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July 9, 2008 > Got the Blues?

Got the Blues?

Russell City Blues Festival has the cure

By Aditya Anand

Born from spiritual songs, hollers, and narrative ballads, the blues are distinctive of African-American communities in the United States. Use of blue notes and characteristic lyric patterns has influenced many forms of music through the years from jazz to bluegrass, R&B to blues rock. But even before contemporary R&B ruled radio stations, African-American migrants who settled in California provided a unique musical style known as West Coast Blues.

West Coast blues originated when Californian Joel Russell offered migrants from Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi a chance to settle on his land. Black migrants, who brought their music with them, introduced locals to the sound of blues. A jazzy jump blues sound became particularly popular in a post-WWII unincorporated town known as Russell City. The jazz-blues mix, often featuring smooth vocals, became what is called West Coast blues.

Though the word "blues" may evoke a melancholy mood, West Coast blues music ranges to lively sounds, as well. Big Mama Thornton, who performed blues music at Russell City, first recorded the famous songs "Hound Dog" and "Ball and Chain", later popularized by Elvis Presley and Janis Joplin, respectively. Joe Turner's "Shake, Rattle, and Roll," later covered by Bill Hailey and the Comets, also embraces a California flavor.

Hayward's Annual Russell City Festival pays homage to the West Coast blues sound and the community that created it. This year the festival will take place on July 12 and 13 at Hayward City Hall Plaza.

This year's festival theme "From Mississippi to Russell City" explores musical influences from the Magnolia State on West Coast Blues. Musicians at the event will include Zac Harmon, Johnny Rawls, Vasti Jackson, John Primer, and Mississippi Bo among others. Homemade Jamz, a youth blues band of three siblings - the youngest blues band to sign with a major record label - are scheduled to perform at the festival. The concert will also feature a special performance by Mississippi's famed blues guitarist, Texas Johnny Brown.

Although 80 percent of the performers in the two-day festival will hail from Mississippi, the event will focus on how these styles influenced West Coast Blues and historic Russell City. Even though rural Russell City's houses, farms, and nightclubs no longer exist, it is sure to live on through the sounds of the Russell City Festival, and the hearts and minds of its people.

Hayward/Russell City Blues Festival
Saturday and Sunday
July 12 - 13
11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Hayward City Hall Plaza
777 B Street, Hayward

Admission:
General Public in Advance - $15
Two-Day Pass in Advance - $30
Students and Seniors (62+) in Advance - $10
General Public at Door - $20
Students and Seniors (62+) at Door - $15

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