It is bluesman Mike Griot's time, and a great time for you, if you're a fan of blues music and music education: In September comes the South Orange International Blues Festival, which Griot founded. And he'll also take on the inaugural ValleyArts Our Town Blues Residency, which he will lead for the Orange Public Schools in the interest of expanding music education.
Griot surely has amassed a lot of blues experience to impart during a decades-long career as a globetrotting bassist acclaimed for his work in genres including, blues, funk, jazz, gospel, and rock. While still a music student at Howard University in the nation's capital, he toured and performed—and reinvested his earnings to book studio time and learn computer-based production. By graduation, he had built a small recording facility, managed and booked his band and produced a rap act with a video on MTV. After graduation, Mr. Griot returned to New Jersey, eventually signed a publishing deal with Motown Records and launched his production company, PWI Entertainment.
In 2010 he took a pause from international touring to create a great blues festival.
"Created through the African-American experience, the blues are integral to who and what we are as a nation," he explained. "It's our own classical music. Once exposed, most Americans instantly recognize that much of their favorite music has its roots in the blues.
"I founded the festival to celebrate all this and bring a robust blues experience to the culturally rich melting pot of northern New Jersey."
"Robust" is a good word to describe the lineup of the 4th annual South Orange International Blues Festival, which runs Saturday, Sept. 8 from noon to 8 p.m. at Cherry Lane in South Mountain Reservation. The free event will present a cross-section of blues-influenced artists including Dave Styker & Blue to the Bone, Dean Shot, Michael Hills Blues Mob, Billy Hector, Lil' Bastad, Bill Sims Jr., and Al Gold. The "Culinary Rocker" Johnny Ciao will host and food and drink will be available. Sponsors are Essex County, the Mental Health Association of Essex, Investors Savings Bank and PWI Entertainment & Media.
The first ValleyArts Our Town Blues Residency will put Griot into the classroom. He said he will draw from a body of educational work he has developed over the past several years and customized for young people.
"We are grateful to the National Endowment for the Arts for recognizing this work and funding it through the ValleyArts Our Town program," he said. "It is particularly important in urban communities for young people to learn their own musical heritage that is part of them—a heritage that informed so much that came later, including big band, tap, jazz, swing, Broadway-style musicals, funk, pop, rock and hip hop."
Griot will teach the history of blues music. He'll also feature other artists to demonstrate different aspects of the genre in classrooms and assemblies at the high school level. He will also advise on blues instruction among student musicians whose work is expected to be showcased during the second ValleyArts Hat City Streets Festival next June. Specific dates for the 2013-2014 Residency program will be announced soon.
The residency doesn't come out of the blue for Griot: He was mainstage producer of the first ValleyArts Hat City Streets Festival last June. And his work is a familiar sight around the village: He produces the weekly Village of South Orange Wednesday Night Summer Concert Series, and at various venues around the region, including SOPAC's Blues in the Loft series.