The home of the Green and Blue will temporarily transform into the home of the Delta blues Feb. 20-22 as an annual event celebrating this uniquely American musical form amps up into a full-blown festival.
The Mississippi Blues Legends Festival at FGCU offers not just a chance to enjoy an outdoor concert of soul-stirring, hip-swaying music from the Deep South played by established artists from Clarksdale, Miss. Presented by the Honors College, it’s also an opportunity to learn — about the past and present of Delta blues and about the musicians keeping alive the tradition of sizzling slide guitars and passionate singing. An expert lecture Feb. 20 sets the stage the day before the concert, and a musicians’ symposium follows the day after it. Events all are free, and the public is welcome to join the campus community.
“The main goal is to bring professional Mississippi Delta musicians to perform their music live for the FGCU community and also have associated academic programming that helps contextualize and teach about the role the blues has played in American history and culture,” says festival organizer and Honors College Director Clay Motley, who researches the blues.
According to allmusic.com, the style was the first African-American, guitar-dominated music to be recorded, in the late 1920s.
An associate professor of English, Motley studies American popular music genres and is writing a book on the music history of Clarksdale. He often travels to Mississippi to conduct research and over time has forged connections with blues musicians there. This is the third year he has organized a campus concert showcasing Clarksdale bluesmen. This year’s bill, kicking off at 5 p.m. Feb. 21 on the Library Lawn, features The New Delta Jukes, Anthony “Big A” Sherrod, Lucious Spiller and Stan Street.
“I got the idea once I arrived at FGCU to bring some Delta blues musicians to campus to show the FGCU community what this type of music is like,” Motley says. “It is one of the most influential and important styles of American music, and it is still being played every day in the Delta. However, most FGCU students — and Southwest Florida generally — are not very aware of this music and its cultural significance.”
New to the event this year: Mission BBQ will provide free food, and Fort Myers Brewing Co. will open its taps for concertgoers 21 and older to purchase craft drafts (IDs required). Chairs will be available on the lawn, and parking is in Garage 3 or Lot 5.
Before enjoying the blues, brews and barbecue al fresco, learn more about the roots and evolution of the music during a lecture and discussion at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 20 in Cohen Center Room 213. Adam Gussow, a professor of English and Southern studies at the University of Mississippi, will present “Whose Blues? Black Blueism, Blues Universalism and the State of the Music Today.” An accomplished blues harmonica player and music scholar, he has written several books about the genre, including the award-winning “Beyond the Crossroads: The Devil and the Blues Tradition.”
Gussow will join musicians from the concert for a symposium concluding the three-day blues bash at noon Feb. 22 in Sugden Hall Room 110. “They will talk about their lives, music and the significance of the blues in an interactive forum,” Motley says.