ARTISTIC DIRECTOR JERRON PAXTON
Although only in his 20s, Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton has earned a reputation for transporting audiences back to the 1920s and making them wish they could stay there for good. Paxton may be one of the greatest multi-instrumentalists that you have not heard of. Yet. This young musician sings and plays banjo, guitar, piano, fiddle, harmonica, Cajun accordion and the bones (percussion). Paxton has an eerie ability to transform traditional jazz, blues, folk and country into the here and now and make it real.
He’s a world class talent and a uniquely colorful character who has been on the cover of Living Blues Magazine and the Village Voice and has been interviewed on FOX News. Paxton’s sound is influenced by the likes of Fats Waller and “Blind” Lemon Jefferson. According to Will Friedwald in the Wall Street Journal, Paxton is “virtually the only music-maker of his generation—playing guitar, banjo, piano and violin, among other implements—to fully assimilate the blues idiom of the 1920s and ’30s.” Playing with Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton is like being at a house party in the wee hours after all the civilians have been weeded out and it’s time for the lunatics to shine. Jerron is musical genius, expert in all forms of traditional American music from Blues to Ragtime to Swing to Appalachian to you name it. He is a brilliant player of piano, guitar, fiddle, banjo, harmonica, Cajun accordion, again you name it. He mesmerizes audiences with his storytelling, his humor, and his prodigious musicianship.
ALVIN YOUNGBLOOD HART – GUITAR
Alvin Youngblood Hart creates a blurred line of Blues, Roots, Country and Rock music that has been enjoyed in our culture for decades. In the summer of 1999 found Hart teamed up with celebrated producer Jim Dickinson to begin recording START WITH THE SOUL, a record hailed as a new-breed Southern Rock classic and one that piloted Hart’s return to the “sacred garage.” START WITH THE SOUL was chosen by the New York Times as one of the top 10 releases of 2000, as well as the BBC’s Blues Record of the Year.
In the summer of 2005, fortified in the wake of much recognition and determined to defy any stereotypes attached to his artistry, Hart released the self-produced (and personal favorite) MOTIVATIONAL SPEAKER a rock guitar free-for-all, paying homage to fallen and missing rockers like Phil Lynott and Sly Stone. Hart’s songwriting, singing and electric guitar prowess are all championed on this project and showcase the versatility he continuously strives to offer his fans and profession.
In 2006, Hart collaborated with several Memphis area musicians in the Craig Brewer cult hit film “Black Snake Moan” by both serving as a guitar tutor to the film’s leading actor, Samuel L. Jackson, and recording a duet with the film’s female lead, Christina Ricci, for the film’s riveting soundtrack.
In the fall of 2006, Hart was invited to hit the road for two months with Rock-n-Roll legend Bo Diddley for what turned out to be Diddley’s final coast to coast tour. Hart then joined fellow notable string playing colleagues Corey Harris, Don Vappie, Keb Mo and Guy Davis and contributed to the uniquely progressive 2007 OtisTaylor record RECAPTURING THE BANJO.
A personal career highlight occurred in the summer of 2008 when Hart met the late Irish guitar legend Gary Moore. Moore invited Hart, a lifelong Thin Lizzy fan, onstage to jam with himself and original Thin Lizzy drummer, Brian Downey. In the Spring of 2009 Moore requested Hart’s band as the opening act on a tour of Germany. Moore was seen offstage most every night with friends, cheering Hart’s band along during their set.
In 2010 Hart joined forces with friends Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars, Black Crowes) and Jimbo Mathus (Squirrel Nut Zippers, Tri-State Coalition) to form “The South Memphis String Band”. The fun-loving and regaling trio was quickly dubbed by the media as an “acoustic super group”. Recorded in a borrowed radio station studio while the band was on its first road trip, their debut record HOME SWEET HOME was received with rabid enthusiasm. The 2011 Blues Music Awards (The Blues Foundation) nominated the record for “Best Acoustic Album”. The group released a second album in the spring of 2012. A third record is in the making.
