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Keeping the Blues Alive

Charles Brown
Kelly Bryant/Electric Images Photography

Piano Man: Charles Brown is one of many blues legends appearing at the San Francisco Blues Festival.

Annual San Francisco Blues Festival recalls the city's blues heyday before the hippie invasion

By Nicky Baxter

IN HINDSIGHT, the Summer of Love signaled the demise of San Francisco's blues scene. Until then, residents could enjoy a lively evening of blues without leaving the city. The Fillmore District was dotted with little dives like Jack's, where local acts would converge. The Fillmore Auditorium would draw the marquee acts like Percy Mayfield and Bobby Bland. The entire scene was, tragically for bluespeople, usurped by Bill Graham and the hippies. Thank goodness for the annual blues festival.

In its own way, the yearly San Francisco Blues Festival has helped keep the dimming flame alive. The 24th edition boasts a lineup to cry the blues for: Percy Sledge, Homesick James, Otis Rush and the ubiquitous smoothie Charles Brown, among innumerable others. Of this illustrious group, Homesick James gets the biggest nod--and not merely because, at 91 years of age, the road to heaven's gate grows shorter with each passing hour. Though James' first recordings occurred during the Depression era, it was not until he joined forces with his cousin Elmore James a decade or so later that his career got in gear. Since that time, Homesick has been motoring along quite nicely. His latest recording, Sweet Home Tennessee (Appaloosa) shows the old guy can still shake that moneymaker.


The San Francisco Blues Festival takes place 11am­5:30pm Saturday­Sunday (Sept. 28­29) at the Great Meadow at Fort Mason. (415/979-5588)

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From the September 26-October 2, 1996 issue of Metro

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Copyright © 1996 Metro Publishing, Inc.


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