrageous. It took a lot of convincing at first. The township was concerned and wanted to make sure it wouldn’t be a bad situation for the community and neighbors. We’ve had a gradual growth in attendance over the 15 years so it wasn’t like a horde of crazy people coming in to town. Traffic problems never occurred, parking wasn’t an issue. It’s really become a good thing for the community. In addition to the local business people who are involved, there are families who come to visit relatives and go to the blues festival. People come from Texas, Canada, California, all over. ”

Terry "Harmonica" Bean brings Hill Country Blues to Briggs Farm
Terry “Harmonica” Bean brings Hill Country Blues to Briggs Farm

Richard was confident he and the festival could succeed but he’s not afraid to admit he over-reached a bit that first year. “I had planned to do three festivals,” he said with a laugh. “But I learned my lesson. People still say to me ‘why don’t you do a jam band or a country festival?’ – but they’re crazy! It’s a lot to put together, but that first year I had a folk festival also and there was another one I cancelled. But the blues people were just really nice. They were comfortable and it was well enough attended that I really didn’t lose any money. Now, we get a lot of people coming back and they bring more people and whole families and groups of friends. It’s a comfortable place for people.” Comfort isn’t usually something you often expect at a festival, but the laid back atmosphere and farm fresh food at Briggs Farm is a big part of the comfort factor. Their willingness to allow coolers and outside food and drinks also helps, and you can’t beat camping at Briggs Farm, especially if it rains. “It was initially a one day event and the next year we had really bad weather. In fact the second year attendance was less because of the weather so we decided to do two days. We already had everything set up so we thought if one day is rainy and one day isn’t then it’s not a loss if people only come one day. Then we had some people who wanted to camp so we started letting them stay overnight. So camping turned out to be the best idea because people camping don’t care if it rains and it makes it very easy for people to come a long way. They don’t have to find a hotel and don’t have to drive if they’ve had a few drinks. It’s a lot of fun to have people stay overnight.”

Briggs Farm crowd 2011

Camping tickets are a hot commodity and have greatly helped the Briggs Farm maintain its reasonable prices, which is important to Richard and the folks at Briggs Farm. They view their festival as a family event and want as many people to enjoy the music as possible. “If we have to increase the price we agonize over it. We’d rather have more people come than raise the prices and have less people. We have the space so we want people to come have a good time. We don’t want it to be an expensive event. I think our prices are good and we’re going to keep them there. We’re making it at this price. We didn’t start out to make a bucket of money and be done. We want a yearly event that we all love to do and have it be financially stable, which it is. We like the bands we’re able to afford at this point. We’ve been able to grow our audience and we can pull from a larger pool of artists now because we can pay more. Now our second stage is becoming as well booked as our big stage.”

Lonnie Shields makes sure you get the good stuff.
Lonnie Shields makes sure you get the good stuff.

Another integral part of this successful festival is the food, which is overseen by none other than Lonnie Shields who is not only a blues maestro but also a barbecue master who offered his services to a frustrated Richard Briggs. “One of the early years, Lonnie headlined on a Friday night and that’s when I met him. He’s one of those guys that’s always talking barbecue and we continued to talk over the years and we’ve had him back a few times. Eventually he offered it to me. Originally we were making the food ourselves, and then we had vendors in and I was not happy. Then again we had vendors the next year and I still wasn’t happy. Lonnie was there and he wanted to help out. We made the smokers and cookers to Lonnie’s specifications. We buy 500 to 600 pounds of pork and he comes up and starts cooking on Wednesday night.” Richard continues, “Making the food is something we always wanted to do ourselves and with Lonnie’s help it’s going well. We’re adding some new things in the style of home cooked Delta-style food. We definitely want something home cooked instead of from a cart or a truck and Lonnie loves doing it. Now he brings his sister Pearly Mae up from Helena, Arkansas to help him out. They have a little family reunion. He has other family within reach and they all come to the festival and stay over.

EliCookOnTheBackPorch
Eli Cook channels Son House on the Back Porch Stage

Lonnie also knows all the musicians coming in and he often goes and plays with them on the main stage after his set on the Porch Stage. He entertains all the volunteers too. He has plenty of stories! I was concerned that at some point he might not be able to do it so I asked him about it and he said I’d have to tell him not to come, and that’s not going to happen.”

A Bluesman's work is never done.
A Bluesman’s work is never done.

Over the course of 15 years there have been some great memories made for fans and musicians a like but a few stick out in Richard Briggs’ memory, “We always try to get some older guys for the Porch Stage so that can be really close to the audience and relate some of the history. This year we have Sam Lay and in 2010 we had Louisiana Red – a lot of those guys are leaving us, but Red was here. We had a lot of rain that Saturday night and I remember him sitting in the green room tent backstage waiting to go on and water is coming in under the tent – it was raining pretty hard – but he wanted to go on. He’s saying ‘If there’s any way we can go on, we want to play.’ So I told him as soon as the sound guy gives me the go ahead we’ll get you out there. It was real late and the rain stopped so Red went on and then it started to rain again but he kept going! He played until around two in the morning. His wife wanted him off stage because it was really late but he wasn’t pausing between songs long enough for us to comfortably get in there to get him off stage. It was quite an experience.” He continues, “One year, Eddie Kirkland, who was about 80 years old, drove up in the beat-up old 80’s station wagon, popped the hood and started working on it. I looked in and it was held together by wire and duct tape! (laughs) It’s just been great to meet all those guys.”

Luckily, everyone attending Briggs Farm Blues Festival also gets the chance to meet the performers, usually at the merchandise table after their sets but many stick around for some of Lonnie’s pulled pork or some fresh sweet corn cooked to perfection, and can be found chatting with fans and fellow musicians all day long. The interaction between musicians and fans, the relaxed atmosphere, the volunteers, the fresh food, and great music makes Briggs Farm Blues Festival a true family destination that is affordable and enjoyable. There is a tangible sense of community that permeates the festival, putting smiles on faces even before the music starts and Richard Briggs is particularly proud of it, “I want people to get that as soon as they drive in and I want them to be wowed by it and get that excitement.”