It’s hard to listen to the blues without feeling something stir in your soul.
Louisiana blues guy Tab Benoit hopes to give a couple of thousand people all the feels as the headliner at Saturday’s 13th annual Blues Under the Bridge. National and regional blues musicians and groups Nikki Hill, Selwyn Birchwood Band and Hector Anchondo Band also will perform, and local trio Crystal and the Curious will open the festival, which also features food vendors, beer, wine and spirits.
This genre of music poured out of the Deep South at the turn of the century, born of the hardship and anguish of African American slaves, who vocalized their pain in work songs, chants, spirituals, field hollers and revivalist hymns. It’s a genre with a shaky future, though, as the lives of great blues musicians end, including B.B. King, Aretha Franklin, John Hooker and Muddy Waters, and new and younger musicians might prefer hip-hop, sampling and technology-infused music.
“There’s a lot of room for people to step in and carry the torch,” said Jeff Bieri, program director for KRCC 91.5 FM, which presents the event. “I’d like to see more of it. It doesn’t seem like there are a lot of young African American musicians who gravitate toward it. I hope it doesn’t get lost.”
Longtime guitarist Benoit, who won the B.B. King Entertainer of the Year award in 2007 and 2012, primarily plays Delta blues and found inspiration in the swamplands around New Orleans, where he grew up. Even today, he’s a strong advocate for wetlands restoration.
“His singing is strong and articulate, with a hint of scratch in his voice and a powerful yell he brings out when needed,” wrote PopMatters.com critic Elias Leight about Benoit’s last album, 2012’s “Legacy: The Best of Tab Benoit.”
Hill, the penultimate performer, is a bluesy, rockabilly, soul singer who performed last year at the Montreux Jazz Festival, Monterey Jazz Festival, Byron Bay Blue Festival and others. Birchwood, an electric guitar and electric lap steel guitarist, has earned comparisons with blues legend Buddy Guy, while Anchondo’s 2017 album “Roll the Dice” saw radio play and scored well on blues charts. Crystal and the Curious are longtime lovers of creating “whimsically sophisticated lounge music,” according to their Facebook page.
“We try to focus on minorities,” Bieri said about booking musicians for the event. “I see it as an African American art form. We’ve always included black blues musicians who are true to the cause. One of the really exciting things to me is this venue is a stone’s throw away from where the old Cotton Club was on Colorado. There’s been great music in town. We’re just trying to keep it alive.”
JENNIFER MULSON, THE GAZETTE, 636-0270, JEN.MULSON@GAZETTE.COM