Blues for a cause

We might think of countless melancholy reasons for singin' the blues. Then again, we can cite one very upbeat reason, too: the second annual Mystic Blues Festival.

The Mystic Shipyard plays host to the three-day event - June 27, 28 and 29 - and the weekend promises much more than music. Blues-and-jazz singer/songwriter Josi Davis, a performer in last year's festival, took on the behind-the-scenes role of education committee chairperson this year, with ideas aplenty for involving the public.

"It's an opportunity," Ms. Davis says, "for people of all ages to come and learn about the blues, about the origin of the blues."

To encourage that learning, the venue will showcase workshops, master classes, student performances, dance lessons, instrument construction, West African and Native American drumming and singing, mural painting - and, of course: an opportunity to explore the roots of a truly American art form.

The South did, indeed, give birth to the blues, nursed and rehearsed the rhythms and melodies that were an amalgam of spirituals, work songs, field hollers and such that permeated African-American communities in the Deep South. The term is thought to have come from the expression "blue devils," which meant sadness, melancholy, though another possibility is that it grew out of mysticism involving the West African use of blue indigo to dye the clothing of mourners.

The first published song to use the word "blues" was Antonio Maggio's "I Got the Blues," vintage 1908. Just a few of the artists who brought the blues to a wider audience: Bessie Smith, Jelly Roll Morton, Ma Rainey,Lead Belly, Muddy Waters.

Ms. Davis and the outstanding lineup of festival musicians hope to bring out all local lovers of blues - and to impassion a whole new audience. They view the event as a kind of mission, with ticket purchases providing an annual source of income for working musicians, a boost to the shoreline economy, promotion for arts and music education and last, but definitely not least, support for The Center for Hospice Care for Southeastern Connecticut. A sellout show would cover production costs, its planners note, after which, all other income would go toward the Center's effort to build a residence for hospice patients.

The festival's website - www.mysticbluesfestival.com - contains all pertinent information.

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