HAPPY TRAUM – GUITAR
Renowned folk singer, writer, teacher, recording artist and first-rate fingerstyle guitarist Happy Traum began playing guitar and 5-string banjo as a teenager, and was an important participant in the legendary Greenwich Village folk scene of the 1950s and ‘60s. He was a student of blues guitar legend Brownie McGhee, a major influence on his picking style. Happy has played in concerts, clubs and festivals throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia and Japan, both solo and with his late brother, Artie Traum, with whom he performed for more than 40 years. Their performances at the 1968 and 1969 Newport Folk Festivals helped to gain them an avid following and a contract with famed manager Albert Grossman.
Happy has since appeared and/or recorded with Bob Dylan, Levon Helm, John Sebastian, Larry Campbell, Eric Andersen, Allen Ginsberg and many other major figures in the folk music world. As one of America’s best-known guitar instructors, Happy has taught at major guitar workshops throughout the country and overseas; is the author of more than a dozen best-selling guitar instruction books; and has produced more than 500 music lessons on DVDs and CDs for his internationally-renowned company, Homespun Tapes.
Happy’s latest CD, “Just For the Love of It,” was released in October, 2015.
JOHN MAXWELL – GUITAR
John “Gray Hound” Maxwell was raised in Chicago and indoctrinated in the blues at the Old Town School of Folk Music by the great John Long. In over 40 years of honing his skills, John has shared the stage with Gatemouth Brown, Maria Muldaur, Ruthie Foster, Susan Tedeschi, Roy Rogers, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Jon Cleary, St. Louis legend Henry Townsend and others.
The 2016 Memphis IBC honored John’s first solo recording, “Blues For Evangeline” as one of the top 5 Self Produced CD’s of the year. John is currently producing his second CD to be released by the end of 2017.
From the Marin Independent Journal: “On ‘Blues For Evangeline’, his debut recording, Maxwell shows his incredible proficiency…so accomplished, so authentic in its interpretation of an American blues tradition, that he probably won’t be Marin’s best kept secret for long.”
SUZY THOMPSON – GUITAR/VIOLIN
Suzy Thompson is one of the rare musicians today who has mastered the acoustic blues violin, following in the footsteps of Lonnie Chatmon, Clifford Hayes and Eddie Anthony. A powerful blues singer in the styles of Memphis Minnie and Bessie Smith, and a highly respected blues fingerpicking guitarist, Suzy is unique in her ability to combine fiddle, vocals and guitar in the blues and ragtime idioms.
In 2003, after thirty years as a working musician, Suzy Thompson released her first solo CD, “No Mockingbird” which features blues songs (including the title track, which has been described as “Memphis Minnie on acid”) and oldtime fiddle rags. Suzy is backed on the album by an all-star cast including Maria Muldaur, Fritz Richmond, Geoff Muldaur, and Mike Seeger. Her followup CD, “Stop & Listen”, released by Arhoolie Records in 2005, is a live concert recording with Del Rey, Eric Thompson, and the Thompson String Ticklers.Over the past three decades, Suzy has been a leading force in many influential roots music groups, including the California Cajun Orchestra (two award-winning CDs on the Arhoolie label), the Blue Flame String Band (with Kate Brislin and Alan Senauke), Klezmorim (who started the klezmer music revival in the 1970’s), the all-woman Any Old Time String Band (featured on the Grammy-winning Arhoolie box set), and most recently, the Bluegrass Intentions (with banjo ace Bill Evans.) She has also worked with Darol Anger, Laurie Lewis, Beausoleil, Peter Rowan, Maria Muldaur, Jody Stecher, Del Rey, Geoff Muldaur, Alice Gerrard, D.L. Menard, Jane Voss, Rinde Eckert, the Savoy-Doucet Cajun Band, Sukay, and Frankie Armstrong, among others.
