Beacon Hill Blues Festival

Muddy Waters. Robert Johnson. Big Mama Thornton. These are a few of the names forever associated with the blues, that genuinely American musical form that was born among black slaves in the South, migrated to places like Chicago, New York and Memphis, and gradually evolved into rock and roll, country, jazz and other popular styles.

Others have joined the long list of blues greats, such as Robert Cray, Eric Clapton and Bonnie Raitt, representing another generation of musicians carrying on the tradition.

Blues has enjoyed a resurgence in recent decades, with blues societies springing up all across the country. The Blues Foundation in Memphis lists 165 affiliated blues societies around the world. Its mission is to preserve blues history, celebrate blues excellence, support blues education and ensure the future of this uniquely American art form.

"People who aren't blues enthusiasts have the idea that the blues is unhappy music. It's not," says David Pinsky, longtime local blues performer who lives in Ashland. "It's very danceable, and a wonderfully emotional kind of music.

"The power and joy of the blues go into making it one of America's treasures," he says. "Comparing blues to jazz, jazz is a much more intellectual musical idiom, while blues is more emotional.

Pinsky is founder and president of The Ashland Blues Society, one of the latest such organizations to be added to the Blues Foundation's membership. Formed earlier this year, the ABS has held jam sessions at Alex's restaurant in Ashland, the Avalon in Talent and a few other venues. Its members include about 50 musicians and blues fans from around the Rogue Valley.

The society is holding its first outdoor event, the Beacon Hill Blues Festival and Membership Drive, from 4 to 8 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 20 in the hills southeast of Ashland. It features two local blues bands, David Pinsky and his Rhythm Kings and the Main Street Blues Band, along with ABS members who will join the bands in a jam session. Anyone who wants to play or sing some blues may sign up for the jam session. Admission is free, but the nonprofit blues society will gladly accept donations.

Food will be available from The Beef Shack, which specializes in Philly cheesesteak sandwiches, and beer will be provided by Bear Creek Beers of Ashland.

To get there from Ashland, take the Greensprings Highway south past Emigrant Lake, then turn right on Old Siskiyou Highway. When you come to a tight loop in the road, turn right onto the dirt road that says Dead End. Follow that to Beacon Hill Lane, and then follow the signs. See the blues society's Web site,, for a map and more information.

The Ashland Blues Society is looking for new members: People who play blues, musicians who play other types of music but include blues in their repertoires, and just as important, people who love the blues and want to be a part of the society's mission to keep the blues alive in Southern Oregon.

"Our motivation is to bring blues performers and blues lovers together to create a performing and educational blues resource in our local community," Pinsky says.

One primary aim of the ABS is to gather all the musicians who play blues in Southern Oregon together periodically for blues jams, he says. There is a lot of musical talent in the Rogue Valley, and this is one way to unite many of them in a way that honors this important musical form.

The ABS also hopes to put together a blues concert featuring a nationally known headliner later this year. Pinksy says they haven't chosen the performer, but the goal is to throw a memorable blues concert in a large venue in late October or early November.

Mark Howard is a retired Mail Tribune copy editor and member of the Ashland Blues Society's board of directors.

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