Red, white and bluesy.
Embedded in America’s musical DNA, it’s an art form only we can proudly claim.
Why don’t we?
"I think it’s just a lack of knowledge," says Mark Medina, president of the Las Vegas Blues Society. "People don’t understand what blues encompasses. Everyone calls it the forefather of rock ‘n’ roll, and that’s a pretty accurate analysis. Once you hear it, it’s not just ‘my dog died and my cow won’t give milk anymore.’ "
Dairy-producing bovines and dearly departed canines aside, the music in all its gutbucket glory arrives for a six-hour celebration Saturday afternoon at Lorenzi Park’s Sammy Davis Jr. Festival Plaza.
"There are a lot of young blues players, we just don’t see them here," Medina says, though the festival should reverse that tendency. Festival acts include the Andy Walo Trio, Ronnie Rose, Glenn Patrik and the Lucky Cheats, and singer/guitarist Michael Grimm.
"It’s the great cultural American music and you’d think people would be a little more into it, but I just do it because I love it and that’s where I’m coming from," says the Mississippi-reared Grimm, now a Las Vegas resident who performs regularly with his 12-piece band at Green Valley Ranch Resort. "It’s for people who are more serious listeners of American music. They come out to my shows, and they tend to know more about the history of blues than even I know."
Nationally recognized as a performer, Grimm was raised by his grandparents amid the country/gospel sounds of the Deep South. Teaching himself to play guitar, Grimm reveled in the music of Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin and Travis Tritt and found guitar inspiration in Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Guy.
After relocating to Nashville, praise came early when, at age 16, Grimm released the hit tune, "John Wayne and Jesus," earning him the Christian Country Music Association’s "Star of Tomorrow" award in 1997, presented at the ultimate church of country music, the Grand Ole Opry’s Ryman Auditorium. But rather than climbing to another level of fame, a failed recording deal sent Grimm back to Mississippi with his family, working local bars and casinos to hone his blues-tinged guitar skills and vocal chops.
"I got a deal with an independent label out of Nashville and was going to use it as my steppingstone to bigger things, and it wound up being a bad deal I made," Grimm says. "I was 18 and I went back home wondering what I was going to do. I found myself working at ‘Legends in Concert,’ playing the lead guitar for them in Biloxi, and met a lot of crew that came from Vegas and I wound up coming here. This isn’t a blues town, but it’s kept me in work."
Grimm developed an impressive catalog of original songs and a soulful style that caught the ear of such fans as Bill Medley, Stevie Nicks and Nancy Wilson of Heart. "It’s tough for me to find my place in today’s music, but I get those big names who become friends of mine and they’ll come out. They understand what’s going on and try to support me."
Authenticity matters more than fame to Grimm, who’s occasionally wandered stylistically beyond his country-blues foundation, leaving him uncomfortable. "I’ve tried to stick my neck out and do (other styles), and I get a bad feeling every time," Grimm says. "If I’m going to be on the road a long time, I don’t want to wind up hating every gig that I do."
No such worries about Saturday’s gig, where Medina hopes fans will realize the through-line between yesterday’s blues belters and today’s stars. "As a teenager, I started to recognize that a lot of the rock artists were playing blues songs," Medina says. "I listened to Janis Joplin and I said, ‘Well, she’s doing a Bessie Smith song’ and listening to Jimi Hendrix and thinking, ‘This is a 12-bar blues pattern.’
"Now John Mayer is one of the young artists who will tell you straight up that there is a lot of blues influence in the music he plays. A lot of young folks who listen to him don’t know it yet, but as they get older, they will."
They’ll discover a uniquely American music they can proudly claim.
Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0256.Preview
Las Vegas Blues Festival
Noon-6 p.m. Saturday
Sammy Davis Jr. Festival Plaza
in Lorenzi Park, 720 Twin Lakes Drive