Briggs Farm is older than the blues. The farm, founded in the 1760s in Nescopeck, has been maintained by 10 generations of Briggs’ and counting. The music, founded at the turn of the 1900s in the South, migrated with its musicians and adapted to its new environments. Both American institutions have gone through generations of change while remaining fundamentally the same. They’re coming together again July 10 and 11 for the 18th Annual Briggs Farm Blues Festival.
Blues music came to Richard Briggs when he was a teenager. He was 16 in 1969—the perfect age for an impressionable young man to be exposed to the British Invasion and, by proxy, the American musicians who were influencing them.
“The British Invasion (artists) were coming here and listening to the blues guys—Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf and everybody out in Chicago,” Briggs said. “That’s pretty much the sound that turned into rock and roll … blues. That was all happening when I was a teenager. I think the music just stayed with me my whole life.”
As Briggs got older he began looking into the contemporary blues scenes of the South. He said that music is still directly handed down in that area, so the style differs from the cosmopolitan blues of Chicago birthed by African Americans driven from the South by the Great Depression. It was important for him to have Southern blues represented at Briggs Farm when he started the festival in 1998—this year he’ll be doing his part to preserve the sound of the South for future generations.
“One of the things we try to do every year is bring musicians up from there,” Briggs said. “This year it’s Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, who is directly related to a style of guitar playing that is rarely seen anymore. Some people say he’s the last person that plays the Bentonia style guitar. This year we’re going to be recording a ‘Live from Briggs Farm’ album by Jimmy “Duck” Holmes (in) two nights on the Back Porch stage. This is our first Live from Briggs Farm.”
Holmes is the latest in a long line of blues legends who’ve taken the stage at the local festival, but Briggs doesn’t just look to the past when he’s booking acts—he also has his ear to the future. Contemporary blues musicians Devon Allman and Danielle Nicole are the headlining acts for July 10 and 11, respectively. Nicole, who previously performed with her two older brothers in the blues band Trampled Under Foot, is making her first appearance at Briggs Farm. The eponymous band and EP put Nicole front and center, but when it comes to the live show, she likes to let the audience dictate the experience.
“I really like the people who come to the show to kind of decide how they’re feeling rather than me telling them how they’re going to feel for the night,” Nicole said. “I feed more off of the crowd and the vibe of the ambiance rather than being like, ‘this is what we’re gonna do tonight!’ We touch on a lot of different genres of the blues and roots, not just traditional. I don’t really feel like I fall into a certain category. When you come to one of my shows you’re going to get a lot of original material. We don’t spend a lot of time telling stories on the stage, we’re pretty focused on the music and more the experience of the show.”
From Nicole to Holmes, the Briggs Farm Blues Festival will showcase a diverse lineup of blues artists. The blues won’t be the only attraction available at the festival, though—Lonnie Shields is a blues musician from Philadelphia who’s performing at the festival, but he’s arriving early to help prepare the festival’s Mississippi-style soul food. The festival will also have a vendor’s village featuring artwork, clothing, jewelry and cigar box guitars for aspiring blues musicians.
There are a lot of miles separating the South, Chicago and Nanticoke. There are a lot of years separating the blues on sharecropper fields from the blues on the field at Briggs Farm. Distance and time mean nothing to the blues, though, and on July 10 and 11 a century of music will take over a centuries-old field for a two-day celebration of the blues.
The South has its juke joints. Chicago has its clubs. Nescopeck has Briggs Farm, and Briggs Farm has the blues.
Reach Gene Axton at 570-704-3943 or on Twitter @TLArts
THE ENTERTAINERS: Twenty artists will take stage over the two-day festival.
Jimmy “Duck” Holmes
Alexis P. Suter
Terry “Harmonica” Bean with The Cornlickers
Miss Melanie & The Valley Rats
Centennial Blues Celebration
Teddy Young & The Aces
Hess & Owens
For more information, visit briggsfarm.com