MEREDITH AXLEROD – GUITAR/VOCALS
Meredith Axelrod is multi-instrumentalist and vocalist who envisions the limitless potential of early twentieth century music, whether it be Ragtime, Music Hall, Pop Standard, Boogie Woogie, Tin Pan Alley, String band, Jazz, Country, Blues or even Jug Band music, and embodies the spirit that brought the music into existence and drove it ahead. Ms. Axelrod learned to sing and play by listening to how folks did it a century ago – through the medium of cylinders, 78-rpm records, and from sheet music.
The dominant theme throughout her expansive repertoire, is that, whatever the genre, these are songs she learns from the original sources which were released between the 1890s and the 1930s. Delightfully engaging and unassumingly comic, her performances draw on many of the tools of musical scholarship. Part of the allure of old time music, indeed any music throughout the history of recorded music, is hearing the original recordings as played and sung by the original performers in their heyday, loving what they’re doing and doing it because it means something to them in that moment, never because of nostalgia, and Meredith brings the same unbridled passion, earnest devotion and candid vitality to all of her music. There’s nothing to dust off in her bag of reclaimed songs, as her resourceful arrangements and heartfelt renditions prove. In her care, the songs are unmistakably inspired, infectious and relevant. Meredith Axelrod is an example to herald, someone who has found possibility and joy in the treasures of cultural folklore.
STEVE JAMES – SLIDE GUITAR
Steve James, has been a regular teacher and performer at Centrum Blues Week for over twenty years, and he brings more than a half century of playing experience with him. He is presently working on his fourth book of instrumental blues and roots music instruction for String Letter/Acoustic Guitar and has created video programs for Homespun and hundreds of print and on-line lessons for both guitar and mandolin, and recorded so many tunes that he’s forgot some of them.
Of James’ style and songs, it’s been said: “He has a rare gift for using traditional forms with complete naturalness.” www.stevejames.com
BEN PAYTON – GUITAR
Ben Wiley Payton of Jackson, Mississippi is an acoustic blues artist with roots in the Delta, but he’s only a relatively recent convert to the vintage style. Born in tiny Coila in the hill country just east of the Delta, Ben lived in Greenwood—the resting place of Robert Johnson—before moving as a teen with his family in the early 1960s to Chicago. There Payton fell in the city’s vibrant blues and soul scene, performing with artists including Bobby Rush.
In the late ’60s jazz pianist Randy Weston recruited Payton for an extended stay at a club in Morocco, which widened his musical outlook.
In the late ’70s Payton laid down his guitar and concentrated on raising his family, but picked up the acoustic guitar again in the ’90s. Payton soon returned to his home state of Mississippi, and began studying and then performing the music of early masters including Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, and Mississippi John Hurt.
He also applies his rich voice and considerable guitar skills to his own compositions—his debut CD, Diggin’ Up Old Country Blues, features all originals that build upon early Mississippi blues traditions. The CD received heavy play on XM/Sirius’ station “Bluesville.”
Payton has a great passion for blues history and teaching others about acoustic country blues and its connections to broader themes in African American history.
MARCUS CARTWRIGHT – VOCALS/GUITAR
Marcus Cartwright was born in Stuttgart, Arkansas, and raised in Holly Grove, AR. Marcus loves playing his guitar, mainly the delta blues style. He is a Christian and plays regularly at various churches. He began singing at the age of 4, playing the guitar harmonica at the age of 10 and playing the guitar at the age of 14. His first blues festival performance was in October 2010 at the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena, AR, on the Bit O Blues Stage. Since then he has performed regularly at the festival. He also performed on the festival’s Sonny Boy Williamson Main Stage and hosted the Festival Youth Jam since 2014. Marcus has been a regular performer at the Juke Joint Festival, in Clarksdale, MS.
Marcus participated in the 2013 Pinetop Perkins Workshop as a student which allowed him to play at the Annual Pinetop Perkins Homecoming with Pinetop Perkins, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Hubert Sumlin and Preston Shannon. In 2015 he worked as an intern teaching guitar during the workshop.
