Evening of Art & Blues to help culture grow

The Alabama Blues Project is hosting its sixth annual Evening of Art & Blues Saturday night from 5 to 11 at Hotel Capstone to raise money and awareness for its after-school and summer programs.

“It’s not your average night out,” ABP Program Director Cara Smith said. “It’s not every day you get to see this kind of music in Tuscaloosa.”

Live blues sets from Birmingham’s 2blu and the Lucky Stiffs and Tuscaloosa’s Simple Interest, Naked Tater Blues Band and the Alabama Blues Project Advanced Band will set the scene for a silent auction of a variety of art and gifts, Smith said.

Proceeds from silent auction purchases and ticket sales go towards the program’s blues camps. Tickets will cost $30 day-of and $25 if purchased in advance at local businesses listed on their website.

“Part of our mission is to preserve Alabama’s blues history,” Smith said. “The No. 1 way you do that is through the kids.”

She said she was proud of the educational and musical opportunities the once-a-week after-school and week-long summer camps provided and the number of “at-risk” children they’ve been able to reach.

“These kids are actually learning blues-rooted songs, getting blues history lessons and learning that blues are the roots of all music,” Smith said. “I’m not sure how many kids around the world can spout off these blues facts and songs, but our kids can.”

Beyond their camps, the ABP hosts beginning, intermediate and advanced bands for their students, and Smith said the advanced band plays frequently around the South and has been able to meet blues legends such as Alabama’s Eddie King and Sam Lay.

Fifteen-year-old Taylor Dawn, a vocalist in the ABP Advanced Band, said the experience that got her interested in blues music came three years ago when she saw both Alabama blues singer Rachel Edwards and an ABP band perform in Atlanta Ga., at Girlapalooza, a Girl Scout’s event.

The following summer she enrolled in the ABP summer camp, where she received her first instruction as a blues vocalist and the genre “clicked” for her.

“[The camp] was very important for me,” Dawn said. “You got to learn the basics of the blues. You got to take the time and learn where music really comes from.”

Dawn said her focus lies in opening up vocally and experimenting with a variety of styles since graduating from signing as an ABP Intermediate Band background signer to being a lead in the Advanced Band.

“I honestly think it’s the most awesome experience in the world,” Dawn said. “I’m only 15, but we travel so much to perform, and it’s so cool for people to sort of be your fans.”

Though enthused by the opportunities she’s had to perform and meet the likes of nine-time Grammy award-winning blues singer Bonnie Raitt, Dawn said she was thrilled to play in her first Evening of Art & Blues and contribute to the fundraising effort.

“We really need [the program],” Dawn said. “The blues project is a really great program, and I think if more kids learned about the history of the blues, they’d learn to appreciate it.”

Bruce Andrews, front-man of the six-time International Blues Challenge finalists and Alabama native 2blu and The Lucky Stiffs, said he’s seen a resurgence in the blues, and most promisingly, a young college-aged demographic supporting the movement.

“It’s not receding, and, if anything, blues and roots music has seen a bit of a revival,” Andrews said. “And here [in Alabama], we’re at the epicenter.”

Formed in the 90s with guitarist George Dudley, their quintet is what Andrews described as a “roots” “Americana” band that finds common ground in the blues and plays a mix of original works and 2blu-style covers. Saturday will mark their third appearance at the ABP evening and a continuation of Andrews’ relationship with the program.

He said he’d worked as an instructor at ABP camps and spent two of their summer camps as an on-site director. Andrews said these camps are “essential” and teach musically universal fundamentals.

“If you want to make any music on an intelligent level, you need to understand those roots,” he said.

Andrews said this doesn’t replace kids’ musical education but acts as a supplement and plays a role in combating prevailing musical trends which he described as market-based and lacking the genuine character of roots-based music.

He said the programs’ effects on children in the program who are disadvantaged, either by economic and family situations or by a lack of arts education in their schooling, can be truly powerful.

“There’s a creative fire within people,” Andrews said. “And if you stoke it a little bit, it might just save their lives.”

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