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July 9, 2013 > Summertime Blues Festival in Hayward

Summertime Blues Festival in Hayward

By Jessica Noel Flohr
Photos By Bob White/CRW Photography

Has the recent heat wave got you singing the blues? Summertime is ideal for relaxing in the sun, drink in hand, soaking in the sounds of great music. The annual "Hayward-Russell City Blues Festival" has what you need to make your summer experience complete.

The blues is a musical genre as well as a musical form that originated in African-American communities of the southern United States. It has its roots in spirituals, work songs, chants, folk music, and ballads often relating life's troubles, in love, work, political oppression, or spiritual difficulties. The name of the genre refers to a sense of sadness or depression but its musical form can be found in jazz as well as rock.

Often lumped in with jazz, the blues is actually a separate group of music - rhythm and blues, boogie-woogie, country blues, jazz blues, and acid blues - to name just a few. Each region in North American has its own flavor of the blues. There's even a form of Canadian blues! California has its own style known as West Coast blues, with heavy piano and jazz guitar presence. West Coast blues found its beginnings in Texas blues players who came to California in the mid-1900s.

The Bay Area has a historical connection to West Coast blues through the city of Hayward. The area now occupied by Southland Mall was once an unincorporated town known as Russell City, named after Joel Russell, a prospector drawn to California in search of gold. Russell acquired a parcel of land in 1853 from the family of a local Mexican rancher named Francisco Soto. After the 1906 earthquake, real estate agents sold plots of land in "Russell City."

The Great Depression took a toll on the little town and it became attractive to families with limited income. Nearby shipyards provided work for laborers, many from Mexican and African American backgrounds. African Americans, relocating from the South, brought their musical traditions to the Bay Area and with the birth of jazz in the 1920s, the new music spread to the West Coast; Russell City became a "proving ground" for local blues artists. Even as Russell City made its mark in the world of music, government agencies did nothing to maintain the little town and began the process of buying out homeowners to redevelop the area. Few original buildings remain. However, former Russell City citizens and blues fans reunite each year at the Russell City Blues Festival to remember and celebrate its role in American music.

The Hayward-Russell City Blues Festival, now in its 14th year, is an annual event coveted by local blues fans and is well worth the cost of admission. Sponsored by the Bay Area Blues Society and the City of Hayward, the festival features a rich array of musical talent. Delighting the crowds this year will be Johnny Rawls Mississippi Soul Man, Sister Monica, Lester Chambers, Ron Thompson, Sammy Lee, Jamie "Blues Boy" Powell, and many others. Special features include a Guitar Showdown and Harmonica Explosion.

One stage set up on the lawn of Hayward City Hall Plaza, will provide nonstop music Saturday and Sunday. No picnic baskets or ice chests are allowed, but an ample supply of food and drinks will be available from local vendors. The Hayward-Russell City Blues Festival is sure to be a fun musical treat, so bring a friend and join in this celebration of great music and local history!

Hayward-Russell City Blues Festival
Saturday and Sunday: July 13-14
11 a.m. - 7 p.m.
Hayward City Hall Plaza
777 B St., Hayward
(510) 836-2227
Tickets: $25 - $45

*Kick off Party
Friday, July 12
9 p.m. to 1 a.m.
*After Party
Saturday, July 13
9 p.m. to 1 a.m.
The Bistro
1001 B Street, Hayward
(B and Main Streets)
(510) 886-8525

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