PORT TOWNSEND — Our instructions are simple.
“Come ready to have a good time,” said Phil Wiggins, cohost of the Piedmont Blues House Party open to all ages this Saturday night. Come 7:30 p.m. at Fort Worden State Park, the harmonica-playing Wiggins will join his friend and singer-guitarist Eleanor Ellis for a one-time-only get-together.
Ellis, a founding member of the Washington, D.C., Blues Society, has traveled the world with her music. Now with Wiggins, she’s flown out West for the Piedmont blues workshop put on by Centrum, host of numerous other music and art events in Port Townsend. Leading up to the public house party, the pair have spent the better part of the week with workshop participants from Port Townsend and beyond. They’re all sharing both technique and raw energy.
The house party will take place in the JFK Building, with admission at $25 for adults; if you’re fortunate enough to be 18 or younger, you get in free. For tickets and information, call the Centrum office at 360-385-3102, ext. 110, and visit Centrum.org.
Ellis, a Louisiana native and the maker of the documentary film “Blues Houseparty” (available on Folkstreams.net), is known for singing and playing the blues in her own way. Yes, Memphis Minnie and Skip James inspire her. She could be a sister to Bonnie Raitt. Yet this is a woman with a soulful sound of her own.
“My friend Eleanor is a master of all those styles: Piedmont, Delta, ragtime,” said Wiggins, who’s been a fan of her playing for the past 35 years.
“She has a beautiful voice,” he added, to go with the voice of her guitar. When the duo steps up Saturday, they might surprise blues novices.
“This music is not sad. It’s joyful. It’s like an antidote. People will hear some great, celebratory, uplifting, acoustic blues,” Wiggins promised.
“They should bring their dancing shoes, if they want. Most acoustic blues is created as dance music. We definitely encourage people to do that if the spirit moves them.”
“You would dance, if you were in a juke,” added Mary Hilts Parry, another host of the party. She brings together Centrum’s Acoustic Blues Festival & Workshop every August; along with Wiggins she has developed the autumn house party.
Like Ellis, Wiggins is a messenger of the blues. Twice he’s won W.C. Handy Blues Foundation awards, and is only the third harmonica player to receive a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship. At 64, he is the single living player of the blues harp to hold the NEA’s Master of Traditional Arts title.
He is also a honey-voiced man who puts people at ease. While influenced by the great bluesmen of the past century, he also learned plenty from his grandmother Effie Mae Carter. Summers of his youth found him with her at the family place near Birmingham, Ala. Then he’d go back up to Washington, D.C., when school started. Wiggins still lives in nearby Takoma Park, Md.
This Saturday, “what [Wiggins] is hoping is that people will drop the fourth wall,” said Hilts Parry.
“This is a community thing. We want people to feel at home,” with warm lighting, snacks and soft drinks.
The October house party started about five years ago when Wiggins couldn’t make it to the summer blues festival. He put the Piedmont workshop and concert together in the Centrum style: Bring people to Fort Worden to learn and jam together several days and nights in a row, and let the magic unfold.
For music lovers, Saturday’s party “is a rare opportunity … the synergy is unique. It doesn’t happen again,” said Hilts Parry.
She chose this particular week for a reason: The full moon, which “brings a certain kind of pull.”
By Saturday, the glowing white orb will be on the wane — yet “it is going to be pretty big,” said Hilts Parry.
“We’ll make it cozy inside.”