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AACW Blues Fest— Learning, love and music

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At this year’s annual Blues and Jazz Fest, African American Cross-Cultural Works can be expected to deliver another lineup of strong bands that draw large crowds. Once again, top blues and jazz acts will likely wail away late into the night, a workshop for musicians will seed creative collaboration, gospel groups will sing out in praise and eclectic vendors will sell their wares.

AACW is also making some changes to the festival, now in its 14th year. New this year is an open mic poetry session set to blues music, an expanded Gospelfest under the open sky and a festival that takes place two weeks earlier than usual.

Bluesfest runs from Thursday, Aug. 25, to Sunday, Aug. 28, with most events at the Antioch College Amphitheater, 795 Corry Street.

For long-time AACW organizer Faith Patterson, this year’s Bluesfest is even more special. Patterson, at home recovering from a recent hospital stay, said she was deeply moved by the volunteers who organized the event without her and looks forward to the annual community celebration of diversity.

“Everyone always pulls together — you talk about strength of community,” Patterson said “[Bluesfest] makes my heart sing. I’m coming, wheelchair and all.”

Poetry kicks off this year’s festival at “Blooz ‘n Pomes,” on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Antioch University Midwest, 900 Dayton Street, and at 10 p.m. at Peach’s Grille, 104 Xenia Avenue, where poems with adult content will be allowed. Experienced and aspiring poets can drop rhymes while blues musicians accompany. AACW’s John Booth, a four-time member of the Dayton National Poetry Competition team and 2002 Dayton Poetry Slam Champion, will host.

Concluding the festival on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. is Gospelfest, which has outgrown its former location at the Central Chapel A.M.E. Church and will this year be at the Antioch College Amphitheater. Gospel groups from churches in Yellow Springs and beyond will perform. In conjunction with the event will be a basket meeting, an African-American tradition, according to Patterson, at which people of different denominations will bring baskets of food to share in a picnic meal.

“Bring your yam pies,” she said.

In between the poems and pies are two days of high energy music featuring musicians coming from as far as Nigeria and spanning the ages of 8 to 80.

On Friday at 6 p.m., the Cincinnati jazz musician Kelly Richey will play with her band, followed by Texan bluesman Andrew “Jr. Boy” Jones and his son, cellist Karen Patterson with her former students — the 5YZmen — local act Bluzion, and the Springfield-based funky bassist and Grammy-reviewed artist Larry Humphrey with his group.

The Saturday evening lineup, beginning at 5 p.m., includes Dayton reggae act Seefari, a reprise of Andrew “Jr. Boy” Jones, Debbie Davies, who hails from Providence, R.I., and the Nerak Roth Patterson Band. As always, the night ends with all the festival musicians piling on stage for a Blues Summit in a fun and chaotic jam session, Booth said.

“We always try to get the best entertainment around — it’s prolific,” Patterson said.

During the day on Saturday from noon to 2 p.m. is Innovation Stage, a unique musical experiment originated by Karen Patterson that has spawned continuing artist collaborations. This year’s event will be hosted by performers Davies and Jones and is open to all area musicians. After some introductory lessons, musicians break into small groups and have 45 minutes to write one or two songs, which they then perform for the audience.

The platform helps musicians expand their horizons by bringing them together with those of different musical styles, Karen Patterson said.

“I’m pushing you off the edge so that you can fly — show us what you can do,” said Patterson, herself a musical educator.

In the afternoon from 2 to 5 p.m., other area performers, including some novices, will take to the stage to stretch their musical muscles. One group is Booth and the Boys, made up of Booth and several of his students from Northridge High School in Dayton.

“It’s an opportunity to be noticed and get some seasoning,” Booth said of the afternoon session. “You can learn more in a half an hour on live stage than playing in a garage for one year.”

The annual bazaar with food and crafts and the beer garden will return this year as well. One booth vendor has a special place in the history of Bluesfest — John Simms, who organized the first African American Cultural Week in 1991 as his Antioch College senior project.

Local residents continued Simm’s successful effort the following year when he left town and they formed the African American Cross-Cultural Works. Later, Faith Patterson and Bill Chappelle, now deceased, conceived of Bluesfest, which annually attracts from 3,000 to 5,000 attendees to Yellow Springs and is AACW’s largest annual undertaking. The group also puts on a Kwanzaa celebration, frequently organizes “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” dinner parties across the village and arranges a Martin Luther King Jr. day commemoration.

Bluesfest was moved two weeks earlier than usual this year to make it more comfortable for the musicians, who reported cold fingers locking up on their instruments and steam coming from their heads, Booth said.

Though every year some things change at Bluesfest, some things remain the same, organizers said.

“It’s always good entertainment and good community interaction,” Booth said. “It’s always a very positive place to be.”

For Karen Patterson, who comes each year from Lagos, Nigeria, to organize the event, Bluesfest is a continuing source of inspiration.

“It’s a place of learning, of healing and meeting wonderful people,” she said. “It’s a place you get all of this love and then go back to the world.”

Visit for the full schedule of events.


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