.Something New at San Jose Fountain Blues & Brews Festival

This Saturday, the San Jose Fountain Blues & Brews Festival returns, with bands alternating on two stages for nine hours in Plaza de Cesar Chavez in downtown San Jose. A craft beer garden with food takes care of the Brews part of the equation, while the blues will be supplied by Terrie Odabe, John Németh, Anthony Arya, Jon Cleary and others, with the Delgado Brothers and Chris Cain wrapping up with a 6:30pm show.

The late Ted Gehrke, along with SJSU students, originated the festival in 1981 and then marshaled the whole campaign for decades. (For more about that, see page 3). Now it is the longest running blues festival in Northern California.

And this year a brand-new journey is unfolding. The Fountain Blues Foundation has partnered with Follow the Music, a pioneering music education and emerging artists program. Follow the Music features its own impressive crew of honorary originators, including 49ers legend Ronnie Lott.

“Their whole thing is about getting young people on big stages,” explains Suzanne St. John-Crane, a Blues Foundation board member. “The point is that when you get access to big stages and networks, it builds your self-esteem, it builds your confidence,” she continues. “You’re motivated as a musician, it leads to things and you build a network. And so that’s what Follow the Music is really trying to do—is give young people that opportunity.”

Even though Follow the Music officially launched at the Guild Theatre in Menlo Park, they still primarily focus their efforts in Oakland. They needed a South Bay presence. A collaboration with the Blues Foundation was the perfect inroad. A blues singer herself, St. John-Crane is also currently the director of American Leadership Forum Silicon Valley, where Lott is a senior fellow, so the two of them power-networked and started the ball rolling, so to speak.

This year, kids from Follow the Music will perform at the Fountain Blues Festival, either on the secondary stage or at moments to back up performers on the main stage. This is not their first festival appearance. They’ve previously played at Bottle Rock and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. One vocalist sang the national anthem at Bay FC’s inaugural soccer match at PayPal Park.

The possibilities don’t stop there. Many kids may not realize that becoming a rock star isn’t the only end game. Just because your band doesn’t make it, your talents are not squandered. In the South Bay, hundreds of musicians over the decades went on to work at tech companies instead of pursuing risky stage careers. They became live sound engineers, theater designers, QA testers, music educators, pro audio developers, tour managers or all sorts of other professions that allowed them to use their musical skills. And plenty of corporate shills around here still play music.

Four musicians with their instruments in front of a theatrical curtain.
The Delgado Brothers play the last set at the Fountain Blues & Brews Festival.

“What I’m excited about is the opportunity for tech executives that are musicians to be in the room with young people, high school students, college students, to talk about all sorts of different career paths where music and music education is a benefit and can lead to good things, great things, in terms of workforce development,” St. John-Crane says, suggesting perhaps even opportunities for career days, a mentoring weekend camp, or other ways to get high school and college students connected to South Bay resources.

Even better, if kids can realize that much of what they already listen to was originally rooted in the blues, then the festival’s future might be a little more solid. After all, the blues audience is getting a little grayer as every year goes by.

In that sense, the Blues Foundation sees its future path focused more on year-round activity to accompany the annual festival. Especially when it comes to kids, if they can make connections between the blues and every other form of music, they will want to participate.

“Having young people come in, part of our charge is the preservation of blues, the celebration of it, the education around it,” St. John-Crane says. “So connecting dots, generation to generation, is part of what our intent is.”

Even before Covid, society was in a crisis of loneliness and arts events were seen as logical remedies for empty, desolate downtowns. For our own mental and economic health, we should come together, in community, at moments like this. If you’re lonely, then come listen to the blues for nine hours and don’t be lonely anymore.

“You’ll be in good company,” St. John-Crane says.

Fountain Blues & Brews Festival takes place 11am-8pm on June 22 at Plaza de Cesar Chavez in downtown San Jose. Tickets: $30-$100. fountainblues.com

Gary Singh
Gary Singhhttps://www.garysingh.info/
Gary Singh’s byline has appeared over 1500 times, including newspaper columns, travel essays, art and music criticism, profiles, business journalism, lifestyle articles, poetry and short fiction. He is the author of The San Jose Earthquakes: A Seismic Soccer Legacy (2015, The History Press) and was recently a Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing at San Jose State University. An anthology of his Metro columns, Silicon Alleys, was published in 2020.

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