What You Want Baby, They’ve Got It
Aretha Franklin and other legends take the stage at the Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival
by Diana Beechener
As the Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival returns to Sandy Point State Park, the Queen of Soul holds court over the beachside venue. In the past, masses of fans turned out for performances by such legends as James Brown and Jerry Lee Lewis.
The Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival was the brainchild of computer CEO Don Hooker. The year was 1998, and Hooker had experienced a family medical crisis. At the end of the ordeal, he wanted to give something back to those who help so many people in the community every day. With a staff of one, a love of the blues and a family connection to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Hooker formed the only blues festival in the nation to give all its proceeds to charity.
The blues had a similar one-man start, according to folklore. Robert Johnson met the devil on a dusty Delta crossroads and traded his soul for guitar genius. From the first chords struck by Johnson after that fateful deal, the blues were born.
Missing his soul or not, Robert Johnson contributed to the standards for early blues music, which likely evolved more prosaically from the cathartic fusion of West African call-and-response traditions with the narrative ballads of the Scottish and Irish. Using cyclical lyrics about hard times and harder women in a 12-bar musical framework, Johnson was at the forefront of Delta-style blues.
From Mississippi and Louisiana, the blues migrated to cities, most notably Chicago. Clubs dedicated to the music nurtured bluesmen, whose style in turn influenced jazz, rock and roll and even country music. All these traditions converge at this year’s Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival.
The First Time I Met the Blues
The first time I met the blues. People, you know I was walkin’, I was walkin’ down through the woods.
On the festival’s second day, August 5, blues legend Buddy Guy sings Chicago blues. Guy grew up in rural Louisiana, where the blues were born; but in Chicago, he found his signature style. His music evolved with the years to include soul, free-form jazz and funk. A protégé of Muddy Waters, Guy has spent the better part of 50 years on stage.
His flamboyant performances and masterful guitar work influenced musical giants like Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton. Hendrix was known to sit at shows, watching with rapt attention as Guy played his guitar with only a left hand, strummed through a song using a drum stick or stroked out a melody with his teeth.
“He was for me what Elvis was for most other people,” said Eric Clapton, when he inducted Guy into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005. Guy’s ferocious playing and gritty voice close the festival this year. It’s Guy’s second appearance at the Bayside stage; his guitar howled out over the crowd at the first festival, in 1998.
“Our first year, we expected about 2,000 people,” remembers festival founder Don Hooker. “Thirteen thousand showed up.” The crowds flooded the small area of Sandy Point State Park Hooker had reserved, forcing the festival to expand on its first day.
A connoisseur of blues venues and concerts, Hooker “cherry-picked ideas from other blues festivals.” His idea of a Bayside Blues venue thrived as more people crowded into Sandy Point each year.
But the blues hit hard in 2002, when rain hammered ticket sales for the outdoor festival. Die-hard fans wore rain gear, some sported garbage bags, but most people didn’t brave the elements. Short-staffed and still reeling from a disappointing year, Hooker cancelled the festival in 2003 and 2004, holding small concerts instead that filled their scaled-down venues. But the magic, however, wasn’t quite the same. After two years, Hooker decided to try again.
In 2005, Hooker and the Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival returned to Sandy Point with headliner Isaac Hayes. With the help of big-name sponsors such as Bud Light, Comcast and Redhook Brewery, Hooker hopes that the sunny weather and the growing attendance numbers continue.
The Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival is now one of the biggest blues festivals on the East Coast. Hooker estimates crowds this year will be about 10,000 people per day the minimum he needs to make the concert profitable for the charities.
Joy to the World
Joy to the world. All the boys and girls. Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea. Joy to you and me.
Three Dog Night
Named after an Eskimo expression for a frigid evening, Three Dog Night brings their joy to the festival August 5. Their rock and roll is heavily blues-inspired. The band paid tribute to Otis Redding’s version of “Try A Little Tenderness” with a blues guitar and soulful vocal.
Two of their biggest hits, “Mamma Told Me (Not To Come)” and “Joy to the World” evoke the call-and-response tradition. The format, with chorus responding to the lead vocal, was a hit: Both singles reached Number One on the Billboard charts.
Writers such as Elton John and Randy Newman have helped the band stay at the top. Three Dog Night had more Top 10 hits from 1969 through 1974 than any other group and drew the most concert-goers for those five years. In the late 1970s, the group disbanded because of drug addiction and mutual dissatisfaction in their musical direction.
Three Dog Night reformed in 1986, with original vocalists Danny Hutton and Corey Wells. Though Jeremiah the bullfrog may not appear directly, the band will perform funk and blues-fused rock at the main stage in hopes of bringing joy to the three charities the Chesapeake Blues Festival benefits.
“I’ve always picked charities based on the amount of money that goes to their administration costs,” said Hooker. Charities with low administration costs mean that more money goes to those in need. This year, Special Olympics Maryland, The Johns Hopkins Cleft & Craniofacial Center and We Care & Friends all benefit from the blues.
Hooker also chooses charities based on their programs. We Care & Friends provides assistance from abuse counseling to soup kitchens for those in need in the Annapolis area. The Johns Hopkins Cleft & Craniofacial Center commitment to the mental and physical well-being of their young patients impressed Hooker. “They have a camp that’s run by teens,” said Hooker. “I think that’s really important for those kids; they get teased a lot and this helps.”
Special Olympics Maryland has been a part of the Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival since the beginning. The organization dedicates itself to creating a year-round sports program for differently abled people.
When the stages are broken down and the last dollar is tallied, the profits for the festival are split evenly between the charities. Over the years, the Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival has raised over half a million dollars for charities around Maryland.
What you need do you know I got it? All I’m askin’, is for a little respect when you come home.
Music’s Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, rules over the stage August 4, closing the first night of the Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival. A reverend’s daughter with pipes greater than any organ, Franklin released her first record at 14. She changed musical styles and record labels three times before finding success with a rhythm-and-blues album for Atlantic Records.
Her first single for Atlantic, “I Never Loved a Man,” brought out the powerful emotion and blues style in her voice. The song was Franklin’s first major chart success. Originally called Lady Soul, Franklin earned her H.R.H. with a cover of Otis Redding’s modest hit, “Respect.” Taking Redding’s traditional blues song and creating a feminist anthem, Franklin turned “Respect” into a defining song of the 1960s.
Franklin, the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, is critically ranked as one of the greatest singers ever recorded. She took a break at the start of the millennium, but she returns to performing with her new album, So Damn Happy. Her iconic voice a combination of operatic vocal power and deep blues emotion will ring out over Sandy Point State Park just before the sun sinks behind the horizon. Belting out new tunes and old favorites, Franklin sets out to prove that her reign, like Queen Elizabeth’s, endures.
Bringing out the biggest and brightest in blues since 1998, the Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival demands respect. Each year, big name artists as Johnny Lang, Keb Mo and Bo Diddley take the stage to bare their souls with a few chords. This year, any one of the festival’s headliners could draw hoards of fans by themselves. But great music doesn’t secure financial triumph.
While the artists can guarantee a certain number of concert-goers, the picturesque location seems both a blessing and a curse. Hearing music born from the Mississippi Delta waft over the Bay is a wonderful idea as long as the weather holds.
If the sun shines on Sandy Point through the first weekend in August, the fans will flock to the beach. Then the Bay and three lucky charities will happily keep singing the blues.
Diana Beechener is Bay Weekly’s calendar writer.