What’s got you blue?
Reno-Tahoe Blues Fest
In the best tradition of the blues, Reno’s been waiting a long time—forever, in fact—for a blues festival of this magnitude to come on down the tracks. This weekend, 10 award-winning artists are scheduled to play in the Reno-Tahoe Blues Fest.
Roger Slugg, host of a blues program on Reno’s National Public Radio station, KUNR, said the city of Reno and the Reno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority have been working for years to bring major blues artists to town. Slugg, also a Reno BLUES Society board member, said the group worked closely with city officials on this project, offering advice on everything from what headliners to book to which T-shirts to sell. The BLUES Society is a non-profit organization that promotes and supports blues music in the area.
Blues is a kind of music that its fans live and breathe—and that some other people avoid.
“Blues is about you lose your woman or your man, and you’re sad,” Slugg said. “Or you lose your job. Or you’re just down. … It’s very cathartic, to play the blues, to listen to the blues. I always feel better after I’ve heard some good blues. Some people think that the blues might make them get down, and then that’s why they don’t want to listen to it.”
But Slugg thinks this is the wrong approach, that the blues don’t get you down—because you’re already there. The blues, he said, lift you up.
Defining the genre is no easy task, even for an expert like Slugg.
“The blues,” he said, “can be to every person something different, so there are six billion different definitions of the blues. As the greatest writer of blues songs ever said, ‘The blues is the roots, and everything else is the fruits.'” To Slugg, the greatest writer of the blues is Willie Dixon, who wrote songs that were recorded by everyone from Muddy Waters to the Grateful Dead. Those fruits Dixon referred to are all the music inspired by the blues, including rock ‘n’ roll.
Monica Parker, known to her fans as Sista Monica, is a rising star on the world blues stage. She’ll be Saturday’s opening act. A singer and songwriter who’s often compared to her childhood idols Aretha Franklin and Etta James (James is also appearing at the blues fest), Parker baptizes new fans into her fold with her powerful vocals. Her soulful sound, influenced by her Chicago-area upbringing, is tinged with a heavy dose of gospel.
Even a blues great like Parker can’t pin down the expanse of the blues.
“Blues, to me,” she said, “is music that speaks to one’s own personal truth. … Anybody in the blues world is speaking about love. They’re speaking about falling in love; they’re speaking about losing love; they’re speaking about wanting to have love when they can’t have it; or they’re speaking about having love and how good it is to have love.”
“Everyone has had the blues,” Slugg said. “It’s not just people that don’t have any money. George Bush probably has the blues late at night in his bedroom, and if he listens to the blues, he can purge a lot of that.”
This weekend at the Reno-Tahoe Blues Fest, to tweak a famous blues line, “There’ll be a whole lot of purgin’ goin’ on.”