Editor’s Note: The following opinion piece originally appeared in the Aug. 15, 2012 edition of The Evening Sun.
It’s been 20 years since the Chenango Blues Festival first rolled into town, two decades of great music and good times, not to mention that traditional first brewski of the day; a time-honored spectacle which takes place at an undisclosed, nearby location with a truly special group of friends (who will not be named here).
Sorry guys (and gals), but I had to sneak that one in there.
Moving on, however, I’m amazed at the way that time has flown by, and it’s hard to believe I was all of sixteen years old for the first-ever Blues Fest. Headlining that year? The incomparable Anson Funderburgh and blues legend Sam Meyers, who just happened to borrow my beloved 70s-era Fender Twin Reverb for the event (how I miss that amplifier).
Pretty heady stuff for a kid who’d been playing the guitar for a little more than a year at the time, especially for one who was as infatuated with the blues as I was. An infatuation, I might add, that has only grown over the years.
I have a lot of memories tied up with Blues Fest, as I’m sure many do; from that first, relatively small gathering to the last three years, spent covering the event for our hometown daily. Not to mention all the years in between. I’ve performed on the main stage (with Badweather Blues in 2005); shaken hands with blues legends such as James Cotton (a true gentleman), Kenny Neal (thanks for letting me play that Telecaster), Joe Louis Walker and Lucky Peterson (among others); hung out with Eric Lindell, the Honey Island Swamp Band, J.J. Grey (and Mofro), Bernard Allison and Mark May; and swapped guitar licks with the aforementioned Allison, May, Neal and too many other to name here.
What can I say? Blues Fest is like Christmas, New Year’s Eve and my birthday all wrapped up in one. And in 20 years, I’ve missed the annual event all of three times, due primarily to the fact that I was living out of state (there’s no excuse for missing the best fest there is, though). My only regret? Failing to make it home for Luther Allison (Bernard’s dad) in 1996, may he rest in peace.
And then there’s the social aspect, as big a part of Blues Fest as the music will ever be, in my opinion. My family goes to Blues Fest (a great opportunity for the three of us to spend some time together), I have friends that I only see once a year thanks to Eric Larsen and company (otherwise known as the Chenango Blues Association) and I’ve shared some of the best times of my life wandering the Chenango County Fairgrounds come mid-to-late August when the big stage goes up, the vendors roll in (Dinosaur Barbecue!) and the music begins.
Music is life, life is music and – come Blues Fest – life is good.
And looking back, it’s amazing to me just how much my life has changed over the past 20 years; and Blues Fest – believe it or not – has been a fairly reliable occasion on which to reflect on those changes. I know, I know, only I would say that, right? But it’s true. I’ve gone from the little kid who dove to the floor of the Exhibition Hall (in 1994) to grab Kenny Neal’s broken E string (which I still have) to a grown man who’s lucky enough to write for the newspaper you’re holding in your hand (or reading online ... my how things have changed) right this very minute. I’ve loved, lost, searched, found and wandered for more than 30 years here in Chenango County, for the past two decades always looking forward to that perfect weekend that is Blues Fest.
It may sound corny, but again, it’s so very, very true.
What it boils down to – I suppose – is this ... it’s important to never forget (or always remember, if that’s more to your liking) just how blessed we are (at least most of the time) here in the Land of the Bullthistle. It’s far too easy to take the good things in life for granted and when you do ... well, you miss out on a lot of the little things that make this such a great place to live. Blues Fest is only one example of that, of course, but it’s a damn good one.
Always and never ... two words that can be hard to live with, at times. Yet once again – now that the blues are back in town – I must say, I’ll always love this festival ... and I hope it never ends.
Follow me on Twitter ... @evesunbrian.