In 2015 Marcus performed at the first St. Francis County Heritage Festival, Forrest City, AR. Marcus has performed with other artists such as Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Phil Wiggins and The Peterson Brothers.
MARIA MULDAUR – BLUES VOCALS & JUG BAND
Maria Muldaur is best known world-wide for her 1974 mega-hit “Midnight at the Oasis,”which received several Grammy nominations, and enshrined her forever in the hearts of Baby Boomers everywhere; but despite her considerable pop music success, her 50-year career could best be described a long and adventurous odyssey through the various forms of American Roots Music. During the folk revival of the early ’60s, she began exploring and singing early Blues, Bluegrass and Appalachian “Old Timey” Music, beginning her recording career in 1963 with the Even Dozen Jug Band and shortly thereafter, joining the very popular Jim Kweskin Jug Band, touring and recording with them throughout the ’60s.
In the 40 years since “Midnight at the Oasis,” Maria has toured extensively worldwide and has recorded 40 solo albums covering all kinds of American Roots Music, including Gospel, R&B, Jazz and Big Band (not to mention several award-winning children’s albums). She has now settled comfortably into her favorite idiom, the Blues. Often joining forces with some of the top names in the business, Maria has recorded and produced on-average an album per year, several of which have been nominated for Grammies and other awards.
KIT ‘STYMEE’ STOVEPIPE – WASHTUB BASS, WASHBOARD, GUITAR
Musician and 78 collector Kit Stymee Stovepipe grew up in Eugene, Oregon. First cutting his teeth playing Washboard and Guitar in the group, The Sourmash Hugband, riding freight trains and hitchhiking as a means of touring back in 2003. Kit developed his style, drawing on the great musicians of the 20’s and 30’s, and by busking on the street to make a living. In underground scenes, He first made a name for himself as an influential musician with his group The Inkwell Rhythm Makers, by making obscure music more accessible through performance, and sharing the original recordings with people. Kit continues to do so in his current Band, The Crow Quill Night Owls.
Kit was mentored by the legendary Baby Gramps, and is inspired by many, from blues players like Blind Blake and Frank Stokes, to hillbilly groups like The Scottdale String band and The East Texas Serenaders. Jazz musicians like Jabbo Smith, novelty groups like the Five Harmaniacs, and popular stars such as Nick Lucas and Cliff Edwards. All these unique musical styles are the ingredients in the melting pot he continually draws from. A large part of the theme kit approaches this music with, is on not being afraid of the unpolished and raw. There is a ferocity in those original recordings, even when they’re sweet, they still have a bite.
Kit has shared stages with Honey Boy Edwards, Dick Dale, John Sebastion, Robin Ramaley of the Holy Modal Rounders, Baby Gramps and also with Maria Muldaur who he recorded a Grammy nominated album with, and toured with promoting the record. He has played everywhere from West coast farmers markets, to the subways of New York. Large festivals and theaters, to small house concerts and punk rock basements. In some circles he has even been known to dance onstage with Belly dancers of the highest caliber. One day he might find himself onstage playing to a large enthusiastic crowd, the next, drink a 40 with you behind a dumpster and sneak into a sold out hip hop show. Wherever he goes, Kit remains a professional weirdo who loves discovering and sharing old art.
CHRIS BURNS – PIANO/KEYBOARDS
Christopher Burns is a seasoned, consummate pianist/organist, who has spent his long career exploring and mastering the many varied styles and nuances of both early traditional, and contemporary Blues and R&B. His authentic, soulful, straightforward delivery on piano, organ, and all keyboards, has earned him the respect of Blues artists everywhere, and he is much sought after for both recording and touring.
He has played and recorded with Blues legends such as: Albert Collins, Little Milton, JohnnyTaylor, Frankie Lee, Ernie Johnson,and Freddie Hughes.
