Catching Those Bluebonnet Blues
Beyond the wide-open Texas skies and the fields of wildflowers that come into bloom every spring, there’s not much blue about the town of Marble Falls. It’s a place where people come to have fun, to play on the lakes and in the hills, to get away from their ordinary lives, and lose themselves for a while in good times.
No matter how beautiful or peaceful, every place has a connection to the blues, to that feeling of sorrow that is just plain part of being human. Marble Falls, for instance, is the only town in Texas that was planned by a blind man. General Johnson was a Confederate officer who came back to Marble Falls after the war, having been blinded in battle, and, with the help of a man who acted as his eyes, used his memory of the place to plan the city it would eventually become.
That’s fairly blue, but that also happened a long time ago. More recently, Marble Falls has been able to lay claim to events of an even bluer note.
Tangled up in blue
Two years ago, a few friends got together and realized they had deep ties in common. One of these men was Clifford Antone, whose clubs and record labels were famous in Austin, Texas. Another was Russell Buster, known as RB, who back in the day had built Clifford’s first nightclub’s stage on a budget of little more than $500 and old lumber from a church in East Texas. The third was Hugh “Blowgum” Vaughn, a master craftsman who just so happened to have grown up with Clifford on the Gulf Coast, in a little Texas town so near the Louisiana border it was hard to tell sometimes which side it was on. It was called Port Arthur in Texas; but in Louisiana, Port Art’ur.
Blowgum, his wife, Cindy, and RB own businesses on Main Street in Marble Falls, and also run Historic Main Street Association (HMSA). They decided to bring something new to town – a Blues Festival. “It was kind of a strange coming together,” says Blowgum. “Me and Clifford grew up going across the River, listening to Jerry LaCroix and the Boogie Kings. The legal age for drinking was 18 there, instead of 21; but if you could reach the bar, you could buy a drink. It didn’t matter if you stopped at Buster’s, LouAnn’s, or The Big Oaks, you could buy a drink. I can remember us doing this since I was 15, and Cliff only 14. Here in Marble Falls, I met RB, who had his own connection with Cliff from way back, but neither of us knew we had this in common for a while. It was a big happy coincidence.”
When Blowgum told RB that he was going to produce a Blues festival, he knew he could count on Cindy to help him, and do all the hard work to make it happen in only three months. He also knew he could count on Cliff to help him book a few bands. RB said that Clifford Antone’s lecture series of the History of the Blues & Rock & Roll was already being planned for the Uptown Marble Theater. So the work began and the rest is history.
What nobody could have known was the short time Clifford Antone had remaining in this world. At the age of just 56, he died, very shortly after he helped produce the first Bluebonnet Blues & Fine Arts Festival (BBFAF) in the Spring of 2006. One of the many things Antone could not have known before he died was that this little festival would become a legacy of sorts. It would be the last festival he would be a part of.
“I just wish we had documented it better,” says RB. “We had Clifford up on stage, talking to a full house here at the Uptown about what the blues meant in his life. If we had just one photograph of that, it would be enough to help us remember it forever. Of course, none of us knew what was going to happen next. We thought we’d be doing this again and again for years.”
“We have also lost Bobby Doyle, who played at BBFAF’s first Pianorama, and Uncle John Turner, who played drums for Jerry LaCroix in the both the first and second shows,” Blowgum reminds. At the first festival, Blowgum heard Cliff tell Jerry, “I owe my life of blues to you because of those early years going across the river. In fact, Jerry, I look at you just like Ray Charles.”
Bullets in blue sky
Never ones to back down from a challenge, Blowgum, Cindy, RB, and a handful of volunteers, went to work in the Fall of 2006 to produce the second annual Bluebonnet Blues & Fine Arts Festival in Spring 2007. The weather worked against them, with a huge flood basically washing the show out on its first night. Nevertheless, the show did go on with bands moving inside to venues in the downtown district, and when all was said and sung, the festival even ended up with a little cash in its coffers.
Blowgum went immediately to work booking acts for 2008. As a lifelong music lover, Blowgum doesn’t draw much of a line when it comes to deciding what musical styles are appropriate for his show. He has traditionalists such as W.C. Clark booked alongside up-and-comers like Jon Justice, an ordinary-looking white boy out of Cincinnati, who grew up in Chicago and is taking the blues scene by storm. Homemade Jamz is a band made up of two brothers, ages 13, on bass, and 15, on guitar, and their 9-year-old sister on the drums. They’re about the best thing B. B. King has ever seen play in all his 82 years, and they’ll be playing on the Bluebonnet Blues Festival stage. Visit www.bluebonnetblues.com, go to the Music page, then navigate to the videos on their site to hear what B. B. has to say about them.
