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Carolina Blues Festival announces plans for live and virtual events

Carolina Blues Festival announces plans for live and virtual events

Vanessa Ferguson

Greensboro's Vanessa Ferguson.

GREENSBORO — This month's 34th annual Carolina Blues Festival will feature both live and virtual events, including a virtual performance by Vanessa Ferguson and an awards ceremony, and a live food truck rodeo.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year's blues festival has gone primarily virtual, partnering with the annual N.C. Folk Festival during the weekend of Sept. 11 to 13.

The folk festival will broadcast pre-recorded performances online and on Greensboro Community Television. They will begin at 6 p.m. daily.

Among the folk festival virtual performances will be Atlanta-based acoustic folk/blues artist Veronika Jackson, presented by the blues festival and its sponsor, the Piedmont Blues Preservation Society.

Ferguson's virtual performance will be presented from 8 to 10 p.m. Sept. 12, following the folk festival broadcast.

A Greensboro resident and finalist in the television competition "The Voice," Ferguson will headline a lineup titled "Women of the Blues."

Find more details and the performances at piedmontblues.org.

The blues festival is the longest, continuously-running blues festival in the Southeast.

In a news release Friday, the Piedmont Blues Preservation Society called this year's blues festival "a stunning show of resilience amidst a global pandemic and national social unrest between Black culture and the American consciousness."

“The pairing of technology and Black Arts Culture has been a consistent fixture of American history,” society President Atiba Berkley said in the news release.

“The opportunity to bolster our brand by utilizing both analog and digital experiences is on par with a five-year strategic plan we were already executing," Berkley said. "Now, we have an opportunity to lead our genre into the 21st century."

The 35-year-old, Greensboro-based nonprofit will raise money by hosting multiple live events in Greensboro, on social media, and via multiple broadcast platforms free-of-charge. They will start this Saturday.

The blues society has received support from ArtsGreensboro, YES! Weekly, The Weaver Foundation, Downtown Greensboro Inc., The Martha & William Charitable Foundation and Audio & Light, to name a few.

The Carolina Blues Festival includes a series of events to please fans who are used to their traditional concert weekend, organizers said. The festival is reminiscent of a family reunion that invites diverse communities to gather in the spirit of Black Arts Culture.

The PBPS Blues & Foods Market is a mobile food truck rodeo featuring live performances. Created several years ago, Blues & Foods Market was built to bring awareness to food disparity and highlight the connections these issues have to blues culture.

In compliance with public health advice, the event will be a drive-thru experience mandating that all who leave their vehicles wear masks. There will be intermittent performances held during the event at The Renaissance Shops, 2521 Phillips Ave.

Self-Help is the sponsor for this event with Second Harvest Food Bank as a nonprofit partner. On Saturday and Sept. 11-13, patrons can pull up in their cars to get food from any of three food trucks on site.

PBPS seeks volunteers who qualify as “low-risk” due to the pandemic. To find out times and further details follow Piedmont_Blues on Instagram or visit piedmontblues.org.

The Piedmont Blues Preservation Society has organized the concert featuring Ferguson, known for her powerful stage presence and range across genres.

The full festival experience is the aim each year and PBPS’s Board of Trustees also will follow through on its legacy of recognition in excellence that began over two decades ago, organizers said.

This portion of the program will occur during a planned intermission designed to give fans a chance to refresh snacks and settle in for a grand finale.

Mike Carr Junior Bluesman Award: Presented each year to one regional up-and-coming youth blues artist. The award recognizes emerging young artists for keeping the blues alive through their music and public displays of talent. The presentation is named in honor of former board member, Mike Carr, who encouraged the PBPS to reach out to young musicians in the Piedmont. The award is sponsored by Summerfield Family Chiropractic.

Recipient: Brendan Hinch, who will showcase his talent live.

Brendan Hinch is a 14-year-old native of Greensboro and the winner of the 2019 PBPS: Road to Memphis Blues Challenge, where he qualified to perform in the 2020 International Blues Challenge. He lives with his parents and older brother, Thomas, who was his first guitar influence.

Brendan enjoys most genres of music particularly blues, jazz, rock, punk and alternative. His musical influences include Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Prince, Gary Moore, Buckethead, Rory Gallagher and Michael Jackson. He admires many North Carolina artists; not least among them being John Coltrane, Tal Farlow, Eric Gales, Charlie Hunter, J. Timber and Sheila Klinefelter.

Hinch is a freshman at Grimsley High School. He loves to skateboard and hang out with friends when he’s not attending regional blues jams, an experience recently put on hold due to public health concerns regarding the pandemic.

