Jazz Fest is often an escape from the world, so events in Baltimore might as well be overseas for another few days for many festgoers. Race became an overt part of the festival anyway when WWNO's Gwen Thompkins interviewed Marcia Ball and writer and Grateful Dead publicist Dennis McNally in the Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage Friday.
Last year, McNally published "On Highway 61: Music, Race, and the Evolution of Cultural Freedom," which contends that rock 'n' roll wouldn't have happened with the interplay of black and white musicians. Chuck Berry's "Mabelline" drew from the country song "Ida Mae," McNally said. "Hank Williams learned the blues from a black man in Montgomery."
Marcia Ball remembered growing up in Vinton, Texas, and the porous racial lines in the clubs.
"How progressive were people when the music stopped?" Thompkins asked.
"Not," Ball answered succinctly.
The conversation had awkward optics as the African-American Thompkins asked the white Ball and McNally to expound on race, but it wasn't a glaring issue, and Ball smartly moved the conversation to a place she was most comfortable--money. "Economic disparity is as bad as it's been since the robber barons," she said.
Music Heritage Stage conversations usually have a feel-good quality, and this was no exception. When McNally complained that nobody tunes in distant radio stations anymore, Ball joked, "There's an app for that," then said she drove home from gigs listening to WWOZ on the TuneIn radio app.
At one point, McNally stopped Thompkins to say what a pleasure it was to sit next to Ball and watch her hands as she played the piano set up onstage.
"Best seat in the house," he said.