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True Blue from Ellis Kell

Argus/Dispatch blues columnist

JULY 2004


Tens of thousands of blues fans in the Quad Cities have enjoyed the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival for going on twenty years now, and we thought it might make for interesting fodder this month if we got an update direct from MV Blues Society President Bob Covemaker on the ‘state of the blues’ today (and our award-winning blues festival). With another top shelf festival in LeClaire Park come and gone, Bob says now is a good time "to step back and look at where we came from, where we are, and where we are going…”

On the evolution of the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival…

“Since its inception twenty years ago, this festival has evolved from a one-day festival featuring local and regional bands, to a three-day, world-renowned event. We pride ourselves in bringing in the best entertainers in a variety of blues styles. This year alone our line up was nominated for fourteen handy awards with four receiving this, the most prestigious award in the blues business.”

On the challenges of keeping the blues festival alive…

“Maintaining and improving the quality level of our lineup over the last twenty years has not been an easy task. Many changes have occurred in the blues world and in the local economy that directly impacts the way we do business. First and probably most obvious to the fan is the competition for the entertainment dollar. Where as twenty years ago there were only a handful of events all summer, now there seems to be a major event every weekend. We welcome this change but with it have to accept that the average consumer has only so much disposable income to spend on entertainment. The challenge for us lies in keeping our festival on the fans “must see” list of events."

On what it takes today to bring the blues festival together…

“That gets me to the next problem area we are encountering, that of rising costs for acts. In the course of the twenty years the popularity of blues has gone through many peaks and valleys. Currently I believe we are in one of those “valleys” similar to the early 60’s when people like “Muddy Waters” or “Big Bill Broonzy” had to go to Europe to be appreciated. Logically it would seem that prices for entertainers should be lower under these conditions but quite the opposite is in fact true. As many of the nations clubs and some festivals go under, most acts come to rely more and more on the money they can bring in from festivals. Compounding this is the fact that the system for funding festivals has changed dramatically in the last twenty years. Gone are the days when gate receipts, beer and merchandise sales paid the bills. To get top name acts you have to have generous sponsors. The Blues Society has been fortunate to have such sponsors like the R.D.A, SCRA, and Rhythm City Casino to name a few. Unfortunately top acts and agents have come to expect fests on our level to have just such funding and they all want a bigger piece of the pie.”

What can blues fans do to help the cause, and help preserve the blues festival…

“Problems yes, insurmountable problems no. The society and its dedicated core of volunteers will persevere. We however cannot do it alone. The people of the QC area need to first and foremost SUPPORT LIVE MUSIC. The phrase “use it or loose it” fits well here. If you would prefer to sing along with the television screen by all means don’t go to a live music show. But if you prefer live music where professional entertainers give of themselves to the best of their abilities, go out and support live music. Along with supporting live music people need to demand of their local radio stations to play more blues music. The average fan doesn’t know whom they might like at our fest because most local stations won’t play blues. Not unlike the “glass ceiling” in the corporate world there is most definitely a “glass wall” in the radio booth. Why is it ok for B.B. King to do commercials but radio stations won’t play his music? Fans can help. Listen to stations that play blues, call and complain to the stations that don’t.”

Looking down the road, and how we can all help…

“In closing I would like to say that the future of blues music is bright. New stars like Slick Ballinger or Renee Austin are living proof of that. The future of the Mississippi Valley Blues Society is also bright but it is only as bright as you can make it. Come help us. Join the Society and Join the Fun.”

True Blue would like to sincerely thank MVBS President Bob Covemaker for taking the time to deliver his ‘state of the blues address” to us, and we congratulate everyone at the Mississippi Valley Blues Society on yet another year’s fest well done. Blues fans, please heed the call, and do whatever you can to help out. A 4th of July weekend without blues fest on the levee is not an option, but more support is needed to ensure future fests. Check on the web for more information.


"I'm A Bluesman," Johnny Winter (Virgin Records) Back after surgery and an eight year absence from the recording studio, the 60 yr. old Texas blues icon - emulated and revered by so many - is joined by James Montgomery on harmonica, Scott Spray on bass, Wayne June on drums, and Paul Nelson on guitar. Reese Wynans also guests on keyboards. Classic new blues from the Texas bluesmaster.

"Blue Mood", Duke Robillard (Stoney Plain Records) The one and only Duke pays homage to the music of T-Bone Walker, the most significant early influence on this Handy Award-winning guitarist and bandleader. Duke is a musician’s musician – and this new collection leaves no doubt as to why his guitar work is held in such high regard.

"Goin' Down South," Delta Moon – (Deep Rush Records) With strong and innovative covers of songs by R.L. Burnside, J.B. Lenoir and David Bowie, plus their own new signature, soulful originals, this band proves they are here to stay. This potent third outing includes guest artists Vassar Clements on fiddle and Mike Auldridge on Dobro.

"Back In 20" - Gary U. S. Bonds (M.C. Records) This is Gary U. S. Bonds' first studio recording in 20 years. Very special guests Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny, Dickey Betts and Phoebe Snow join Bonds in this triumphant return to the studio and the charts.


The incomparable Chris Smither rolls in to River Music Experience for a concert on August 20th, and advance tickets are available now by calling 563-326-1333. Don’t wait – 'cause there is limited seating for this one, and the phone has already started to ring. That’s more than a’ plenty for you all to chew on for the time being. Peace, love and blessings to all and, until we meet again at this crossroads…

Blues to ‘ya!

Local musician Ellis Kell writes about blues music both local and national in ‘True Blue’, running the first Sunday of each month in Entertainment. He is also on the staff of River Music Experience, a not-for-profit museum and center dedicated to preservation, education and celebration of American Roots music.

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