Chris is the Musical Director & keyboardist with Maria Muldaur, and in addition to touring and recording in that capacity, he produced the critically acclaimed debut album for The California Honeydrops, and three albums for legendary R&B/soul singer, Freddie Hughes.
ELEANOR ELLIS – GUITAR
Eleanor Ellis, a native of Louisiana, has taught and played throughout the United States and in Europe. She has developed a distinctive and personal approach to the music. According to one reviewer, “More than copying one artist or another, Ellis distills the elements of the originals and transmits them, intact, in her own expressive way.” Her musical influences include the blues musicians she has known personally as well as early blues greats such as Memphis Minnie and Mississippi John Hurt.
She has a long involvement with the blues scene and has traveled and played with the late Gospel street singer Flora Molton, was a regular at the Saturday afternoon barbershop blues jams of Piedmont bluesman Archie Edwards and sometimes accompanied Delta blues great Eugene Powell in Greenville, Mississippi.
Eleanor is a founding member of the Washington, DC, Blues Society and the Archie Edwards Blues Heritage Foundation. She has written about the Blues for several publications, teaches guitar privately and at various Blues campsand is producer and editor of the video documentary Blues Houseparty, which features well-known Piedmont blues musicians such as John Jackson, John Cephas, Phil Wiggins and Archie Edwards. Once upon a time she also once worked at the Archive of New Orleans Jazz at Tulane University and at the New Orleans Jazz Museum.
DARREN LOUCAS – GUITAR
Darren Loucas is a returning faculty member, and is well known in the Northwest as a guitarist, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. Loucas, along with harmonica player, Sean Divine are co-founders of “The Jelly Rollers”- a BB Award winning band in the Best Acoustic Blues category.
He has routinely shared the stage with artists and bands such as Bill Frisell, Ian Moore, Wayne Horvitz and more. Darren has years of experience as a teacher and performer.
ALEXANDER ANDREWS – GUITAR
Alex Andrews is apart of Canada’s next generation of old-time musicians. Although born and raised in St. Catharines, Ontario, he grew up listening to and developing a very genuine appreciation for early American blues.
Becoming progressively intrigued by the vast amount of culturally rich and philosophically profound recordings and figures, Alex embarked on several travels through the United States with his good friend Danny Phelan, intent on meeting and learning from as many people and resources as possible.
His repertoire spans over multiple instruments – ranging from blues to jazz, ragtime, country and step dance music. He has spent nearly a decade studying, teaching and performing regionally throughout Ontario under the Niagara String Band with Shawn Fehlow.
ERNIE VEGA – MANDOLIN
String master Ernie Vega performs stark versions of Country Blues, Gospel-blues, Old-Time, & Jazz classics (as well as original compositions) that are stripped down to their barest elements. Sounding like ghosts from a by-gone era, he illustrates the simple elegant power of these great songs.
Ernie performs and teaches his broad repertoire of songs at the fabulous Jalopy Theater, a venue fast becoming Brooklyn’s center of Folk, Roots and the Art of the Jug.
Ernie Vega transports you to a time when the Village was still bohemian and old-time music was all there was.
ADAM TANNER – MANDOLIN
Adam Tanner grew up in northern California, and first heard old-time bluegrass and country blues music in his early teens. Proficient on fiddle, mandolin and guitar, Adam has spent countless years slowing down the recordings trying to pick out every detail of the traditional music he loves.
Adam’s approach to playing reflects the diversity of styles heard on the early 78rpm discs and field recordings from which he draws his greatest inspiration.
Over the last twenty years, Adam has toured in both the US and Europe and made recordings with The Crooked Jades, The Hunger Mountain Boys and The Twilite Broadcasters. Adam has been on the teaching staff of The Swannanoa Gathering at Old-Time Week, Fiddle week and Mandolin/ Banjo week as well as Mike Compton’s Monroe Style Mandolin Camp.
Adam makes his home in NC, he teaches private lessons in old-time and country blues fiddle, mandolin and guitar, he is currently on staff at East Tennessee State University’s, Bluegrass, Old-Time and Country Music program.
