Blues festival reaching, teaching all generations

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 12, 2009

NATCHEZ — A toddler, not more than 18 months old, grasped a harmonica in both hands because it was just too big to hold with one.

The little boy brought the instrument to his mouth and blews. The sound startled him just a bit but didn’t stop him from trying again. The second time the sound brought a smile to his face.

Eric Glatzer doesn’t know the boy’s name but, that image from a past festival, is his lasting impression the Natchez Bluff Blues Fest. Glatzer, the events producer said the purpose of the annual festival is to share and educate people about blues music.

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And the boy’s first notes on the harmonica showed yet another generation accepting and experimenting with the sound, Glatzer said.

“If you brings kids up with music in their lives that is a gift and an experience they have for the rest of their lives,” Glatzer said.

Beginning on Friday, another crowd of music lovers will enjoy the smooth, soulful sounds of the blues when the 14th annual Natchez Bluff Blues Fest kicks off with a crawfish boil and music by Black Bayou on Broadway Street in Natchez.

The music will continue through the weekend with bands appearing one after another beginning at 11:45 Saturday morning. Blues brunches and a gospel concert at the Vidalia amphitheater will conclude the festival on Sunday.

Local restaurants and clubs will host performances on Friday and Saturday night.

Glatzer said for several years the festival committee has tried to expand to three days but the stars didn’t align until this year.

“I think the gospel concert is going to be a great addition to the festival,” Glatzer said. “And it is going to be great to have venues on both sides of the river.

“We, after all, are just one big community that the river can’t even divide.”

Music, Glatzer said, is the “great equalizer” that bridges generations, races and economic classes.

“There is nothing more rewarding than seeing the variety of people enjoying the music at the festival each year,” Glatzer said. “Everyone loves good music and comes together to hear it.”

But despite the far-reaching appeal of music, Glatzer said there was a time just a few months ago that the festival was in jeopardy. The funding for the festival comes almost entirely from private donations that dropped drastically because of the economic woes.

“We were looking a 70 percent reduction in our budget,” Glatzer said.

But, lucky for Glatzer and all other music lovers, the City of Vidalia was able to provide support of the festival that allowed it to continue this year.

“I went to Mayor (Hyram) Copeland and was basically crying in my beer,” Glatzer said. “He said ‘Eric, what is it that you need?’ and I started listing things and he kept saying ‘got it, got it, got


The talent lineup for this year features a variety of seasoned performers and up and coming acts that Glatzer said should be one of the best in this festival’s history.

“We regularly have performers that walk off of our stage and win awards at the International Blues awards,” Glatzer said.

Some headliner for this year’s festival include Bobby Rush, winner of the 2008 Blues Music Award for artist of the year in acoustic blues and soul blues and acoustic blues album of the year and Kenny Brown who is a house band at actor Morgan Freeman’s blues club, Ground Zero, in Clarksdale.

Glatzer said Brown will be returning to Natchez despite attempts to lure him to a blues festival in Clarksdale.

“He’s coming back to Natchez because he’s been here before, and he has always had a good time,” Glatzer said. “He’s saying ‘no’ to Morgan Freeman to be in Natchez.”

Both Rush and Brown are performing during Saturday’s events on the City of Vidalia stage on the grounds of Rosalie Bicentennial Garden on the bluff in Natchez. Admission to Saturday’s afternoon of concerts is $10 in advance and $15 at the gate. Advance tickets can be purchased though Natchez Pilgrimage Tours, or by calling 601-446-6631.

Admission to the crawfish boil and the gospel concert is free.

Local blues artist YZ Ealey and the Natchez Bluff Blues Band will also perform on Saturday.

Glatzer said local talent like YZ Ealey is just the latest in a long line of rich blues history in the Natchez area.

“Before the Rhythm Club fire, and even for a time after it, Natchez was a breeding ground for blues music,” Glatzer said. “People came from all over to hear music in Natchez.”