Blues on the Beach

Screen Shot 2016-01-01 at 10.43.08 AMBy Brooke Gazer

The event “Blues on the Beach” has become a well anticipated tradition in Huatulco. Last year’s two events attracted over 1,200 residents and visitors. Equally exciting is the fact that each year we see more Mexican Nationals enjoying this unique style of entertainment alongside a very supportive foreign community.

The proceeds from these two annual events help to support “Un Nuevo Amanecer”, a local nonprofit organization assisting handicapped children and children with developmental problems. Of their approximately 80 clients, 70% live well below the poverty line, so most are unable to pay for services. With very limited resources, UNA does an exceptional job; the funds raised from last years “Blues on the Beach” funded the project for nearly six months (see The Eye, Dec. 2015,

This year’s Beach Parties promise to be even better than ever… The lineup for Jan. 21 includes Sweet Swing from Chiapas, opening for the The Puerto All-Stars, featuring Alberto Colombo; with headliners Brian Templeton and Enrico Crivellaro. (Look for information here next month about a second concert, scheduled for Feb.25.)

When Brian Templeton hit the Boston Blues scene in 1989 he wasted no time in making a name for himself. Within two years he was leading his own band which won the Boston Blues Society’s “Battle of the Blues Bands”, edging out some of the best veteran performers of the time. The critic for the Boston Phoenix wrote, “These guys are the band to watch”, and they truly were. Jerry Portnoy, who played with Muddy Waters and Eric Clapton, said that Templeton was one of the most talented blues vocalists of his time; in 1992, Portnoy hired the group as his band and took them on the road. By the year 2000, working as a solo artist, Templeton had become the vocalist of choice as he toured North America and Europe with names like James Cotton and Sonny Rhodes.

Brian prides himself on is his ability to entertain. “I don’t think of myself as a musician first, but as a showman. I want my audience involved, whether it be by dancing, singing or just clapping along to the beat.” Both as vocalist and on harmonica, his onstage attitude has earned him the reputation as one of Boston’s most dynamic performers. Combining the blues, his longtime staple, with an eclectic mix of country, rock and soul, he delivers a high-energy show that has become his trademark.

Enrico Crivellaro, is an Italian guitar player who touched down in Los Angeles for a bit, but now spends his time on stages around the world, from Berlin to Brisbane, Michigan to Mexico. Traveling is not new to Enrico, he perfected his music the old way – by playing thousands of gigs everywhere, “The road and some sleazy clubs at 2:00AM is where it’s at, where the notes finally make sense, where the old cats show you how it’s done.”

In the quest to develop his own style, he played thousands of gigs, with some of the best artists in the contemporary blues scene. Learning jazz from one of the men who invented it, Kenny Burrell, Director of Jazz Studies at UCLA’s Herb Alpert School of Music, was a life-changing experience, reinforcing his commitment “to search beyond notes and chords, to where music becomes meaningful”. His style, which bridges, blues, jazz, and American roots music, has earned him the privilege of sharing playbills with names like John Lee Hooker, B.B.King and Mose Allison. Since he is considered one of the most influential guitarists of his generation, it is fitting that his latest two albums are found in music stores next to Chet Atkins and Eric Clapton

What Is Contemporary Blues?

The Blues is infectious. The raw, primitive emotion connected with this genre grabs you and pulls you in like nothing else. You don’t just hear it…you feel it. We all love it but how has it evolved?

This sound traces its roots to America’s Deep South, where poor sharecroppers came together in rustic wooden shacks known as “juke joints”. These raucous rural gatherings helped people to forget the hardships of everyday life by indulging in moonshine and music. No one had money for expensive equipment so the simple harmonica played an integral role. Guitars were usually crudely constructed by the player himself and drummers improvised with an old crate or a cardboard box.

In the late 1890’s, the boll weevil began to invade the southern states. Within a decade all cotton producing regions were infested by this small brown beetle, wiping out 75% of America’s cotton crops. This devastation was responsible for what is known as the “Great Migration” of African Americans out of the south and into industrialized cities like Chicago.

This migration overlapped with America’s social experiment of Prohibition and “speakeasies” became prevalent. Bar owners hoped to avoid the attention of police by hiring unknown performers. These included black musicians who had migrated north. Fun-seeking patrons loved this exciting new form of entertainment and soon speakeasies everywhere were featuring it.

Speakeasies are more commonly associated with jazz than blues, but the latter is an integral part of jazz. Iconic performers such as Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver and Louis Armstrong used blues songs as the foundation for many of their best known jazz creations. Billie Holiday did not sing traditional blues but the emotion of the blues was present in her ballads. Count Basie once defined jazz as nothing more than “swinging the blues”.

As this style of music gained popularity, it was heard on the Radio, blending black and white culture for the first time in America. Boogie Woogie developed out of jazz and that morphed into rhythm & blues. In the early 1950´s electric guitars began revolutionizing music. A few years later a young R&B guitarist named Chuck Berry went to Chicago looking for a recording contract. When his recording of “Maybelline” shot to No. 1 on the R&B charts, rock’n’roll was born.

The blues played an integral part in giving birth to rock’n’roll. It is said that Rock ‘n Roll would not have existed without the simple 12-bar forms, antiphonic textures, or walking baselines prevalent in the blues. The blues has inspired rock legends such as: the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Jimi Hendrix.

Modern blues is less strictly defined than its classical version and many musicians like Enrico and Brian play a wide crossover of genres. In addition to traditional Blues, at “Blues on the Beach” in Huatulco, you are likely to hear jazz, rhythm & blues, rock’n’roll, and some country … but all of it will have overtones and undercurrents of its original American roots – the blues. I hope you can join us for what promises to be an exciting, fun filled evening on January 21.

Brooke Gazer operates an ocean view bed and breakfast in Huatulco.

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