September 4, 2003


Celebrating ‘Year of the Blues’—
Annual AACW Blues Fest underway

Local musician Roth Patterson will perform with his blues band Saturday, Sept. 6, at 9:30 p.m., during the AACW Blues Fest & Festival Bazaar.


Yellow Springs musician Nerak Roth Patterson sometimes finds musicians for the annual AACW Blues Festival in unusual places — for instance, in the cab of his semi.

It was there, as he headed toward Chicago on Interstate 70 not long ago, that Patterson heard on his CB radio someone playing the harmonica “so good it gave me chills,” he said in a recent interview. When the music stopped, he immediately got on the radio to find out who was playing, and that’s how Little John, a Chicago musician and trucker, ended up playing at this week’s Blues Fest.

The 2003 Blues Festival & Festival Bazaar started Wednesday, with a Gospel Fest, and will continue through Saturday night, Sept. 6. Events from Thursday through Saturday will take place on the Antioch campus, with most performances at the Miles “Budd” Goodman Amphitheater. Little John will perform in the AACW Blues Summit, the event’s last concert, from 11 p.m. to midnight on Saturday.

Little John will be joined at the festival by a variety of musicians, including nationally recognized names such as saxophonist Houston Person, who will play with cellist Karen Patterson, New York-based guitarist Guy Davis, Cincinnati’s Sweet Alice Hoskins and Chicago’s Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials. Local talent includes Dayton guitarist Noah Wotherspoon, the Yellow Springs blues band Natural Facts and zydeco band Kiko Rio. The Nerak Roth Patterson Band, which recently finished a nationwide tour as the opening act for Jethro Tull, will also perform Saturday night.

Last year the festival attracted thousands of blues lovers, according to organizers, and this year even more are expected for the “Year of the Blues” event, with some coming from Chicago and New York City, according to Karen Patterson. People who love the blues come to listen, and performers come not only to perform but to learn, Roth Patterson said.

“The festival allows me to stretch and grow as a musician,” he said. “The day you can no longer learn something on your instrument is the day to put it down.”

As a festival organizer, Karen Patterson seeks to create an atmosphere of “what’s new, what’s different,” she said. She especially takes pleasure in bringing together musicians and other artists who might normally not perform on the same stage. A cellist trained in classical music, Patterson will perform with blues saxophonist Person. And she’s organized an “Innovation Stage,” where she’ll bring together blues musicians and poets, among other artistic combinations.

“That’s what being an artist is all about, doing things in a new way,” she said recently. “It’s about always creating something new, taking the art form to a new level.”

Playing with those versed in a different musical genre not only expands her own technique, Karen Patterson said, but “helps me to find my celloistic voice. I’m always looking for new perspectives.”

Based now in Hastings-on-Hudson, in New York, Patterson has shaped her life around sparking artistic innovation. As an artist-in-residence at schools, she most enjoys introducing classically trained musicians to the rhythms and improvisation of blues and jazz.

Patterson, whose mother, Faith Patterson, is president of AACW, hopes to introduce both local children and adults to those musical forms at the Blues Festival, in two different venues. On Thursday, the children’s blues and jazz workshop, aimed at those from fifth grade through high school, will include material from the jazz department of New York’s Lincoln Center and the real life example of the Nerak Roth Patterson Band. Children are encouraged to bring instruments, but if they don’t have instruments, “there will be kazoos waiting for them,” she said.

Karen Patterson will also offer a workshop for the general public, on Saturday at the “Innovation Stage.” The event will feature Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials and Guy Davis, and will also include kazoos for those who don’t bring instruments.

Of course, Karen Patterson’s little brother, Roth, hasn’t been left out of her innovative efforts, and he credits her with bringing him together with acoustic blues guitarist Guy Davis, with whom he recently toured. The two Patterson siblings, Roth with his electric blues guitar and Karen with her classical cello, have also meshed their own instruments, and, Roth said, “pulled off some doozies.”

Ask Roth Patterson about his history as a musician, and he goes right back to the first moment he ever saw an electric guitar, when he was 3 years old, and his father brought home two musicians, one of whom played a red Fender Mustang.

“I remember clear as a bell watching those two guys playing,” he said. “I remember seeing the guitar and knowing that was all I wanted to do.”

When he was 9, Patterson spied the guitar of his dreams at a Revco drugstore in Fairborn. His father put the instrument on layaway while Roth earned the $40 to purchase the instrument by cutting grass at home. Paid $5 for each mowing, Patterson remembers “using a lot of fertilizer to make the grass grow.”

He finally got that guitar, and treated it royally. “That guitar saw wax every week,” he said. He studied with Dan Julty in town and, years later, took lessons from Jim Smith at Central State University, but mainly he considers himself self-taught.

“The blues I learned by living life,” he said, “and by having the opportunities to hang around good players.”

Roth Patterson’s music career seems to be taking off, and these days he’s seeing a lot more of his guitar than his truck. He recently completed a European tour of blues festivals and clubs, including stops in Spain, France, Austria, Norway, Germany and the Czech Republic. After that tour, he stayed home a week, then took off for the tour with Jethro Tull. Patterson is especially excited about a possible new job, as the opening act for B.B. King.

But right now he’s excited about playing blues with some of the best musicians in the world, right in his hometown. Often when he performs around the country, people have heard about the AACW Blues Festival, he said, and he expects many music lovers to come to listen and performers to show up to play the blues.

—Diane Chiddister