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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Silver City Blues Festival, which is celebrating its 25th year on Memorial Day weekend, has the blues.
Like all other mass gatherings waylaid by coronavirus, the Blues Festival (silvercitybluesfestival.org) in its frolicsome and frenetic best instead has been forced into a new form.
But organizers and participants are hopeful that the planned virtual version will help bring a bit of joy to music lovers missing out this year.
“We were planning a great 25th anniversary celebration,” Executive Director Kevin Lenkner said.
“We looked at opportunities to still try to deliver music and share some Blues Festival memories with people who aren’t able to attend,” he said. “We are exploring and planning, but sometimes the computer gods will do what they will, but we’re planning to have an online Blues Festival on the same weekend.”
Details are still being hashed out, but rather than some planned major headliners for what is normally a three-day free blues extravaganza that draws more than 10,000 people, Lenkner said it will more likely be a May 23 event with at least four local musicians who will be submitting prerecorded sets.
In addition, a three-minute video that was shot in 2019 will provide a taste of the Blues Festival for those who have never attended.
When it became obvious that the show could not go on as planned, the Blues Festival received a state grant for New Mexico arts funding aimed at helping local artists and musicians during the lockdown.
“We always have New Mexico musicians in the Blues Festival,” Lenkner said. “It tends to be a percentage of the whole lineup. With this funding, we’re able to pay some New Mexico musicians for this year’s online festival and get them some money in this much-needed time for performers.”
Four paid performers have been confirmed, he said, and the hope is to add a few more volunteers.
“This is a just a small sample of the festival that we would really be able to do,” he said.
And it is a tough experiment, because internet access in Silver City can be erratic.
“We don’t have great broadband access in southwest New Mexico,” Lenkner said. “We wanted a format that would provide the best situation for the performers. There have been so many livestreaming accidents and technological failures, and that’s not our strength. We’ve never done an online performance. We’re not trying to do MTV or a high-production event. This is going to be home grown, intimate performance that we’re looking to share with a much wider audience.”
Local musician Brandon Perrault, who normally plays with a small band, will be doing a solo performance.
“My kids love it,” he said of the festival. “We get to sit there on the grass and listen. It’s always been a very nice experience. It’s really beautiful. It’s a mix of all kinds of different people – bikers, tourists and the locals. And there’s this large faction of people who just love to dance. They get up and dance in front of the stage. It’s a large and diverse mix of population that does come to the Blues Festival, which makes it kind of special.”
Although it’s not particularly a blues song, Perrault said he plans to sing the classic, “Stand by Me,” “but with everything going I thought it was very appropriate.”
His set also will include something from B.B. King as well as a tribute to the recently passed Bill Withers.
Another local musician, CW Ayon, said he’s kind of looking forward to the experience because he’s never played without an audience providing its own energy.
“That’s kind of the scary thing and the exciting thing,” he said. “Either way, I’m going to try and keep my own energy level going. I’m looking forward to that. It will make me play completely different if there was a bunch of people watching me. I’m under that microscope. If I mess up, it’s going to be recorded all time.”
But that’s actually part of the fun of it, Ayon said.
“The style of blues I play is not supposed to be perfect,” he said. “Anything can happen. I can take it longer – or make it shorter. If I forget a word, I can make something up.”
While hopefully this is just a one-year wonder, Lenkner said, the goal is perhaps gain exposure for the Blues Festival with a new audience.
“Certainly, it isn’t the ideal way to experience a performance but for all those who couldn’t get here in the past, they can get their first taste of the Blues Festival with the convenience of their own house in their pajamas,” Lenkner said. “We’ll be running photos from past year’s festivals and we have 25 years of photos to share. And last year, we had a young filmmaker make a three-minute video of the festival. It’s a little heart wrenching not to see so many people in the park at the same time, having a good time, but hopefully the online show will evoke some of those memories.”