Mountain Home Gets the Blues 

Delta Blues flow into the Great Basin Blues Festival

The Blues; sometimes they can really catch you off guard.

That's what happened with the Great Basin Blues Festival last summer in Mountain Home. The inaugural event came from out of nowhere, surprising everyone with appearances by celebrated bluesmen from the Mississippi Delta such as T-Model Ford, Cedric Burnside, Lightning Malcolm, Cadillac John, Bill Able and Monroe Jones.

Blues enthusiast Tom Horgan says last year's event was "a real cultural experience."

click to enlarge ANDY ANDERSON

"We're getting the real thing here," he says. "It's blues in its rawest form. When it's just T-Model Ford and his guitar, you really feel the emotion."

Ford, born in 1921, has a background of stories to draw from for his songs. Raised in a violent household, Ford never attended school and started plowing in the fields when he was 6 years old. After he left home, he killed a man in self-defense. The resulting two years of wearing chain-gang shackles carved permanent scars around his ankles. He didn't pick up a guitar until he was 58, a week after his wife walked out of the door. Although he had never played before, he wasted no time in cutting loose, transforming hardship into music and song.

click to enlarge Monroe James - ANDY ANDERSON

Cedric Burnside, Cadillac John, and other artists set to return to this year's festival in Mountain Home are honest storytellers and musicians much like Ford. Commercial success takes a back seat to singing the truth of their lives. Mostly self-taught musicians, they offer the unique, authentic blues found in the juke joints and honky-tonks of the American South.

In 2007, the lineup at the Great Basin Blues Festival drew nearly 1,500 people, and organizers expect a larger crowd for this year's event. The Delta artists will be back, along with locals Carl Holmes and The B3 Side, and Sirah Storm with the Blue Tail Twisters. The Lara Price Band from the Bay Area will also take the stage. Those who were lucky enough to catch her in Boise at the Blues Bouquet in 2003 will be anxiously awaiting her return to Idaho.

click to enlarge "Cadillac" John Nolden - ANDY ANDERSON

A Mountain Home High School graduate, Price says, "I was surprised when I heard about the festival, and I'm excited. I've been traveling around the country, but going home to perform? There's nothing like that." With a voice much larger than she is, Price's deep-down-from-the-heart-and-soul sound is captivating, soothing and haunting. When festival co-founder Andy Anderson heard one of her CDs, he said, "We just had to include her."

click to enlarge "Cadillac" John Nolden - ANDY ANDERSON

The show, scheduled to take place on Saturday, August 16, in Optimist Park, will open with the Love Abiding Christian Church Choir. According to Anderson, the choir's performance is a crucial starting point to delivering the whole musical experience.

"We want people to understand the full history of the blues, and gospel is the real root of the blues," he explains. "People need to know where it all started."

Anderson is a longtime blues enthusiast and a professional photographer with far- reaching connections. Through the years, he's made many friends who sing and play the blues, and his job has taken him straight to the purest form of the genre. On a photo shoot in the Mississippi Delta years ago, he came upon a spiritual revival at a church in the middle of a cotton field. The sound of the call and response was unlike anything he had ever heard.

"I fell in love with the music," he says. "It's very seductive." What he heard that day originated with slaves calling back and forth to each other while working in the fields, which created a unique style that is considered the earliest form of the blues.

The vision of bringing the best of true blues to Mountain Home had simmered for a long time in Anderson's head. He and local business owner Mark Bryant had bounced the idea around from time to time, but one evening over Scotch and cigars, the discussion became serious.

"We just looked at each other and said, 'Let's do it.' Then one thing led to another," says Anderson. He contacted all of the musicians he had made friends with down in the Delta and asked if they would like to come and perform in Idaho. "They all wanted to come," says Anderson. "They didn't even hesitate."

"Nobody knew it was coming," he says of the festival. "Once we started getting organized, it just took off. One thing just led to another, and we knew we were on to something pretty cool. We want to keep it that way."

Cool indeed. Ken Harris of the Hoochie Coochie Men, and former co-owner of the Blues Bouquet in Boise, was impressed with how the festival materialized in such a short period of time. He imagines the Great Basin Blues Festival eventually developing into "a destination event" much like the fiddle festival in Weiser.

"It's good for the community and it's good for Idaho," Harris says.

For music fans of all ages, it promises to make Mountain Home the place to be to hear some of the greatest living blues artists of today. That should be music to everyone's ears.

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