19th Big Bend Blues and Brews Bash Brings Vital American Musical Genre to Pomeroy< < Back to
The banks of the Mississippi River and of the Ohio River had a lot in common, at least spiritually, this past weekend, thanks to the 19th annual Big Bend Blues and Brews Bash that took place on the downtown Pomeroy riverside stage. The blues is a genre etched on 78rpm records; a sonic mutation of African musical traditions cultivated in the Deep South by people in slavery, captured during hotel recording sessions almost 100 years ago; and responsible for influencing multitudes of listeners, from Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones to Bob Dylan to the Allman Brothers Band, and so many more.
Blues has a number of subgenres, all of which were celebrated during the Bash. On Friday, beloved local blues heroes Blitzkrieg entertained with blazing covers of blues rock giants; followed by Texas’ Randy McAllister’s sensual, rhythmic, zydeco-influenced jams. The night closed out with Scott Holt’s electrifying blues rock on the riverside stage, and Noah Wotherspoon’s smoldering take on guitar-heavy blues in the Court Grill. Notably, Holt broke out into a hybrid jam of Muddy Waters’ “I Just Want to Make Love to You” and Joe Walsh’s “Rocky Mountain Way,” the latter of which the gathered crowd knew a bit more confidently, something that Holt playfully teased them about. Thanks to longtime Pomeroy juke joint the Court Grill, many of these blues musicians have a fondness and familiarity with the region, often shouting out Court Street Grill owner Jackie Welker’s kudos as they played.
Saturday night brought Johnny Rawls’ distinct, groovy, and innuendo-laden take on the blues to the Bash, creating a thick, gyrating crowd gathered around the riverside stage; followed by Albert Castiglia’s powerful yielding of the genre for a compelling final outdoors set for the event. Pomeroy’s own Cosmic Americans, Jake Dunn and the Blackbirds, finished out the second night of the Bash with a dynamic set of their blues-tinged Americana in the Court Grill.
All this use of the term “blues,” and one might wonder where it comes from. The etymology of the genre name is disputed, but it is thought the term “blues” might date back to the 17th-century British phrase “blue devils,” a description of the vivid hallucinations that torture severe alcoholics during withdrawal. That being said, it doesn’t take an etymology lesson to know that the emotional truth of the genre is a marked, unshakable melancholy, a haunting sadness.
The blues also has an indisputable sonic largeness to it, even in its earliest recorded form – when recording methods could do almost nothing to capture the reality of it’s heft. One such landmark recording session took place in 1936 in room 414 of the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, TX when record producer Don Law recorded Robert Johnson, the progenitor of the Delta Blues, for three days in late November. That recording of Johnson’s “Crossroad Blues” is so powerful that it plays heavily into the legend that Johnson “sold his soul to the devil” for his musical ability – although the song may really just be about broader themes of natural good and evil and how Johnson interpreted them. The song has a haunting quality that has influenced legions of musicians who enjoyed a notably more comfortable life than Johnson, who died very young, under mysterious circumstances.
Pomeroy, OH, being the scrappy town that it is, is a fertile place for the blues, not unlike the Mississippi Delta from which the genre sprang so many decades ago. It makes sense as the setting for the performance of music that captures the unshakeable melancholy of the human condition; as well as its foil: the hope and beauty that is realized through the creation of art. The Blues Bash, alongside the Court Grill, has been bringing such art to Pomeroy for over 20 years, and one can hope they’re not going to stop any time soon.