NESCOPECK — Richard Briggs’ family farm has an agricultural tradition that dates back to the 1760s, but for the last 19 years Briggs has grown something else on his land that ripens every July — and this year, his yield is doubling.
The 19th Annual Briggs Farm Blues Festival feature 18 acts across two stages during its traditional Friday-and-Saturday schedule, but patrons who arrive early for the new Thursday camping option can choose to attend an extra night of music centered around pioneering jam band The Grateful Dead, presented on a newly-built stage in the woods.
“People have been asking for (Thursday camping) for many years, they just want to have more time to relax and stay in their site,” Briggs said. “Over the last couple years they come and they fill up our whole parking lot the night before. We decided we might as well open it up a day early and let them in. Then we decided to do this stage thing too for them.”
The Thursday tribute show isn’t the only tradition Briggs is hoping to start with this year’s festival; he’s adding onto the event’s latter half with a Sunday gospel line up that will effectively double Briggs Farm Blues Festival from two to four days.
“It’s tied into blues music, it’s tied into the upbringing of a lot of the artists,” Briggs said. “I thought it was fitting to have that on a Sunday after the end of the festival … to have a gospel blues end.”
Gospel is tied into the upbringing of frequent Briggs Farm Blues Festival performer Alexis P. Suter. Suter and her band The Ministers of Sound will play classic tracks from musicians like Mahalia Jackson and Rosetta Tharpe — artists Suter’s 94-year-old mother, Carrie, sang with as a background vocalist.
“This music, it inspires me and it reminds me of days my mother would run the choir rehearsals and run to different recordings and I had to go with her because I was the youngest,” Suter said. “She passed the torch so now I’m going to just keep running with it. I do that by paying homage to those who came before me.”
The Ministers of Sound’s set will be recorded for Briggs Farm Blues Records’ second release; their first artist, Mississippi blues man Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, was recorded last year at the festival’s intimate Back Porch side stage. He and his guitar will return Saturday, July 9 for an old school acoustic blues performance.
“Normally they don’t invite me back two years in a row but the fans, they requested me to come back this year,” Holmes said.
Devon Allman returns to Briggs Farm. The blues rock guitarist will perform in the festival’s Saturday night headlining spot.
“He’s probably the most requested return act we’ve ever had, so we actually booked him first this year,” Briggs said. “We’re really happy to have Devon back.”
Along with camping and music, the festival offers vendors, a hay ride and Mississippi Delta food staples like catfish, mac and cheese and collared greens. Festival goers have come to expect the authentic Southern menu and novelty vendor items like cigar box guitars.
To sample some music, visit Briggs Farm Blues Festival during its new four-day format; it’s music festival season, and the blues tunes are ripe for harvest.
Reach Gene Axton at 570-991-6121 or on Twitter @TLArts
IF YOU GO
What: The 19th Annual Briggs Farm Blues Festival
When: July 8 through July 10. Campers will be admitted July 7 and will have access to a special Grateful Dead tribute performance
Where: 88 Old Berwick Highway, Nescopeck
How Much: A one day ticket to July 8 or 9 is $25, while a ticket to Sunday is $20. A July 8 and 9 pass is $45 and a pass to all three days is $60. Camping tickets are $95 and include admission to all three days of music. Campers wishing to enter Thursday and attend Grateful in the Woods can purchase a ticket in person for $25