- Courtesy Of Luke Awtry Photography
- Bobby Rush
We all process music differently. Sometimes it's the background of memories, a soundtrack for things we've done. Other times, it's the main event, the memory itself — a concert with friends or maybe a song that stopped us in our tracks.
Music is also a lens through which to view history. And, maybe I'm biased, but I find that lens more reliable in many ways than the written word or even documentaries. Music carries a deep lore, full of legends and gripping stories, and an emotional resonance that can make the listener feel history rather than just learn about it.
I was reminded of how powerfully music can teach history when I popped down to the Flynn Space during the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival last week and listened to legendary bluesman Bobby Rush.
In front of a baby boomer-heavy audience, the 88-year-old took the stage with a guitar, a harmonica and eight decades' worth of stories.
"Hello there, Burlington," Rush said, beaming a wide smile beneath his trademark mustache. (He used to tape on a fake one as a teenager in the 1940s to play clubs in Pine Bluff, Ark.) "Any of y'all ever seen me before?"
An older white man raised his hand and said he saw Rush play in Chicago in the '60s.
Rush nodded his head. "Oh, yeah, Chicago," he said in the same way Star Wars' Obi-Wan Kenobi said, "Now that's a name I've not heard in a long time."
"Played a lot in Chicago," Rush said, and the multitudes contained in that sentence alone could fill a book.
Rush moved to Chicago in 1953, where he would befriend and play music with the likes of Little Walter, Howlin' Wolf, Jimmy Reed, Etta James and Muddy Waters, among others. As he worked through his catalog — noting a few times that he has recorded well over 300 albums — he recounted stories about his old Chicago days.
Almost as skilled at standup comedy as music, Rush had the crowd laughing often, whether singing songs such as "Bowlegged Woman" or telling stories about getting tied up in bed by an ex-girlfriend who was wielding a baseball bat. (Just as he got to the point where the ex in question was lubing up the bat with lard, Rush stopped playing and said, "You know, y'all might be a little too sophisticated for this song," scoring a massive laugh from the crowd.)
Other stories hit a different nerve. Rush talked about his excitement over getting hired at an all-white blues club in 1950s Chicago called Skins. It paid $13 a night, far more than any other gig at the time, but other Black performers didn't want to play, much to Rush's bemusement. He soon understood why. When he arrived at the club, he saw that he'd be performing behind a curtain the whole time.
"The white folks wanted to hear the blues, but they didn't want to see a Black man," Rush recounted with a wry grin.
More than any other moment of this year's jazz fest, that Rush story summed up what festival cocurators Michael Mwenso and Jono Gasparro told me was their goal when booking this year's acts: diving into the Black roots of American music. Rush, like fellow octogenarian festival headliner George Clinton, is one of the few living pillars of those roots still on the road, playing music and telling stories. I do not take that for granted, nor should anyone.
The music was incredible, but it was also a privilege to hear a gifted storyteller such as Rush recount his history. There were so many uplifting, educational, emotional and just plain fun moments in this year's jazz fest — hot damn, that Lakecia Benjamin set was on fire! But no memory will stay with me as clearly as Rush walking around the stage with a harmonica to his lips while his foot beat out a rhythm, like some wizard showing me the secrets of ancient magic.
All About Loving
The City of Burlington's Racial Equity, Inclusion & Belonging Office is throwing quite the party for Juneteenth celebrations this Sunday, June 19. At numerous Queen City sites, the second installment of the city's holiday celebration features a ton of music, along with games, activities, educational events and plenty of food.
The big ticket is at City Hall Park, with a stacked lineup of music and events. New Jersey hip-hop act Poor Righteous Teachers, Boston rapper Ed O.G. and Brooklyn's Jeru the Damaja will perform and be inducted into the National Hip-Hop Museum in a special ceremony, along with Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Alice Walker.
Activist and scholar Angela Davis will speak as part of the inaugural Black Experience Celebration on Saturday, June 18, at Battery Park. The day-before-Juneteenth event explores the lived experiences of Vermonters and features music, presentations and food. Be sure to check it out at blackexperiencevt.com.
In addition to the Juneteenth inductions, the Hip-Hop Museum will present "Hip-Hop's Freshest Fashions" at the Flynn Space. The installation, which runs from Thursday, June 16, through Thursday, June 23, features items such as legendary rapper Rakim's Gucci jacket and styles worn by artists DJ Jazzy Jay and "Yo! MTV Raps" host Dr. Dre.
Music-wise, the Waterfront Park stage features Jenni & the Jazz Junketeers, SINNN, Winooski's own A2VT and rapper Charlie Mayne. Over at City Hall Park, highlights include Myra Flynn, DJ Luis Calderin and KeruBo. Battery Park has Omega Jade (check out the review of her new album) and DJ Ron Stoppable on the bill. Roosevelt Park gets in on the action, as well, with a lineup of kid-friendly events, followed by performances by DJ Dakota, Lutalo and Albino Mbie.
The theme of last year's Juneteenth celebration, the first staged by the city, was honoring the history, culture and resiliency of Black Americans. This year's theme is love. The Racial Equity, Inclusion & Belonging Office's website reads, "When you think about Black Americans, you can't forget about the heart that it took to rebuild, restore, and revive a culture. We will have a weekend long Celebration powered by LOVE. Love from within, around and outside the community."
Messing With Texas
- Tim Bridge
Comedian Tim Bridge is getting out of Dodge.
The standup, a fixture in the Burlington comedy scene for the last eight years — and a finalist for best standup comic in this year's Seven Daysies awards — is pulling up stakes and heading for the Lone Star State. It's actually Bridge's second attempted escape from the Green Mountain State; he initially left in 2019 to move to New York City. But as he said in a recent phone call, "I can't remember what went down, exactly, but didn't something happen to throw a wrench in everything in 2020?"
After that nifty little pandemic thing scuttled his Big Apple comedy dreams, Bridge returned to Burlington but admits he's felt stuck in "how-to-leave" mode ever since. After a trip to Austin, a city known for its robust comedy scene, Bridge finally found his escape route.
"I needed a change of scenery," he revealed. "You sort of peak as far as what you can do comedically in Burlington after four years. It's been a wonderful town to live and grow in, though. The comedians and artists in general are all batting above the average. It's like Single-A baseball, but we're all hitting dingers, man."
Bridge isn't pulling an Irish goodbye, though. On Thursday, June 23, he'll celebrate his 30th birthday while saying au revoir at Waterworks Food + Drink in Winooski at an event dubbed "Happy Birthday, Goodbye Forever." With comedians Tracy Dolan and Mike Thomas and MC-for-the-night Craig Mitchell, Bridge will toast himself as he steps through the ever-revolving door of Burlington's creatives.
"I'm a little disillusioned in the sense of 'making it,'" Bridge said, referring to his hopes for succeeding in Austin. "But I did some shows there and, hey, they still laugh down there! Shocking, I know."
As to whether his material will undergo a big change after switching locales, the 2017 Vermont's Funniest Comedian contest winner seemed unconcerned.
"The only change I foresee is, you know, actually leaving my house in January now," he quipped.
If you want to hear one last joke before Bridge sets off for the land of "Walker, Texas Ranger," head to Waterworks. The show is free, but seats can be reserved through the venue.