Saturday, 21 January 2017


The evening program at the main stage started with a performance by Carey Bell who specialized in playing the Blues Harmonica. Here, give him a listen :) :

Carey Bell performed for over an hour mesmerizing us with song after song. I had no idea that a simple harmonica could be made to sound that good and one could do so much with it. It was just amazing to sit there and listen to him and the band backing him (which of course was awesome too!). He got quite an ovation when he completed his set, and yes, we had him back for an encore before we allowed him to take his bow.

(Consider the experience I have just shared in depth :). Just a small little harmonica :), and look at the space given for an exponent in the art of playing it to express himself musically, the respect and appreciation extended to him for his talent and all the hours of practice he must have put in to master it.

And what Indian instrument might resemble the harmonica in concept? Let's say the flute?

How many Indian flutists can you name :)? One? Two? Three :)? Here's a list of fifty two of them that are now known names:

Think that's many :)?

On an average that's less than two flutists per state that have been able to create some professional standing for themselves in the field of music. It's nothing :). If we truly respected and supported the field of music, every small town in our country would have a  professionally successful flutist, a professionally successful Sitarist, a professionally successful Tabla player, a professionally successful Veena player, and so on for each Indian instrumental and vocal music and dance form you can think of. So with fine art, so with sculpture. Music and art would come alive and people wouldn't just aspire to be IT professionals :). There would be entire cultural vistas and landscapes to explore :).

But please don't let this question make you feel too cornered :), as the questioner winced too when he first posed this question to himself :). That Indian music occupies so miniscule a space in our society today is a collective failure. And this failure shall persist till we don't respect our own roots and cultural heritage as much as we respect the world at large. That's just how it is :).

Can we recover and move forward? Yes :). If we decide to do so collectively, then yes :).)

Carey Bell was followed by two more greats, Texas Johnny Brown ( and Olu Dara ( before Ruth Brown took stage.

Ruth Brown, sometimes known as the Queen of R&B, was AWESOME that night. You want to see some A-T-T-I-T-U-D-E? Here, have a listen, that's the Queen singing with the King himself: Here's one of her performances with Bonnie Rait And here she is again with Bonnie Rait and James Brown:

Ms. Brown (gotta stay respectful to the Queen!) belted out number after number that night in that big booming soulful voice of hers. I had never heard the blues being sung that way and was completely blown away. And it wasn't just me. She had the whole audience under her spell for the entire hour and a half or so that she sang. We must have brought her back on stage two or three times for encores before we finally allowed her to end her performance and left our seats.

Ruth Brown was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993. Here's her acceptance speech:

The next day was no less entertaining. We saw a bit of Michael Roach and Jerry Ricks, listened to Kelly Joe Phelps on the slide guitar and enjoyed some more old school blues with Robert Jr. Lockwood before joining the audience at the main stage in the evening. Jim and Soo Jung joined us after a while. It was good to see them again and we were happy that we got a chance to wish them well and say goodbye before we headed back to West Lafayette the next morning. Together we saw the vocal-guitar duo of Nolan Struck & King EdwardToni Lynn Washington and Tyrone Davis.

By the time we reached Ptom and Sonali's house on Sunday night the five of us were "blues saturated" (in a very good sense!). We were in calm, good spirits and wound down as we sat around, sipped on hot lemon tea and chatted with each other. We didn't stay up too late as everyone needed to start fairly early the next day, particularly Prosh, Lan and myself as we had to drive back to West Lafayette, return the car at the rental agency and get to the university in good time.

The drive back was really nice. There was very little traffic since we started quite early and the early morning breeze felt nice and fresh. We rolled down the windows and put in a CD. I don't remember who we were listening to now but maybe it was B. B. King and Lucille singing The Thrill is Gone.

I reckon Lan must have noticed that my mind was still at the blues festival. True to form, he chirped a question at me with a grin and a glint in the eye: "Say Brij, Don't you have a meeting with your advisor in the afternoon?" The punk!

What a weekend! No wonder Chicago is called the City of Blues! The blues are literally alive there! What pride the residents of that city and the city administration must feel in having not just sustained a form of art, but ensuring that it positively thrives!

Maybe one day I'll attend the Jaipur music, dance and art festival, or the Indore music, dance and art festival, or the Patna music, dance and art festival, or the Tirupati music, dance and art festival, or the Thiruvananthapuram music, dance and art festival :). Maybe some of us will attend such festivals together :). Then I'll write a story to share those experiences too :). Promise :)!

PS: Isn't there a case here for directing entrepreunal spirit towards making Indian music, dance and art thrive again :)?


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