Photo courtesy of www.myspace.com/coreyharrismusic
Corey Harris, music explorer and traveler at a previous performance
Every year on the weekend before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Ashland is treated to a three-day musical display. Friday, at the Historic Ashland Armory, on the corner of Oak and B Street, there were not many empty chairs in the audience of the acoustic set of the Eighth Rogue Valley Blues Festival, which was put on by St. Clair Productions.
Many people traveled from other towns such as Portland, Eugene, Redding and Brownsville to join the Ashland locals for the event. Many of those people are returning fans of previous shows. "This is the third blues festival Iíve been to. I really liked these last musicians; they both had nice voices. The first act reminded me of Ani DeFranco," said Charlie Gillingham. Each night offered three performances at the Armory. Tickets were $30 for a day pass and $55 for a weekend pass. As well as the evening performances, the Avalon Bar & Grill, Alexís Restaurant and Standing Stone Brewery hosted free performances by numerous musicians.
The lights shifted from crimson to blue then slowly morphed into an emerald green as Paul Sprawl thumped away at his guitar. The spectrum of light glinting off his guitar was like lightning on a sad and lonely night.
One spectator who drove all the way from Brownsville, commented on his performance, "That was unique in the way that he thumped away at the body of his guitar in to produce his own rhythm section." Blending his guitar with a deeply grim harmonica, he played both instruments like a puzzle plays the mind.
Sprawlís set was followed by a duo of improvisational geniuses. Nathan James and Ben Hernandez had an incredible amount of ingenuity and charisma. If rhythmic and emotional guitar and harmonica wasnít enough, they utilized a large jug, washboard, and a wash basin with a stick and a string to produce a very unique sounding bass line. "Itís okay to dance" was one of their lyrics. Despite the bands urging, the crowd proved mellow, with a few energetic listeners grooving in their seats.
The headliner was Corey Harris, a "musical explorer" and traveler of the world. The amount of pure soul that found its way from this man to the audience through his spectacular voice and guitar playing was amazing.
One spectator said, "It is unbelievable how full of a sound one man can make." Many people spent long hours driving just to come see the Friday night acoustic show, and they were given the good time that they deserved. Even the volunteers who were working had an enjoyable experience. Ricky Gargus, a volunteer worker, commented on the nightís offerings, "I loved it, it was great. This is the best acoustic night I have seen in four years."
On top of the performances, the Armory offered dinner and music workshops. The artists offered workshops called "Blues Guitar," "Homemade Instruments: How to Make Them; How to Play Them," "Working with Blues Masters" and "Why We Sing." Each workshop was available for $20 each.
St. Clair Productions was founded by Ariella St. Clair in 1995 and has since been a big part of bringing music to the Rogue Valley. It is a nonprofit organization through the North American Folk Music and Dance Alliance. St. Clair Productionsí season runs from September through May, presenting one or two concerts a month, usually at the Unitarian Center at 87 4th St. Previous shows by St. Clair Productions have included Laura Love and Country Joe McDonald. Because it is a non-profit organization, donations can be made at http://www.stclairevents.com.