Blues Cruise Documentary Coming

(conqueroo) Since the 1960s, generations of fans have adopted outdoor festivals as the ideal place to experience live musical performances. But in recent years, the best American roots music festivals have moved onboard specially chartered cruise ships. One of the first and most successful of these, Roger Naber's Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise, is nowadays considered to be the true "Woodstock of the Waves." At the same time, these "blues cruises" are a welcome contemporary refuge for artists who once performed the juke joints and Chitlin' Circuit clubs throughout the South, most of which have now disappeared.

Deep Sea Blues, renowned documentary filmmaker Robert Mugge's two-hour portrait of the January 2007 Blues Cruise to the Caribbean, captured many of the 70 performances by 14 artists. The festival featured blues performers Bobby Rush, Buckwheat Zydeco, Tab Benoit, Tommy Castro, Otis Clay, Taj Mahal, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Commander Cody band, Lil' Ed & the Blues Imperials, Michael Burks, Deanna Bogurt, Ruthie Foster, Phantom Blues Band, Joey Gilmore, Mel Waiters, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Watermelon Slim, Mitch Woods, Earl Thomas, Leon Blue and Tasha Taylor. The commercial DVD of Mugge's film is set for release October 6, 2009 on Micro Werks, distributed through the Infinity Entertainment Group (also the home of Collectors' Choice Music). List price is $19.98.

Executive producer Roger Naber recently celebrated his 30th anniversary as a promoter of blues concerts and cruises. Multi Grammy Award winner Taj Mahal, who appears on Deep Sea Blues, says of the floating festival, "It's not Disney World. It's about people relaxing, enjoying themselves, and spending time with others who enjoy the same kind of music as they do. It's amazing how people can really connect through the blues and R&B. Every year you can set your clock by it."

The 2007 Blues Cruise to the Caribbean included daylong stops on the islands of St. John, St. Barths and Grand Turk, two of which featured additional concerts and a "blues wedding" on the beach. The film is presented on the DVD with seven bonus performances: extended versions of songs by Tab Benoit, Otis Clay, Michael Burks and Joey Gilmore, plus additional songs by Duwayne Burnside, Murali Coryell and Jimbo Mathus.

Mugge is the producer/director/editor of such films as Last of the Mississippi Jukes, which chronicled the final days of Jackson, Mississippi's Subway Lounge; Deep Blues, in which writer Robert Palmer and Eurythmic Dave Stewart explored the Mississippi juke joint scene; Gospel According to Al Green; Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise; Pride and Joy: The Story of Alligator Records; and dozens more. The New York Times cited Mugge's "documents of a flourishing below-the-radar culture, often involving older musicians who won't be around much longer. They are archival records as well as entertainments." He has recently been named to the Edmund F. and Virginia B. Ball Endowed Chair in Telecommunications at Ball State University.

According to Mugge, "As juke joints and chitlin' circuit clubs disappear, leaving many regional artists cut off from both their origins and their natural audiences, other venues and other audiences come forward to fill the gaps. Among those newer and less ramshackle venues are annual music festivals and upscale music clubs both in North America and abroad, which at least provide the artists with occasional paychecks and exposure to wider audiences. Ironically, though, perhaps the best place to hear live blues, R&B, zydeco and gospel music today and the best place to perform them is on cruise ships sailing from Florida into the Caribbean, and from California into the Pacific . . . The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise creates a magical and protected space where musicians and fans can relax together, party together, and share their abiding passion for America's most fundamental musical heritage. As strange as it seems, when the Blues Cruise magic truly takes hold around two or three in the morning, dancing to Otis Clay, Tommy Castro, Ruthie Foster or Buckwheat Zydeco on the Pool Deck feels a whole lot like eating barbecue, drinking white lightning, and dancing till dawn at Junior Kimbrough's juke joint. Although the circuits may change, that down-home spirit remains the same."

For all who cherish soulful music, humorous stories and true-life adventures in paradise, Deep Sea Blues offers smooth sailing indeed. Because the blues isn't dead . . . it's only gone on vacation.

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