Though she was named this year as the official musician of Texas, Marcia Ball began her storied career in Baton Rouge.
“I go back and forth across that (Texas-Louisiana) border as if it doesn’t even exist,” Ball said. “My heart, my stomach and my mind reside in both places.”
No matter where she calls home, Ball has played some version of the blues throughout her career, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
She’ll perform at 5:15 p.m. Saturday on the LA 1 Stage in Repentance Park at the free Baton Rouge Blues Festival. The gig is a sort of homecoming for Ball, whose 50 years as a gigging musician began here in the capital city.
In 1968, the singer-pianist who grew up in the tiny Louisiana town of Vinton joined a Baton Rouge band called Gum. The group played the popular music of the day — Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane. And, of course, the blues.
“We were doing a little bluesier stuff, Slim Harpo and stuff like that, because of where we were and the background the guys in the band had,” Ball said of Gum. “The guys were so much more interesting than I was in what they knew and what they’d done.”
For Ball, playing in a band in the late 1960s was way more appealing than studying marketing at LSU. She dropped out after three semesters.
“It was the times,” she said. “It was such an exciting time to be young, to be 18. I got distracted by life, the prospect of being free and earning money. My roommate got a job; I joined a band.”
After five years in Baton Rouge, Ball and her first husband hit the road for San Francisco. A breakdown in Austin, Texas, changed their plans.
“Within three days in Austin, we decided there was no need to go San Francisco,” she said.
Although Austin circa 1970 wasn’t yet the music mecca it would become, Ball found the area’s vibe, natural beauty and existing music scene irresistible.
“It was the most liberal city of any size in the South,” she said. “That wasn’t going to happen in Nashville, Atlanta or New Orleans even. I was astonished by number of hippies and, even then, (the amount of) good music happening. It was remarkable how cool Austin felt.”
Ball eventually joined Freda and the Firedogs, a country band in whose inspirations included the Byrds’ “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” album and Bob Dylan’s “Nashville Skyline.”
She rolled happily along with the Firedogs’ country sound until Uncle Walt’s Band, an acoustic trio from South Carolina, came to town. The group’s 1974 debut album, “Blame It on the Bossa Nova,” featured a swinging neo-bluegrass remake of New Orleans singer-pianist Professor Longhair’s “In the Night.”
“I heard that and thought, ‘I want to do everything I can like that,’ ” Ball said.
The influence of Professor Longhair and New Orleans talents Fats Domino, Allen Toussaint and Irma Thomas has continued to the present day, even on her upcoming album, “Shine Bright.”
“That is still what I am,” she said of New Orleans R&B. Ball will release the album April 20.
Produced by Los Lobos sax player Steve Berlin, "Shine Bright" features four songs recorded at Dockside Studio in Maurice. Acadiana musicians Eric Adcock, Roddie Romero, Lee Allen Zeno, Jermaine Prejean and Yvette Landry participated in the Dockside sessions.
The largely joyful selection of songs on “Shine Bright” shows Ball at her rollicking best.
“If I manage to put a bunch of songs together that people like and can dance to, then it’s good for me,” she said. “My idea in making a cheerful record is to encourage people to perform random acts of goodness. We need to lift up our spirits.”
At the Baton Rouge Blues Festival
WHEN: 5:15 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: LA 1 Stage (Repentance Park, downtown Baton Rouge)
Ball also will appear at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Blues Backstory Stage inside the Old State Capitol Senate Chambers.
Who's playing when and where? Check out the entire 2018 Baton Rouge Blues Festival schedule below.
UPDATE April 12 11:50 a.m.
Mavis Staples has cancelled her performance at the festival, following the passing of her sister Yvonne. Additional lineup changes include the cancellation of Bobby Powell and Hezekiah and the Houserockers.
The Blues Festival is moving forward, rain or shine, and is working with city officials to monitor weather conditions.
LA 1 Stage (located in Repentance Park)
- 1:30 p.m.: Darcy Malone & The Tangle
- 2:45 p.m.: Quiana Lynell
- 4 p.m.: Flat Duo Jets
- 5:15 p.m.: Marcia Ball
- 6:35 p.m.: The James Hunter Six
Swamp Blues Stage (located in Galvez Plaza)
- 1 p.m.: Oscar ‘Harpo’ Davis
- 2 p.m.: Lazy Lester’s Excello 45s featuring Sam Hogan, Bruce Lamb and Jo Monk
- 3:50 p.m.: Cowboy Stew Blues Revue featuring Lil Buck Sinegal, CC Adcock, Steve Riley, Curley Taylor & Lee Allen Zeno
- 5:15 p.m.: Tyree Neal
- 6:30 p.m.: Henry Gray
- 7 p.m.: Kenny Neal
Soul of BR Stage (located at North Boulevard and Lafayette Street)
- 1:45 p.m.: Sweet Southern Heat
- 3:15 p.m.: OMT
- 4:45 p.m.: Water Seed
Front Porch Stage (located at North Boulevard and North Fourth Street)
- 1:30 p.m.: Baton Rouge Music Studios
- 3 p.m.: Alex Abel
Blues Backstory Stage (inside the Old State Capitol Senate Chambers)
- Noon: Tyree Neal
- 1 p.m.: Hezekiah Early
- 2 p.m.: Flat Duo Jets
- 3 p.m.: Cowboy Stew Blues Revue
- 4 p.m.: Marcia Ball
- 5 p.m.: James Hunter
Busking in the Old State Capitol rotunda
- Noon: Pam Grisham
- 12:30 p.m.: Will Minton
- 1:30 p.m.: Ben Bell and co.
- 2:30 p.m.: Ben Blair and Donald Gelpi
- 3:30 p.m.: Bigfoot Liz unplugged
- 4:30 p.m.: Clay Parker & Jodi James
- 5:30 p.m.: The Rakers unplugged
Sunday, April 15
LA 1 Stage
- 1:30 p.m.: MJ & the Redeemers
- 3 p.m.: JST DAVID
- 4:45 p.m.: Erica Falls
- 6:30 p.m.: The Subdudes
- 8:15 p.m.: Samantha Fish
Swamp Blues Stage
- 2:30 p.m.: Sundanze Howie
- 3:45 p.m.: Troy Turner
- 5:45 p.m.: Jimmy ‘Duck’ Holmes with The Dexateens
- 7:30 p.m.: Chris Thomas King
Soul of BR Stage
- 1:15 p.m.: DJ Swamp Boogie
- 3:15 p.m.: Uncle Chess and Groove
- 4:45 p.m.: Harvey Knox
Front Porch Stage
- 1:30 p.m.: The Real Harlem Slim Tito Deler
- 3 p.m.: Terry ‘Harmonica’ Bean
- 4:30 p.m.: Lazy Lester
Blues Backstory Stage
- Noon: David Jones
- 1 p.m.: Erica Falls
- 2 p.m.: Troy Turner
- 3 p.m.: Chris Thomas King
- 4 p.m.: The Subdudes
- 5 p.m.: Samantha Fish
Busking in the Old State Capitol rotunda
- Noon: Ameal Cameron & Kaycee Kersche
- 1 p.m.: Chris House & Crystal Eldringhoff
- 2 p.m.: Antler Chandelier
- 3 p.m.: J.M. Fritz and co.
- 4 p.m.: The 3 Amigos featuring Steve Judice, Barry Hebert and Martin Flanagan
- 5 p.m.: Margaret Fowler