HENRY BUTLER – PIANO
Considered the premier exponent of the great New Orleans jazz and blues piano tradition, Henry Butler is a ten-time Pinetop Perkins (formerly W. C. Handy) Best Blues Instrumentalist Award nominee. A rich amalgam of jazz, Caribbean, classical, pop, blues, and R&B, his music is as excitingly eclectic as that of his New Orleans birthplace.
A rich amalgam of jazz, Caribbean, classical, pop, blues, and R&B, his music is as excitingly eclectic as that of his New Orleans birthplace. Blinded by glaucoma at birth, Butler has been playing the piano since he was six years old, and arranging, composing, and performing professionally since he was twelve.
A New York Times review of a performance at New York City’s Jazz Standard described Butler as “percussive in his attack, ostentatious with his technique…the picture of stubborn mischief — and, not coincidentally, of New Orleans pianism. He obliged the spirit of the occasion with his own stylistic consommé: billowing whole-tone glissandi; furrowed, Monkish hiccups; boppish two-handed octaves; flare-ups of funk and Chopin.”
ETHAN LEINWAND – PIANO
Ethan Leinwand is a St. Louis-based blues pianist and preservationist. A student of the music’s rich history and varied regional styles, Ethan presents personal interpretations of many of the great (and forgotten) old-time barrelhouse masters. He specializes in St. Louis pre-war piano blues, Texas barrelhouse, Deep South barrelhouse, early Chicago boogie-woogie, and good-time hokum stride. His influences include: Jimmy Yancey, Henry Brown, Little Brother Montgomery, Peetie Wheatstraw, Aaron ‘Pinetop’ Sparks, Albert Ammons, Black Bob, Cooney Vaughn, Professor Longhair, and Carl Sonny Leyland.
Though it’s a tradition rarely championed, the piano has played a tremendous role in the history and development of the blues. In his performances, Ethan teaches this story, connecting tunes with the pianists, regions and environments whence it came. Ultimately, a more complete history of the blues emerges.
Originally from Middletown, CT, Ethan has spent time living in New Orleans and Brooklyn. He moved to St. Louis in the summer of 2014, and, connecting with the city’s thriving blues community and its deep piano blues heritage, has quickly become a mainstay. In addition to his solo work, Ethan plays in multiple projects, include The Bottlesnakes (piano/guitar duo with Nick Pence) and The St. Louis Steady Grinders (with vocalist Miss Jubilee).
JUDY LAPRADE – PIANO
Judy LaPrade grew up in West Virginia where she played and sang in church. By junior high school she led and accompanied the patient choir at the local state mental hospital, then as an adult took the Blues into schools and music therapy groups for people with developmental challenges. These experiences set a path to build bridges between therapy and the creative arts, and she’s been teaching both ever since. She also played, sang, and wrote music for several years with the Elktones, an eight piece band of wild and wonderful West Virginia women.
Judy began standard classical piano lessons at a young age with a strong ear. She longed to put printed music aside and play with other people, but didn’t know how. So when a friend steered her to Blues camp in 1985, she felt she’d come home. She fell in love with traditional acoustic Blues and early string band music.
She’s taught Beginning Blues Piano for many years to people both new to piano and current players who want to learn Blues on piano. A teacher’s teacher, she also loves working with established musicians who want to transition to piano. She creates the classes she always wanted: learn Blues theory and patterns then use your ear, voice, body and heart to play and improvise. Her students play and sing in class with no printed music, only lyric and chord sheets. She has helped many students build skills and courage to play by ear and jam with other musicians. “We honor and experience the Blues masters and culture as we take learning out of the head and into the body and heart, where the Blues live”.
