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July 6, 2010 > Russell City Blues Festival

Russell City Blues Festival

By Mona Shah

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. However, 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, embrace 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, "Hayward/Russell City Reunion," will take place on July 10 and 11 at Hayward City Hall Plaza and feature all the past favorites as well as some new musicians.

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 10 - 11
11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Hayward City Hall Plaza
777 B Street, Hayward
(510) 836-2227

General Public in Advance - $15
Two-Day Pass in Advance - $26
Students and seniors (62+) in Advance - $12
General Public at Door - $20
Students and seniors (62+) at Door - $15

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