Two events next week will help Baton Rouge celebrate its blues music heritage.
At Phil Brady’s Bar, the Baton Rouge Blues Society will stage its Summertime Blues Benefit on Sunday. And on Thursday, July 29, Phil Brady’s will mark the 35th anniversary of its Thursday night blues jam.
Performers scheduled for the Blues Society benefit include Luther Kent, Chris LeBlanc, the Neal Brothers, Jonathon Long, Leroy Bishop Toussaint, Sundanze, Chris Belleau, Betsy Braud, Russ Bryant, Stefanie Alexander, Miguel Hernandez, Lazarro Nettles, David Robinson, Joe Monk and others.
The benefit’s $20 admission includes a buffet and yearlong membership in the Baton Rouge Blues Society.
The 35th anniversary jam at Phil Brady’s Bar will begin with a “slightly solemn ceremony,” jam founder Shannon Williford said, in memory of Baton Rouge’s departed blues musicians.
Jack Moore, the Blues Society’s event coordinator and music promoter, helped co-found the organization in 1999. For the past two decades, he’s also organized the music schedule for the society’s admission-free Christmas party and the annual benefit that usually happens between the two weekends of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
In the all-volunteer Blues Society, Moore also served as president for about 10 years and, when needed, simultaneously as president, vice president, secretary and treasurer. Despite his recent move to New Mexico, he plans to stay involved with the organization.
The Baton Rouge Blues Society, Moore said, and the more formal Baton Rouge Blues Foundation, presenter of the annual Baton Rouge Blues Festival, are not competitors.
“We’re kind of the opposite of each other,” he explained. “I don’t mean that in a critical way, because we work together very well. Our members volunteer to help the Blues Festival.”
Moore learned event organizing from Phil Brady, the Blues Society co-founder who initiated the organization’s creation. Brady’s meeting that year with representatives of the Memphis (Tennessee)-based Blues Foundation at the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Arkansas inspired him to form a blues society in Baton Rouge.
“It's just ridiculous that we didn’t have a local blues society," Brady said in 2001. “I mean, traveling the country, you mention Baton Rouge and the blues and everybody knows about it.”
Brady was especially keen to send Baton Rouge blues musicians to the International Blues Challenge in Memphis.
“We had a lot of bands that would be competitive,” Moore recalled.
The Blues Society sent local talent to the Blues Challenge for about 15 years. Moore and other Blues Society board members channel their love for the music into their grassroots activism for the music and its musicians. In its third decade, the Blues Society’s mission remains the same.
“To do anything that we can to support and promote the local blues community and blues artists,” Moore said. “I love the simplicity of the blues. It doesn’t have the complex chord progressions and rhythms of jazz and classical music, so, the artists, like James Johnson, have put a lot of feeling in their notes.”
Blues Society board member Ken Tuminello has been involved with the organization nearly as long as Moore. His work for next week’s benefit includes recruiting volunteers and overseeing the blues buffet. Another board member, Dusty Kling, handles the society’s Facebook page and sends email blasts to the organization’s approximately 2,000 members.
“It’s a labor of love,” Tuminello said of his volunteer work for the society.
The 35th anniversary blues jam at Phil Brady’s will be a reunion for players and listeners. Williford, a singer, harmonica player and guitarist, led the jam from 1986 until his move to Nashville, Tennessee, in 1995. He and other original blues jam players, including Jim George, Joe Hunter and Troy Turner, are expected to attend.
Williford’s love for the blues began when he heard such authentic local blues artists as Henry Gray, Silas Hogan and Guitar Kelly.
“Kelly was maybe my favorite, but I loved them all,” he said. “I was a middle-class Mississippi White kid. I knew ‘That ain’t me. That ain’t my life,’ but those guys and their music reached me.”
Baton Rouge Blues Society Benefit
3 p.m. Sunday
Phil Brady’s Bar, 4848 Government St.
35th anniversary Blues Jam
7 p.m. Thursday, July 29
Phil Brady’s Bar, 4848 Government St.