DENTON, MD – Music can unite generations as well as create tension. In its truest form it is good story telling that can connect seemingly different people through the expression of shared experiences. One of the best examples of this is blues music, which grew out of the African-American experience of the Deep South. It springs from spirituals or gospel music, work songs, field hollers, and rhymed narrative ballads.
Today’s musicians who carry on the proud tradition of the blues do it for the same reason as those who founded the music – to tell stories that convey the human condition. A handful of the lucky ones have made a career out of singing the blues. Some of them will be performing at the Caroline Summerfest in historic downtown Denton on Friday, August 19 and Saturday, August 20. This year’s theme is aptly titled Jazzin’ Up the Streets, a New Orleans-inspired music celebration.
“I like to think of my career as a 37-year overnight success,” laughs Somerset County resident Tom Larsen. “I originally started out playing all acoustic music learning the poetry of the old bluesmen from the 1920s and 1930s. Those were my teachers. I learned from the great acoustic masters like Blind Lemon Jefferson and Robert Johnson.
“There was no YouTube then. I would buy the records and listen carefully, spending eight to 10 hours a day practicing to learn the various styles of playing. As the blues took hold in the United States I turned to musicians like Muddy Waters and BB King,” he adds.
Larsen dug in his heels resisting playing the electric guitar, but that didn’t last. “That switch to going electric was a pivotal point in my career,” he says. He had been playing solo acoustic in coffeehouses. “I was doing well as a solo act, but I began to jam with local musicians. One night in 1979 at Ocean City’s Talbot Street Cafe I brought in the rhythm section and people got up from their seats and started to dance. It was like light a light went off in my head. Oh, I can perform as part of a band where we can play bigger places,” he adds.
Chris English of Eden, also in Somerset County, another Caroline Summerfest performer and full-time career musician, credits his ability to write, perform and distribute original music as the keys to his success. “I have learned so much over the years. I consider myself very lucky. The distribution of music is so different now. It enables independent musicians to get their music to the people more easily,” says English.
olution as a musician is similar to the evolution of the blues. “I’m trained as a painter. In college I was invested in playing guitar, having been introduced to folk music and blues from my older brother. The blues is like a door that you open but it just doesn’t bring you forward. It traces back from someone else who was influenced by someone else and so forth,” he adds.
In addition to playing the blues, English teaches its history as well at Salisbury University. Titled “Blues, the Roots of Rock and Roll,” the course includes live performances to demonstrate different styles of blues. It also explores the social and economic climate that shaped the music as well as the musicians that crafted it.
For English, this genre answers the question “How do I feel?” “I look at it (the music) as being a part of life. It is a good basis of expression of art. This music is just made to accompany life,” he says.
Like English, Larsen writes his own music. He also has his own publishing company, record label and has authored two books. Like English he connects with the blues’ ability to evoke emotion. “It (playing the blues) is truly cathartic. Whatever you are going through in your life provides content. It is therapeutic to just get it out. Then the people in the audience react when it is something that they are going through too. It’s my real life and it is reflecting on their real lives,” he adds.
Chris English will be performing on the Courthouse Stage at 7 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 19. The Bluesman Tom Larsen Band is scheduled on the Main Stage also on Friday at 8:30 p.m.
Diverse live music on three stages
Joining Chris English and Blueman Tom Larsen Band will be a variety of music, which will be performed on three stages throughout the festival. Performers include CRACKERJACKS!; Mike Hines & the Look; Fox Twin Trilogy; Mike Elzey Trio and Youth Performer Showcase; United States Navy Band’s Commodores; Joe Holt Jazz Trio; Street drummer Tommy Buckets; A Breath of Fresh Air; Jeff Washington Band and River & Rhodes and Butler & Jamison. For a complete performance schedule visit www.carolinesummerfest.com. Like the event on Facebook for festival updates at facebook.com/carolinesummerfest.
Other event features
This year’s event will again feature an opening ceremony, but will be followed by a street performance showcase by area marching bands on Friday instead of a pedestrian parade. The inaugural performance of the Courthouse Community Band will be featured on Saturday, and both days include strolling jugglers, “balloonatics” and street corner percussionists.
This year’s Summerfest car show will include an exclusive display of classic and custom cars in partnership with the Ridgely Car Show. Check in this year will be at Bullocks Plaza. The cars will get increased attention at the event as they “cruise in” to the Summerfest show staging area on Market and First streets with a police escort.
Other features include:
- Fireworks display. Fireworks launch from the bottom of Market Street at 9 p.m. on Saturday.
- KidzArt!! Enjoy a variety of family-friendly free activities and crafts at the open lot off Market and Third streets on both Friday and Saturday until 8 p.m. Since the event theme is a musical one kids can expect to make lots of musical crafts. This year the children’s sandpit and Boxtown USA will be found in the KidzArt area.
- Plus bounces, giant slides and games, face painting, sand sculpting, the “World’s Longest Chalk Board” and other activities that will keep kids and adults busy for hours.
And, of course, you can also enjoy the variety of festival foods and gaming, all benefiting local nonprofits.
Caroline Summerfest is a pet-free, wheel-free and alcohol-free event. Park your bicycle, scooters and skateboards on the bike racks located at Third and Gay streets. The rain date for Saturday is Sunday, August 21.
For more information, call 410-479-8120.
The festival is supported in part by a grant from the Caroline County Council of Arts, the Maryland State Arts Council and the Maryland Tourism Development Board. The Town of Denton and Caroline County Recreation and Parks produce the event with the volunteer support of hundreds of citizens. More than 100 area businesses and nonprofits support the festival through donations and in-kind gifts.