PHIL WIGGINS – HARMONICA
During the early years of his development as a musician, Phil Wiggins was constantly playing with and learning from some of the most notable acoustic blues musicians that made their homes in the Washington, D.C. area: Flora Molten, Mother Ester Mae Scott, Wilber “Chief” Ellis, John Jackson, Archie Edwards, John Cephas, and others. He was mentored as well by many other musicians who frequented the D.C. area: Johnny Shines, Sam Chapman, Sunnyland Slim, Henry Townsend, Robert Lockwood, John Dee Holeman, Algia Mae Hinton, Howard Armstrong, Ted Bogan, Etta Baker, and others. “I have always been amazed by and grateful for the generosity of these masters of traditional blues. They welcomed me and shared freely of their knowledge and abilities.”
Phil performed with Flora Molten at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C., every summer from 1972-1976. It was there in 1976 that he met and joined with Chief Ellis on piano, John Cephas on guitar, and James Bellamy on bass, forming the group Chief Ellis and the Barrelhouse Rockers. They performed at several venues and festivals in the D.C. area until Chief retired. Phil and John Cephas then formed the duo Cephas and Wiggins. They performed together for over 30 years, becoming America’s premier blues duo. As ambassadors of the Piedmont Blues, Cephas and Wiggins took their music all over America as well as all over the world. “John and I have performed on every continent except Antarctica.” Some venues of note include Carnegie Hall, Sydney Opera House, Royal Albert Hall, and the White House.
SEAN DIVINE – HARMONICA
Inspired by the boogie-woogie piano he heard his uncle play as a child, Sean Divine initially started playing harmonica because it was the only instrument he could afford. Then he discovered the Cephas and Wiggins album, “Dog Days of August”, decided this was the kind of music he wanted to make, and dove into his harmonica journey with new determination.
After reuniting in Seattle with guitarist and high school friend Darren Loucas, the pair formed the Jelly Rollers. Sean has continued to perform and record with the Rollers and numerous other roots projects around the Northwest ever since.
BRUCE “SUNPIE” BARNES – ACCORDION
Bruce Sunpie Barnes is a veteran New Orleans musician, former park ranger with the National Park Service (30 years), actor, photographer, book author, former high school biology teacher, former college football All-American, and former NFL player (Kansas City Chiefs). Sunpie Barnes’ many careers have taken him far and wide. He has traveled to over 50 countries playing his own style of what he calls Afro-Louisiana music incorporating blues, zydeco, gospel, Caribbean and African influenced rhythms and melodies. He is a multi-instrumentalist, master accordion and harmonica player, also piano, rubboard, talking drum, and dejembe. He learned accordion from some of the best Zydeco pioneers in Louisiana, including Fernest Arceneaux, John Delafose, and Clayton Sampy. Along with his musical group Sunpie and the Louisiana Sunspots, he has performed at festivals and concerts across the US and around the globe. Sunpie has recorded 6 critically acclaimed CDs with his compositions currently featured in 16 Hollywood film productions.
In addition to this musical work he is also a current member of the Paul Simon Band and recently finished a 58 city arena tour “Paul Simon and Sting Together”, which span 34 countries (2014-2015). Film acting has also been a important part of his busy career. Sunpie’s work has appeared in such Hollywood productions as Point of No Return, Deja Vu, Under Cover Blues, Jonah Hex, Treme, The Big Easy, Skeleton Key, Heartless, The Gates Of Silence and Odd Girl Out.
He is deeply involved in New Orleans parade culture and co-authored the 2015 critically acclaimed book “Talk That Music Talk” – Passing On Brass Band Music In New Orleans “The Traditional Way”. Over 300 of Sunpie’s photographs are featured in this book.
He is the Big Chief of the North Side Skull and Bone Gang, one of the oldest existing Black Carnival groups in New Orleans. Sunpie is also a active member of the secondline parading organization, Black Men of Labor Social Aid and Pleasure Club.
