The blues went down to Durham

"Everyday, everyday I have the blues

Ooh, everyday, everyday I have the blues

When you see me worried baby, it's you I hate to lose."

B.B. King has built his career on that lament. Over the next two days, Durham will have its own case of the blues-but it'll share the feeling with 15,000 music fans from across the state and nation.

The St. Joseph's Historic Foundation will host the 19th annual Bull Durham Blues Festival Friday and Saturday at Durham Athletic Park, the former home of the Durham Bulls. SJHF President Dianne Pledger said although the festival usually focuses on local blues stylings, this year's festival-held just weeks after the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina-will pay tribute to the Gulf Coast.

In addition to a lineup of musicians from Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana, this year's festival boasts an all-star Chicago blues combo of Howlin' Wolf alum Hubert Sumlin, and former Muddy Waters sidemen Willie "Big Eyes" Smith and Pinetop Perkins. Led by Perkins-the Methuselah of the blues, at a still-spry 93 years of age-the trio represents the last remnants of blues' greatest generation.

As part of the festival, musicians will participate in educational programs for children at Durham Academy and the Hayti Heritage Center.

"Our goals are to continue to promote the rich heritage of the blues," Pledger said. "North Carolina, and particularly Durham, have a rich musical history in the blues."

The myth of the Mississippi River Delta being the one and only birthplace of the blues is a 1950s construct, said Tim Duffy, president of the Durham-based Music Maker Relief Fund. The organization provides financial and medical support to aging blues musicians around the South.

"North Carolina, I would argue, is just as influential as Mississippi," he said. "[It's] one of the holy lands of American music-from the blues to Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys."

Duffy said the presence of the tobacco industry in and around Durham made it an important center for blues music-combining a large black population with work songs, field chants and other traditional forms.

Wadesboro, N.C. native Blind Boy Fuller came to fame as a street and party entertainer in 1930s and '40s Durham. He played Piedmont blues, a regional style rooted in fingerpicked guitar with a folkier sound than the well-known Delta style of players like Robert Johnson.

Much like Johnson, Fuller lived hard and died young, but not before cutting "Step It Up and Go," which sold nearly half a million copies.

The Rev. Gary Davis and the famed duo of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee also got to know Durham well over many years and countless gigs in the region's juke joints and blues bars. Terry also lived in Durham for a stint while backing Fuller in the early 1940s.

Duffy praised the festival, noting that most blues festivals have a lifespan far shorter than 19 years.

"When I was in college, a lot of people thought the blues was gone," he said. "They wanted to compartmentalize it, say it was dead."

Although he still doesn't think Piedmont blues is getting the attention it deserves, Duffy said the success of this and other festivals bodes well for the continued presence of a wide variety of blues forms throughout the nation.

"[The blues] is something so pure, and it cuts to the core of the human condition," he said. "If you listen to Leadbelly, you can hear where Janis Joplin or even Beck is coming from."

For those looking for a more concrete motive to attend this weekend, Pledger promises top-notch music, friendly crowds and "great southern cuisine."

"Students should come to this festival because they will see Durham in a way they've never seen Durham before," she said. "I guarantee they will enjoy it and they will not miss another festival."


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