Keeping the Blues Alive Lifetime Achievement Award: Presented to an individual who has made a significant contribution to the blues culture through their work, volunteerism or investment.

Recipient: Irish Spencer (aka Wild Irish Rose)

Spencer is an award-winning and highly skilled communications and management specialist with 30-plus years of experience in the field of broadcast and management. Based in Greensboro, she started her radio career at Murryhill Broadcasting (Power 97 and WEAL Gospel). Throughout her career, she has worked, consulted and managed several radio stations. She and her husband own Spencer Group, a corporate marketing, advertising and event management firm. Spencer Group also offers free veterans’ services under the direction of her husband, William M. Spencer Jr., a retired veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps.

Spencer received her undergraduate degree from N.C. A&T, a Master of Humanities from Tiffin University in Ohio, and a doctorate in management from Colorado Technical University in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Spencer can be heard every Saturday at noon on 90.1 WNAA the broadcast voice A&T. Her show, known as Wild Irish Rose, features the popular Shout Out Saturday, News You Can Use, and Old School R&B Flavor. “I love my alma mater, A&T, and this is my way of giving back. 2021 will mark twenty years as the Wild Irish Rose at WNAA,” Spencer said in the release.

On May 1, 2015, Spencer’s hard work was recognized nationally by President Barack Obama during a White House ceremony presenting her with the ‘Champion of Change’ award. She recently co-chaired Carolina Theatre’s successful $2.5 million-dollar Setting the Stage capital campaign. Currently, she is the assistant vice chancellor for corporate and foundation relations at Fayetteville State University.

Spencer is a member of several boards, committees, and commissions locally, regionally and nationally. “I truly believe I am here to serve the least of these. My heart is most happy when I am helping and engaging others," she said in the news release.

Before the arrival of COVID-19 forced the suspension of its programming, PBPS had community impact over the years with partnerships and programs such as PACE of the Triad and After Gateway. The group had been visiting schools, recreation centers and summer camps via the Blues in the Schools program for over two decades. Education has been at the core of PBPS programming, but Berkley explains that more cultural context is needed.

“Blues is more than music. It is ‘Black Arts Culture’ and as such it has always had crucial connections to other art forms and daily life, including victories and struggles of African Americans, as well as our full history,” Berkley said in the release.

This year the North Carolina Folk Festival extended an opportunity to collaborate. Expect to see 20 minutes of pre-recorded PBPS content via the folk festival as part of their new format. Between the two organizations there will be four hours of prerecorded and live performances and content from multiple genres airing nightly Sept. 11-13.

Headline performers are:

Vanessa Ferguson (Rhythm & Blues + Jazz) – from Brooklyn, N.Y.; Ferguson has performed from Beijing, China, and around the world with B.B. King’s Blues Club All-Star Band. She came into America pop-culture as a contestant on NBC’s “The Voice” where she competed as a member of Alicia Keys’ team. Her career since the show has been fruitful; frequently performing around the U.S. and sharing stages with headliners including Big Daddy Kane. The A&T graduate will perform two 45-minute sets spanning a wide range of styles.

Veronika Jackson (Blues) – from Decatur, Ga., by way of Florida; presented by the 34th Annual Carolina Blues Festival: Women of the Blues, will perform a tribute to N.C. blues legend Elizabeth “Libba” Cotton during the N.C. Folk Festival, which will include a ceremony from the N.C. Music Hall of Fame hosted by James Shields. Shot on location at the southernmost terminus of the Underground Railroad, the 2020 North Carolina Folk Festival Virtual Concert Series premiere includes content curated by HUMblMediaSvcs.com and will be available in three segments of about two hours each. It features artwork by Durham artist, Darius Quarles, for which there is also a fundraiser. It will be available on several media outlets. Live links will be available on piedmontblues.org and ncfolkfestival.com.

Learn more about the Piedmont Blues Preservation Society (https://piedmontblues.org) and the Carolina Blues Festival (https://carolinabluesfestival.com). The Piedmont Blues Preservation Society will continue to post updates on its Facebook page (www.facebook.com/PBPS85/), and on Instagram (instagram.com/piedmont_blues/).

To learn more about the North Carolina Folk Festival, and the performers and locations listed above, please visit ncfolkfestival.com. The North Carolina Folk Festival will continue to post updates on its Facebook page (facebook.com/NCFolkFestival), Twitter (twitter.com/NCFolkFestival) and Instagram (instagram.com/ncfolkfestival).

To learn more about 7 Cinematics, which has recorded the folk festival's live pefformances for broadcast, visit 7cinematics.com, on Facebook (facebook.com/7cinematics), and on Instagram (instagram.com/7cinematics/).

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