Williamsport gets the blues

May 27, 2004|by SCOTT BUTKI

Through words and music ranging from polkas to bluegrass to rock, two professional musicians gave the Williamsport High School concert band a lesson in the blues Wednesday.

But it was a reference to Led Zeppelin and a performance of the song "Layla" that drew the biggest response from the school's concert band.

Musicians Mac Walter and Steve Wolf put on the performance as part of the annual Blues in the Schools program. The event preceded the eighth annual Western Maryland Blues Fest, which will be held June 4 and 5 downtown and at City Park on June 6.


"The blues is the absolute foundation of rock and roll," Wolf said.

Without the blues, he said, "There would be no bands like Led Zeppelin. Anyone know who that is?"

At least 10 students raised their hands. Only a few hands went up when Wolf asked if they were familiar with Chuck Berry.

At one point, Walter, of Baltimore, and Wolf, of the Washington, D.C., area, taught the class of about 35 students about the role of call and response in music.

"Hey, hey, the blues is all right," the students sang at the musicians' prompting.

Wolf talked about the reaction he gets as an American musician when he goes abroad.

"Of all the things we're known for, McDonald's and Coke and all that stuff, what we are most respected for is our music. And jazz and blues are the epitome of that for people in Europe," he said.

Ashley Beattie, 15, a 10th-grade student, said her favorite part of the session was when the class clapped along because it let the students become part of the music.

"I thought it was pretty good," she said.

The class clapped along to "Layla" made popular by Derek and the Dominos and gave that song the most applause.

Mike Buckwalter, 15, a ninth-grader, said the performance of "Layla" was his favorite part.

"It sounded good," he said.

Kevin DeMine said he enjoyed the performance.

"It was great. It was enjoyable. I liked seeing something different," DeMine said.

Walter and Wolf alternated speaking but together they explained the history and impact of the blues.

Walter played acoustic guitar and Wolf accompanied him on an acoustic bass. They played samples of bluegrass, polka, and rock along with various blues songs to accentuate their points.

The blues are about a lot of topics, "some of which are not meant to be sung in a high school," Walter said.

They also compared modern music to older blues. Wolf said he prefers music played by humans to that made by computers.

Walter and Wolf are to perform today for students at Boonsboro and Smithsburg high schools as part of the Blues in the Schools event, sponsored by the Washington County Arts Council in partnership with the Washington County Board of Education and the Maryland State Arts Council's Artists in Education Program.

More information on the Blues Fest is available at

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