Jontavious Willis of Greenville, Ga., is among the young players in Port Townsend for the Acoustic Blues Festival all week. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/for Peninsula Daily News)

Jontavious Willis of Greenville, Ga., is among the young players in Port Townsend for the Acoustic Blues Festival all week. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/for Peninsula Daily News)

DIANE URBANI DE LA PAZ: Live music dips toes into the crick

THE LAST FULL month of summer has come.

Is there any way for us grownups to get back that feeling, that barefoot, splash-in-the-crick all day feeling?

I say yes. Summertime live music does it.

And here we’ve got the Acoustic Blues Festival at Fort Worden State Park.

With two free events Friday and Saturday, this party has the power to restore one’s youth, if only for a little while.

Mary Hilts Parry, the Port Townsender who’s run the show since 2012, orchestrates a week of workshops leading up to the public shows. Hundreds of musicians, beginners to veterans, teenagers to septuagenarians, learn and jam together from 9:30 a.m. until 2 the next morning.

The thrill of it all, she said, is seeing what this does to the human body.

“People come and get completely exhausted — and let go of all of their inhibitions,” she told me.

“By Wednesday, new synapses open. They transform.”

A community flowers, naturally, with the blues as its undercurrent. Teachers and students play knee to knee, “phones are off. Screens are off. Nobody’s watching life.” They’re living it.

To keep this music alive we’ve got to have young people, from all walks of life, turning a song into a universal story.

This festival has Jontavious Willis, a 22-year-old singer-guitarist who first made music at Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church in Greenville, Ga.

He’s since been called “wonder boy” by Taj Mahal.

Willis takes the stage on the Fort Worden Commons lawn for a concert at high noon this Friday.

Crow tribal member and singer-guitarist Cary Morin will be at his side.

The festival also has harmonica man Andrew Alli of Richmond, Va., and Jerron Paxton of Queens, N.Y., both younger than 30.

Paxton, besides singing and playing Cajun accordion, piano, fiddle, banjo, guitar and harmonica, is artistic director of the Acoustic Blues Festival.

He’ll appear at tonight’s Blues Dance at McCurdy Pavilion, for which the musicians are Paxton, the G Burns Jug Band “and friends,” meaning mystery guests of the artistic director’s choosing.

“He likes to let things be organic,” Hilts Parry said of her colleague.

Among the young blueswomen is Jenny Peterson, a Port Townsend local raised on boogie-woogie piano at the blues festival. She’s earned a math degree at St. Olaf College in Minnesota; worked in information technology; bicycled through South America; moved to Portland, Ore.

Peterson has come back to her music and back to Fort Worden, at least for the week.

Peterson, who is one of the accompanists at the Portland Ballet, is here to teach beginning blues piano. “We’re excited to have her; she’s got a great energy,” said Hilts Parry.

Plan on energy overflowing as the Rev. John Wilkins of Memphis, Tenn., leads his gospel choir — grown from the workshop all week — in a free concert at 11 a.m. Saturday on the lawn beside the Fort Worden Chapel.

The many permutations of the blues — Chicago-style and rock ’n’ roll among them — were built on the chassis of country blues, Detroit’s Rev. Robert Jones said during the Voice Works festival earlier this summer.

Addressing talk of cultural appropriation, Jones added: If you’re human, you got a right to sing the blues.

If you’re a middle-aged white woman in the suburbs, if you’re a 15-year-old in a small town, “you got issues. Put it in verse. Write about it.

“It’s part of our DNA to take three chords and 12 bars to tell a story.”

_________

Diane Urbani de la Paz, a freelance journalist and former PDN features editor, lives in Port Townsend.

Her column appears in the PDN the first and third Wednesday every month. Her next column will be Aug. 15.

Reach her at [email protected]

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