In fact, a glance at the lineup scheduled for the Bluebonnet Blues and Fine Arts Festival 2008 shows such depth that just about any act could be considered a headliner. There’s Zac Harmon, who’s traveling down from his new home in Dallas; Ruben Ramos, the esteemed “El Gato Negro,” who’ll be playing with Los Flames; Whitey Johnson; Texas Johnny Brown—the list goes on and on. You’ll hear traditional blues, Tejano blues, as well as Cajun/Zydeco blues. As Blowgum says, “There’s blues in every culture’s music.”
Who knows the blues
Blues lovers are known for their allegiance to the tradition and roots of the music they love.
“I had this idea,” says Blowgum Vaughn, “that we could get this professor out to give a workshop, a seminar, on the history of the blues. I thought it would add an important educational aspect to the show, and certainly complement the showing of Clifford Antone’s History of the Blues (a 30-minute promotional copy).”
The professor Blowgum found is the respected folklorist Dr. Barry Lee Pearson. For Christmas, Blowgum’s wife, Cindy, had given him a copy of Pearson’s book, Jook Right On: Blues Stories and Blues Storytellers.
“What it is, is a bunch of stories that Dr. Pearson gathered from a bunch of the old blues guys. I wanted to share those stories with other people. I thought we could put them in the newspaper to educate readers on the roots of the blues. They’re just good. They speak of the real thing, of what the blues really is. Anybody who reads them will want to come out and hear the music.”
The idea grew from there. “Then we called Dr. Pearson and asked whether he would consider coming out for the festival and giving his lecture up on stage at the Uptown. He’ll be up there with a bunch of blues musicians, and what they’ll do is have a conversation in words and music.”
The point of such a show is to tell the story of the blues—since the story of the blues comes in endless variations, this one will focus on musicians from different walks of life who will take the stage with Dr. Pearson, who will listen to them play and then talk to them and the audience about what they’re doing with their guitars, their harmonicas, and their voices. Unscripted and unplanned, this part of the Bluebonnet Blues festival will be just as exciting and entertaining as any pure music performance.
Painting the town
The Fine Arts part of the Festival incorporates the “Paint the Town” plein air painting event, featuring a competition for prizes of money and awards, with a silent auction of the event-produced paintings to follow.
Plein-air painting is a style of painting in which artists take their canvases and materials out of the studio and out into the world. They set up in front of a scene and paint it right there, in real time, without using photographs or any other point of reference than what is in front of them at the moment. Artists all have the same amount of time, a 24-hour period, to capture what they see in fluid paint and color. Like produce picked straight from the garden, the visions they manage to capture on canvas are full of the life and the beauty of downtown Marble Falls and the country that surrounds it.
A big incentive in previous years for artists to enter this event was the grand prize: a cast-bronze medal created by local sculptor Dan Pogue. At the end of the event, paintings are judged. Prizes are awarded, and the paintings are auctioned. The paintings created in previous years can be seen on display at various shops and locations throughout downtown Marble Falls.
This year’s grand prize is a check for $1000 and a “gold” medal sculpted by local artist, Dan Pogue, enough of an incentive that “Paint the Town” should once again draw some of the best plein-air painters in the area. There will also be second and third place winners, and artwork produced at the show will be for sale at silent auction, along with other pieces produced by participating artists.
Blue food for soul and stomach
Given that the event has not yet taken place, it is almost impossible to describe all the fun that will be part of the 2008 Bluebonnet Blues and Fine Arts Festival. Enough music to satisfy the most particular blues hound. Enough dance and opportunity for good fun to draw music lovers of any color of the rainbow. A chance to listen to a good professor speak about the history and lore of a music form that is deeply American and particularly part of Texas. Plus good food, fine arts, kids crafts tent, crawfish races, and just about anything else anyone might want to find in a fun weekend in the Hill Country.
Only 5000 tickets each day are available this year for the Bluebonnet Blues and Fine Arts Festival, and only 100 Pianorama seats. Here’s hoping that you manage to get your hands on some of them! Dr. Pearson’s workshop and the showing of Clifford Antone’s History of the Blues (30-minute promo copy) at Uptown Marble Theater will be free all day Saturday and Sunday.
Tickets available online at www.gettix.net, or call 866.443.8849.
For more information, visit www.bluebonnetblues.com.
Visit www.historicmainstreet.org for details about Sculpture on Main, and other HMSA events throughout the year.
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