LIGHTNIN’ WELLS – UKE
Mike “Lightnin'” Wells breathes new life into the vintage tunes of the 1920s and depression era America employing various appropriate stringed instruments in a dynamic style which he has developed in over thirty years of performing experience. Raised in eastern North Carolina, Wells learned to play harmonica as a young child and taught himself to play the guitar as he developed a strong interest in traditional blues and folk music. His many years of public performance began in Chapel Hill, N.C. in the early 1970s. During the following decades he has presented his brand of acoustic blues throughout North Carolina, the United States and Europe.
Lightnin’ remains an insatiable student and researcher, studying the various forms of American roots music from bygone eras. With his experience, knowledge and well-honed performance skills, Lightnin’ Wells has established himself at the forefront of the traditional blues revival. His musical style is personal and energetic yet remains true to the original root form. His goal is to entertain and educate using a variety of sources, influences and techniques to express his dedication, respect and pleasure in presenting this unique American art form. Wrote one recent reviewer; “Whether you look for to performers for inspiration, education, virtuosity, or sheer entertainment, Lightnin’ Wells delivers all the above, every single time”.
BEN FOX – BASS
Ben Fox is a bass player and multi-instrumentalist living in New Orleans. Ben became enamored with jug band music when he got to play with some traveling hoboes who had stopped in his college town of New York City. He took it upon himself then to learn pop tunes from the beginning of the 20th century from source recordings as they had, through a fascination with how we got the musical landscape we have today.
Instead of attending graduate school, he moved to New Orleans to learn the styles of his musical heroes in their natural habitat. He likes to think of himself as attending the Free University of the Streets of New Orleans, which first taught him to play jug band music and rags, blues, american old time, music from the balkans, manouche jazz, cajun music, and is presently giving him a traditional New Orleans jazz intensive. Ben is a style junkie, though, and has no interest in stopping there. His summers generally involve traveling between fiddle festivals, Shapenote conventions, renaissance fairs, or Greek music camps, trying to soak up more of the social language of music.
AARON GUNN – VIOLIN
Aaron “Mr.” Gunn is a veteran of the new generation of blues and string band musicians that have cut their teeth on the streets of the U.S. and abroad. Growing up in Florida, music was his avenue to other cultures and his teachers were the great recordings of earlier generations.
He started playing as a young teen in the old time and Irish communities, but didn’t begin busking in earnest until moving to Asheville, NC, where he discovered that he could make an honest living via bucket and case.
In New Orleans, Gunn found a broader community with the same mindset and moved there shortly after. He has grown into a formidable multi-instrumentalist with a solid grounding in jazz & vernacular music from America and beyond, but it is the role, voice and proper use of the violin that remains his principal obsession.
LEROY ETIENNE – WASHBOARD/PERCUSION
Leroy Etienne was born in St. Martinville and now resides in Lafayette, LA. Although everyone spoke Creole in his household growing up, Leroy learned much of the language from his mother, Odelia Porter Etienne.
Leroy’s father, Lawrence Etienne taught Leroy the Bamboula or rumba rhythm commonly used in the older Creole musical forms of juré and la la music. Both juré and la la are musical predecessors to zydeco.
Leroy has has a deep connection to this music and currently plays drums with Sunpie and the Louisiana Sunspots.
As a Los Angeles native, Elora Jane has experienced the Music industry first hand. Playing sold out shows at Famous California venues such as “Hotel Cafe” “The Roxy” and “The Mint.” Elora spent 5 years making a name for herself and through her connections she was able to preform at The New Orleans Jazz Festival and sing backups for wonderful people like, Howard Hewitt, Laura Bell Bundy, & Shirley Jones.
But Elora could not ignore her true passion, teaching. Elora discovered her passion for teaching through the College of the Young Americans. A touring outreach program where Elora was lucky enough to tour the country and teach at the same time! being in the industry for so long and wanting to teach again were the reasons she packed up her life and moved back to Washington.
She is currently teaching music in Snoqualmie, WA at Big Star Studios, and continues to educate her students on the joy and beauty of music.
**Note: Due to a scheduling conflict we regret Craig Ventresco is not able to join us this year and look forward to welcoming him in the future.