Healing the Healthcare Blues, 2017
--by Terry Rogers
The 6th Annual Inner City Blues Festival, “Healing the Healthcare Blues,” returns April 22 to the North Portland Eagles Lodge, 7611 N. Exeter. (at Lombard). Doors will open at 5 p.m., and music runs until midnight.
The event is a fundraiser for Health Care for All-Oregon, an advocacy organization working to bring an equitable, affordable, comprehensive, publicly funded health care system to all Oregonians. The uncertainty about access to health care in the current political climate means that Health Care for All-Oregon’s work is now more important than ever. Get your advance tickets online now at Ticket Tomato.
The Inner City Blues Festival grew out of the Rainbow Coalition in 1988. That was the year we entertained the thought of our first black president, Jesse Jackson. The Blues Festival for that campaign brought together northeast neighborhood residents, people from all over Portland, community leaders and politicians who supported Jesse Jackson for President. Bob Gross, Ken Cropper and Norman Sylvester, along with a group of dedicated activists, were a part of planning the first festival. History proved that these advocates were 20 years too early for the first African American president. The Inner City Blues Festival continued over the next 10 years in support of different social causes and lack of justice.
In 2011, when Bob Gross and Ken Cropper went to a meeting to hear about the campaign for universal access to health care in Oregon, they wondered if it wasn't a good time to bring back the Blues Festival for this movement. They called local blues artist, Norman Sylvester, who had booked the bands for the Inner City Blues Festivals in the past and he was on board to launch "Healing the Healthcare Blues," now in its sixth year.
Sadly, folks in the music community know all too well about how lack of affordable health care ends a life before it's time. Musicians play far too many benefits and memorials for those affected by inflated health insurance costs and inadequate coverage. Sylvester believes that "health care is a human right" and we cannot continue with the inequities of our current for profit system. That is why he and the Blues Festival committee have donated countless hours for the past 6 years to attract 800+ guests, 150+ businesses and partner organizations to increase awareness about universal access to health care through Health Care for All- Oregon.
The evening’s entertainment features blues plus other aspects of the varied American music scene. For example, the Obo Addy Legacy Project, “Okropong” (meaning “eagle”) performs traditional Ghanaian dance and music. Using a variety of hand and stick drums, talking drums, bells and shakers, the musicians build layers of driving rhythms while the dancers, clad in colorful West African garments, engage in an energetic physical “conversation” with the drummers.
Steve Cheseborough re-creates the blues and hokum of the 1920s-'30s, interspersing the songs with stories, history and humor. He sounds like Blind Lemon Jefferson or Bo Carter playing, with Alan Lomax moderating and Groucho Marx adding comments. Cheseborough has the uncanny ability to turn any setting into a 1925 Mississippi juke joint.
Norman "Boogie Cat" Sylvester was born in the segregated South before his family moved to Portland from Louisiana for better opportunities. He spent his Jr. high and high school years in NE Portland with a rich exposure to music in churches and the community. A Jefferson High school classmate taught him to play guitar on his family's porch and soon he was playing in various soul bands while also working full time raising his family. He worked for years in trucking. When his company went broke, with only one child left at home, he made the leap to live his dream of being a full-time musician. Now, 32 years later, the Norman Sylvester Band is still in demand playing clubs, festivals, schools and events throughout the northwest.
The wildly entertaining Strange Tones blend a unique concoction of original blues, rockabilly, surf, and vintage RandB, and finish it off with a private eye twist. They’ve shaken and stirred these elements into their own original sound and style known as Crime-A-Billy. Well-crafted song writing, top-notch musicianship, and a playful, engaging stage show have contributed to the band's induction into the Hall of Fame and a multitude of awards. Led by the husband-and-wife team of Julie and Andy Strange, and fortified by longtime partners, guitarist Suburban Slim and drummer Andy Gauthier, this group is one of Portland’s most original and accomplished bands.
Mary Flower’s fingerpicking guitar and lap-slide prowess is soulful and meter-perfect, a deft blend of the inventive, the dexterous and the mesmerizing. Her supple honey-and-whiskey voice provides the perfect melodic accompaniment to each song’s story. An internationally known and award-winning picker, singer/songwriter and teacher, the Midwest native relocated to Portland in 2004. She continues to please crowds and critics at folk festivals and concert stages domestically and abroad. A 2011 Portland Muddy Award winner, Flower embodies a luscious and lusty mix of rootsy, acoustic-blues guitar and vocal styles that span a number of idioms – from Piedmont to the Mississippi Delta, with stops in ragtime, swing, folk and hot jazz.
The 2017 Blues Festival also features Tevis Hodge Jr., Mic Crenshaw, Shoehorn, Volcano Vixens, Bloco Alegria, Lloyd “Have Mercy” Jones, Tony Ozier “Doo Doo Funk,” Mad as Hell Doctors, Nurses and Interns, and celebrity MCs Paul Knauls, Renee Mitchell, and Ken Boddie. See the Inner City Blues Facebook page for more photos and information about the groups..
Admission is $20 in advance, $25 at the door. Tickets are available online at Ticket Tomato, or at Music Millennium, 3158 E. Burnside; Geneva's Shear Perfection, 5601 NE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd.; Peninsula Station, 8316 N. Lombard; Musician's Union Hall, 325 NE 20th Av.
Request for donations for the silent auction
The Blues Festival Committee is asking local chapters/leaders to "adopt" the Blues Festival and solicit or make donations to our silent auction. Jewelry, paintings, pottery, quilts, beach houses for the weekend, anything desirable will do. Contact Terry Rogers, former HCAO Fundraising Chairperson for more information and to make a contribution.
LaRhonda Steele's story
LaRhonda Steele, a Blues Festival star, is a breast cancer survivor, but surviving took more than being covered by Medicare. While she was having chemotherapy, she needed help from MusiCares to pay her mortgage because she could not perform. And Soul Sister Productions put on a benefit concert for her when she was earning nothing, just to pay for food and medical bills that Medicare did not cover. LaRhonda ended up owing more than $6,000 for medical expenses not covered by Medicare.
LaRhonda says, “I don’t want a free ride, but I shouldn’t have to mortgage the house to survive during cancer treatment. People should not have to balance decisions about whether to buy food or medicine when they are sick.” She adds, “I want people to know how grateful I am to my fans and the music community because of their love and support. It made the healing process so much easier.”