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Hines Farm Blues Festival is Saturday: An Essayby Ryan A. Bunch
Published: 08/11/2009 7:00 am
Griffin's Hines Farm Blues Festival takes place this Saturday, August 15. Entertainment includes Billy Branch & The Sons of the Blues, Carl Weathersby, and Mudfoot & The Lost Soles. 4 p.m. $20. (more info and links below).
PREACHIN' THE BLUES: A Brief History of Hines Farm
From the blues drenched world we live in now, it's hard to imagine a time when most of America couldn't tell you what a 12-bar was, and certainly couldn't fathom whiskey-bent nomads re-inventing the way the guitar was played by sliding busted beer bottle necks over their fingers. But, that time was not all that long ago.
The bar/performance area at Hines Farm looks much the same today.
British Invasion - American Innovation
See, it wasn't until a bunch of snotty British kids crossed the Atlantic in the mid-1960s that America knew what a treasure it held in the blues; Clapton, Mick and Keith, Page and Plant, Eric Burdon & The Animals - they didn't hit the States in search of Sinatra or Elvis, they came looking for men most Americans had never heard of, men with strange names like Sonny Boy, Muddy, Wolf, three guys named Johnson, not one of them related to the other. These scrawny British kids eagerly bypassed New York and L.A. to run deep into the belly of the south, to ratty shacks-cum-bars in the Mississippi Delta, and to the rough and tumble streets of Chicago's South Side - places white rock 'n' roll and big band America tolerated and ignored, at best. The truth is, the English deserve most of the credit for raising the American blues movement out from under the rug of racially driven oversight.
The blues, however, were alive and well long before Brian
Jones played that first Robert Johnson 78 for Keith Richards, a schoolboy
moment that lead to the formation of The Rolling Stones, and, in large part, the international fever of interest in the American blues movement. The music
wasn't studio music - it was live music; it was juke joint, down right dirty,
dancing entertainment. Largely, it still is. Blues is always half about the
atmosphere it's played in (the other half is the playing, of course).
Great Migration, Toledo Destination
In the '40s the music moved north from the acoustic Delta and became amplified in the urban cores of Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh, among other cities. Where there was work, there was the blues, and even Toledo caught a significant piece of the humble pie. Yet, in 1950s America, white guys in theaters and fine restaurants weren't playing it. Not even close. Then, it was the voice of a people - the guttural howl of Black America - and it was played in places where working class African Americans could let loose without discrimination, in the streets of over-crowded neighborhoods, in basement dive bars, in back alleys, off the radar clubs, and in barns and shacks far out of town out in the woods.
In the 1950s and '60s, a mainstay on the circuit for traveling blues men and women, and one of few venues in the north, was a big plot of land west of Toledo called Hines Farm (the original Hines Juke Joint pictured above left). Countless African American men and women from Northwest Ohio and beyond headed to Hines on the weekends for everything from barbecues to Negro Baseball League games to dance parties with hot live music. For many years, it was the only African American-owned establishment in the state of Ohio that held a liquor license. The list of musicians who played at Hines in its heyday is long, but some names stand out brighter than others, names like John Lee Hooker, Freddie King, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Big Jack Reynolds, B.B. King, and Count Basie.
The place was a hit, yet, Hines Farm proprietors Frank and Sarah Hines (pictured right) wouldn't get to see the benefit of the unearthing of the blues that happening throughout the late 1960s. When Toledo Airport was built in the early-to-mid '60s, it cut off the
main route to the Farm, making it difficult for patrons and musicians alike to find the venue. The
strangled entrance effectively suffocated the business that the Hines' had built from scratch, beginning in the basement of their humble
farmhouse in the 1940s, eventually expanding across the entire property. Life moved on, and the Hines' found themselves in a rest home late in life, with their beloved farm boarded-up and left to rot in a state of disrepair.
