Music Back After Pandemic Blip
The reopening of the country as the COVID-19 pandemic subsides is like kicking down doors and a gale blowing in from the gulf. People are going out. Restaurants are filling up. People are traveling. Families are gathering. Our long worldwide nightmare is coming to an end. We even had a block party in my neighborhood last week. A grand time was had by all.
And so, too, a lot is happening in the local music scene. Our little corner of the world has always been an incubator for talented people. Artists, authors, actors and musicians have been nourished here and it continues today. The pandemic was a blip.
Brookstock is back.
The Brookhaven Building, previously the FEMA building, will host Brookstock XX on July 24. What started out as a class reunion has become one of the biggest music events in southwest Mississippi. The festival got its start when local artist/musician Don Jacobs thought it would be a good idea to get his high school rock and roll band, The Brutes, back together for the 20th Class Reunion. There was no time for rehearsals. So they just winged it. They discovered the magic was still there. And it became an annual event.
The name Brookstock, obviously a variation of the Woodstock Festival, was thrown out as sort of a joke by keyboard player Bill Lauderdale at the end of the second show. The name stuck. So did the festival.
Of course, this should be Brookstock 21, but the show was cancelled last year due to the pandemic. Jacobs has said year 20 would be his last year to run the festival, and The Godfather of all things music in Brookhaven,Tyler Bridge, will take over.
This year's lineup includes some old favorites like Mike J Case, Bryan Batson, Ed Tree and The Bridge Band. Everyone is invited to come out and enjoy seeing old friends and listening to great music.
The Overbrook Songwriters Festival is also back.
It will be held at four separate venues in downtown Brookhaven on August 6 and 7. This is the second year for the songwriters festival, and it will feature 21 artists from across the southeast, California and Illinois.
I met fellow Chicago Cubs baseball fan Bob Bogaert in Baton Rouge a few years ago when he and I were paired for a set at the Third Street Songwriters Festival. It was an instant friendship. His songs range from poignant to funny, and he is great on stage telling stories from his life on the road as a singer songwriter. Ed Tree, who grew up in Brookhaven and now lives life in California as a songwriter, guitarist and record producer, is the headliner this year. He will be at Recess 101 at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, August 7. Get there early.
And, yes, even some influential area musicians who have passed on have come back, with the help of people who have been working on getting a Blues Marker to properly remember them.
I recently had the pleasure of being present at the unveiling of the new Mississippi Blues Marker at Railroad Park in downtown Brookhaven, which highlight my old friend Virgil Brawley, Moses Whispering Smith and Blind Jim Brewer. This is the 210th Mississippi Blues Marker placed throughout the state to honor those who birthed the Blues. “When we started putting up Blues Markers, we thought we might have thirty or so, but now we have 210," says Craig Ray, director of Visit Mississippi and Chairman of the Mississippi Blues Commission.
Becky Currie, chairman of the Mississippi State House Tourism committee who represents the area, got behind it, however, and went to work. "Tyler Bridge originally approached me about the marker," Currie recalls. "I received mountains of material on the life and accomplishments of Virgil. So two years ago I brought it up. It went nowhere. You know that’s how government works.” Representative Currie remained adamant and the Blues Marker plaque now sits in Railroad Park.
Following unveiling of the Blues Marker, Big Juv’s old band, the Juvenators, played a concert, featuring Travis Brawley, Virgil’s son, playing his dad’s guitar. It was very cool and a bit emotional.
Moses Whispering Smith was born in Union Church, and made his biggest splash playing Swamp Blues on the streets of Baton Rouge. He made a few solo albums, but he was featured on many records playing his harmonica. Unfortunately, Swamp Blues had hit its zenith as Smith was just beginning and his career faltered. He passed away in Baton Rouge in 1984 at 52 years old. Blind Jim Brewer was born in Brookhaven, but in the 1940s moved to Chicago, where he made his living busking on the streets and playing at blues and folk festivals. During the blues renaissance of the 1960’s he was rediscovered and began playing college campuses, and finally toured Europe in the 1970s. Brewer died in Chicago in 1988. Come to Brookstock and The Overbrook Songwriters Festival, and continue to support the arts.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Shaw Furlow is a local composer, musician and arts promoter. He produces an internet-based video show -- From the Shadyside -- that spotlights area musical talent and is a consultant to school bands in the region.