This From the Field Feature is courtesy of Beareather Reddy, Founder/Ex. Director of the Brooklyn Blues Society. Find more info about them at https://brooklynbluessociety.org

The Blues is Alive and living in Brooklyn! 

Being a Black woman raised in the south, I was exposed to a lot of spirituals, gospel music and the Blues. I witnessed that these were the kinds of music that brought comfort to my ancestors in one form or another.  I became very fond of the Blues. When I moved to New York after college, I realized that the music that moved and soothed my loved ones, were not widely played in Brooklyn.  It seemed that it was a dying art form.

Keith Gamble and Michael Hill. Photo courtesy of Arnie Goodman

Long gone were the golden days of the Harlem Renaissance when jazz and blues were deeply rooted in New York City’s cultural tapestry.  I wasn’t entirely right, it wasn’t completely gone. Yet, out of thousands upon thousands of radio stations in the United States, I’m willing to bet, there were less than 30 Blues stations.  I felt I had to do something about it.  I wanted to be one of those people who would help revive and sustain the blues.  So I did!  In 2006 the 1st Big Eyed Blues Festival was presented in the borough of Brooklyn.  Our special guest was 2004 Indy Award Music Winner, Mr. Bobby Hinton from Raleigh Durham, N.C., and of course, little o’ me!

September 22, 24 & 25th, 2022 marked the 12th Big Eyed Blues Festival – Rebirth!  After being on hiatus for three years, it was back with a bang!

Set up for the Big Eyed Blues Festival. Photo by Tanja Hayes

This year’s festival, presented by the Brooklyn Blues Society, included an evening of “The Acoustics”, with dynamic performances by guitarist/vocalist Jr Mack The Michael Hill Blue Duo with Pete Cummings on bass, and 18 year old Mimi Block with Keith “The Captain” Gamble on guitar; the main event on Saturday evening at the BKLYN COMMONS, with soul stirring performances by Clarence Spady, Beareather & The Brown Liquor Sounds, The Antoinette Montague Experience and The Alexis P. Suter Band.  The final day of the festival was the topper!  “A Day in The Park” with the Tilden Senior Drama Club.  The drama club performed a short play I wrote called “The Classic Blues Women”. They were sensational and had a joyful experience. It was such a joy to watch them sing, dance and tell the story.  One of the most cantankerous member of the drama club called me aside and said “Miss Beareather, thank you so much for bringing this to us and having us perform in the festival. I was so scared, but it was so much fun.  I wanted you to be proud of me!”

The 18 year old violinist/vocalist/composer/virtuoso Mimi Block wrote:

“Dear Ms. Reddy, Thank you for the kind words you said to me. I learned last night that real blues is totally different from jazz, and has a different attitude and spirit. It was an amazing night. Thank you so much for the learning opportunity. I won’t mix jazz attitudes for blues songs next time”.

A good time was had by all and a lot of souls were moved and soothed!  It is this kind of reinforcement that lets me know that I am right where I need to be.  I am among the folk who strive to keep a legacy going strong.  A legacy of a people of which an entire genre of music was born out of their work songs, field hollers, chants, tears and laughter. The Blues is Alive and Living in Brooklyn!

Are you a New York State folklorist or community scholar? We would love to publish your “From the Field.” Email Anne, [email protected] to be featured.