From the Director’s Desk with Eric McElveen
We recently sat down with festival director Eric McElveen to chat about the past few years of the festival, his favorite “Bluesfest” act and what is happening at the festival this year.
When did you become festival director and what is your background?
I became director of the New York State Blues Festival in August of 2014 so the 2015 event was the first one I had the privilege of planning. I’ve been producing festivals at Sterling Stage outside of Oswego since 1995 and have been playing in local bands since that time as well.
What has been your favorite “Bluesfest” act up to now?
One of the great things about festivals is that all the bands definitely seem to bring their “A” game, so there have definitely been numerous artists who have really brought us some powerful performances. When all is said and done, though, I think what strikes me and audiences in general is when the musicians really make an emotional connection with the crowd. JJ Grey, at last year’s festival, was a perfect example of that and is certainly one of the stand-outs in recent memory. I recall looking out at the people in front of the stage and numerous folks had tears running down their faces during “The Sun Is Shining Down”. It’s the ultimate connection, goosebumps, and energy just crackling in the air.
How has the festival evolved in your opinion?
The festival has such a long and great history going all the way back to 1992. When it started not only was the Syracuse blues scene really happening in a big way, but on a national level there was a revival going on and numerous legends who got their start in the mid-20th century were still out doing shows. Over time many of those greats have passed away so the event has evolved into being less of a showcase of these elder statesmen and more of a celebration of the legacy. We are highlighting the ripple-effect that their music left on the fabric of American music and its surrounding culture. One of my goals as director has been to broaden the spectrum of artists that we bring in, so while we still love acts that pay homage to the traditional sounds and song forms, what I feel is really carrying us into the future are acts that are drawing on not just their blues roots but also on: rock, soul, country, and jamband influences as well as anything else that goes well in the proverbial gumbo pot.
Why is it important to keep the blues alive?
Blues music has a long and scattered history and for those who choose to study the details it certainly is a fascinating tale. It’s something that at times seems ancient and mysterious, other times it has been at the cutting edge of pop culture and despite constantly changing tastes and trends, keeps coming back into our collective musical conversations. Ultimately it is music that makes us feel better about our common sufferings and challenges of life. When it is at its best it truly is a healer and that is something that never goes out of style whether you are tuned into its history or not.
Any local blues acts people should check out?
ALL OF THEM! Syracuse and CNY have one of the best blues scenes in the entire country. This is not exaggeration or a biased opinion. Many of our local players and bands have decades worth of experience not just playing in their hometown but have toured extensively. Several have supported some of those 20th century legends and returned to the area to for more sedentary lives with their families and without the difficulties of life on the road. I encourage all music fans to check out the local listings and go enjoy these wonderful artists!
A hint of what is to come this year?
As we chat, plans for the 2018 New York State Blues Festival are fully underway. We are once again excited and confirmed to be back in Clinton Square on Friday July 13 and Saturday July 14. Also, as we did last year, we have been progressively working on growing and extending the event in the days leading up to the big weekend. These activities will include a ticketed concert event on Wednesday July 11 and additional free music shows on Thursday July 12. As in past years, all of the Clinton Square music will continue to be free to the public. Lots more details will be coming soon, stay tuned!