The Next Generation Blues
Sometimes, you jusy can't keep a good thing down. In 1978, Henry
Griffin (pictured left), who spent a good portion of his boyhood hanging out at Hines, decided
to purchase and restore the club that he'd loved so much in his youth. Today, Griffin's Hines Farm Blues Club stands as a living homage to and preservation of the history and culture of the heyday of the blues. At Hines, you'll only ever find the real down and dirty
blues, the kind that swings your hips, purses your lips, moves your feet, makes you sweat, and
fills your head with things that'd make your parents blush. Hines Farm is the embodiment of the raw charm of blues music - soul-filled folk music plugged-in - when it was how you got
people dancing before jukeboxes or DJs. The Farm is as authentic a juke joint as
you'll find just about anywhere, and it continues to present world-class talent
from the grittiest corners of Chicago, and the Delta. When you're sitting in the big, raw
shell of a room, with it's massive rectangle bar, worn wood-paneled walls, concrete
floor, the band set up eye level with the audience - you'll know you found
something rare, a tasty musical/historical treat that most would be lucky to
stumble across, mush less live down the road from.
Soul Food - Food for the Soul
And then there's the barbecue. As the music flies from the stage at this Hines Festival it'll stick and hang in the air with the smell of sweet, smoky barbecued chicken and ribs, fried catfish, grilled corn and the best damn baked beans you'll ever have. Start sipping that whiskey and beer, stuff yourself on that magical cooking, let that music carry your head off and you'll start to see, Hines Farm is the real deal. It's got soul 100 feet deep radiating up out of the soil it sits on.
You see - Hines Farm isn't just a venue. It's not just a place to hear music. It's not even just an experience. It's a feeling, and it feels good. It feels real, and nostalgic. It feels historic, like the whole human history of pain and hurt, sadness and raw deals are being coaxed and pulled right out of you and cast off out into the night, something, perhaps, like being absolved. Not unlike the blues itself. And that's the point: Hines Farm is the blues.
These days, it's not a black or white thing, it's about preserving a legacy; not just the legacy of the blues and what it meant and means, but about preserving the legacy of Frank and Sarah Hines, and paying homage to their brevity in building a community when there wasn't anywhere else for it to go; it's about thanking Henry Griffin for investing in the history of our community and preserving it; it's about honoring this historic cultural landmark, and witnessing the love that has kept it going for the better part of 60 years. Hines Farm is as much a Toledo treasure as anything else. It is still the kind of place where dreams come alive. For instance, in visiting Hines you can become those rock heroes you've always admired: Make like Jimi, Keith, Page, Mayall, like Dylan or Jack White and run out into the cornfield belly of America, dive headfirst into the magic of the real deal blues.
This year's Festival headliner is Billy Branch & The
Sons of the Blues (pictured left). Branch's unique story took him from being born in Great
Lakes, IL out to L.A. where he was raised. In 1969, he moved to Chicago to
attend college (earning a degree in Political Science), yet, almost
immediately, he became immersed in Chicago's thriving blues scene. He took cues
from the likes of Big Walter Horton, James Cotton, Junior Wells, and Carey
Bell, perfecting the craft of the blues harmonica. Soon, Branch joined
legendary bandleader Willie Dixon in the now infamous Chicago Blues All-Stars,
replacing Bell on the harp.
In the '70s, Branch formed the Sons of the Blues (S.O.B.'s) with Lurrie Bell and Freddie Dixon (sons of Carey Bell and Willie Dixon, respectively), and began recording for Alligator records. In Chicago, Branch is known as a go-to session man, having played and recorded with legends like Muddy Waters, Koko Taylor, Johnny Winter, and Albert King, among countless others. He has also earned a reputation for his social/activist work, heading up the 'Blues in the Schools' program in Chicago, which teaches middle school children the history, technique, and art of the blues.
Joining Branch for the festivities will be famed guitarist Carl Weathersby, who relocated to Chicago from Jackson, Mississippi at the tender age of eight in 1953. Through happenstance, Weathersby was mentored as a young man by Albert King, and later became his rhythm guitarist from 1979 to 1982. He played with the Sons of the Blues for a time before carving out his own career, which he enjoys to this day. For this performance, he'll be backed by the Sons of the Blues.
Also performing is local blues band, Mudfoot & the Lost Soles.
Details and Links
Griffin's Hines Farm Blues Festival takes place this Saturday, August 15 at 3750 Berkey-Southern Rd., Swanton, OH 43558 (map here). The event begins at 4 p.m. and, weather permitting, will take place outdoors. Admission cost is $20. www.hinesfarm.com
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