Good vibes at Blues Fest regardless of rain

Once a year, banjos, guitars, violins, and harmonicas are a common sight along with plates of Cajun food and voluminous cups of fresh lemonade. For the 10th consecutive year, the sweet sounds of live music and the scent of BBQ floated across the Antioch College campus.
Through the efforts of a dedicated team of volunteers, African American Cross-Cultural Works presented Blues/ Jazz Music Fest ’07 to southwestern Ohio.  Residents of the village of Yellow Springs, that hosted the event, as well as festival goers from other parts of Ohio and beyond converged on the west edge of the college campus to enjoy a weekend of live blues and other music.
Guy Davis, a blues performer, has been a part of the festival since its inception 10 years ago.  “It’s a small-town festival, sometimes with big members,” he explains.  Even so, within the relatively small grounds allotted to the festival, everything from ‘Big Mama’s Bar-B-Que Ribs’ (“Ribs so good make you wanna slap your mama”) to jugglers, to Antioch McGregor recruiters, managed to find a place on the grass and along
the pathways.
The blues festival kicked off on Wednesday the fifth in the elegantly wood panelled sanctuary of the Central Chapel A.M.E. Church.  A standing-room-only audience enthusiastically enjoy an evening of soulful gospel music.  Everyone from small children to elderly villagers tapped toes, swayed to and fro, or clapped fervently to the lively melodies.  An offering was taken and Pastor John Freeman led a prayer.  “There are a lot of storms right now that aren’t related to the weather,” the pastor said.
But it is events such as the blues festival that respond to such storms by bringing people together.  Sparky Elliott, a former student at Antioch College and guitarist in The Ark Band, cited the community as one of the aspects of Yellow Springs that he loved most.  “I’ve had the best two years of my life in this place,” he said, “and it’s because of the people.”  And the people are what makes the blues festival such a hit.
“It’s a place where “people rub shoulders with each other,” said  Guy Davis. He opened up the Saturday festivities with a small group on the Innovation Stage.  No more than a slightly raised platform, the stage, covered by an awning, hosted some of the most impassioned and diverse music of the weekend.  From turntabling, to blues, to rap backed up by a harmonica, the Innovation Stage was the place for down-home, spontaneous music.
Both Friday and Saturday turned out to be something of a disappointing for many of the fans who had come to hear headliners like Al Caldwell and The Travelling Hillbillies and Magnolia Bolthead.  Rain and overcast skies plagued both days and left the grounds only sparsely occupied.  The weather went so far as to force Friday’s music to be cancelled completely.  This year was the first time in the festival’s history that it had rained, said Elizabeth Tobey, a 10-year-veteran of the festival.
The sentiment on Saturday afternoon however, was one of pertinacity.  As the sky erupted with rain, showgoers took refuge beneath trees and musicians continued to play as they moved under tarps Minutes before the rain, one musician announced “We don’t know if it’s going to rain or not, but if it does, we’re going into the theatre.  It’s the blues either way.”
By evening, the theatre was indeed where most of the day’s headliners ended up.  The show’s move inside created a logistical quandary when the maximum occupancy of the much smaller theatre was reached and a security guard posted outside the main door to keep further blues fans out.  Those wishing to enter were told the crowd inside would be sent out around 9:30pm and a new batch would be brought in.  It was a discouraging end to a gloomy day for many at the festival who had persevered in spite of the weather.
Turnout on Sunday, the last day of the festival, was a marked improvement.  The presence of  sunshine helped fans get into the mood for an afternoon of life music and dancing.  Headliners returned to the amphitheatre and bands like The Ark Band with their reggae and calypso music created the perfect atmosphere to get the audience off their seats into the open air arena.  Festivalgoers of all ages took to the dance floor to enjoy the music and weather.
While this year’s festival was neither as well attended nor publicized as the previous when comedian Dave Chappelle hosted the show, most people left pleased.  Fans of the blues came for the event itself and they got what they had come to hear.  “We mostly come to hear who’s here,” said one festivalgoer from Springfield.
Fans of the blues must now wait another year to enjoy the varied pleasures of the AACW blues festival once more.