When blues musician and educator Michael "Hawkeye" Hemlan came to Grafton last fall to perform aLschools and in concert, he spoke to local residents about their community as "a sleeping giant."
Grafton, Herman told his audiences, has a chance to acknowledge its place in American music history and let the rest of the world know about a rich legacy that has been overlooked by the genera] public for decades.
Herman's words - which echoed the sentiments of area educators who invited him to appear locally - have not fallen on deaf ears. Since his September visit, a growing number of residents have embraced the mission of publicizing Grafton's musical heritage.
The result of their efforts is the formation of groups that are organizing a summer blues festival, park history displays, educational programs and a variety of other activities they hope will teach, enlighten and entertain. The collective goal, volunteers said, is to pay tribute to the Paramount blues artists and other musicians who recorded for the former Wisconsin Chair Co.'s music division, including at its Grafton factory studio in the 1920s and early '30s.
'The first Paramount Blues " • :,. Festival. to be held Saturday, Sept. 23, at Lime Kiln Park in Grafton, will be presented by the newly formed Grafton Blues Association in cooperation with the Grafton Area Javcees.
Headlining the festival, which runs from II :30 a.m. to II p.m., will be nationally known artists Albert Cummings and Nora Jean Bruso. The event will also feature popular local blues musicians, lectures and workshops, historical exhibits, food and beverage stands and other attractions.
"We wanted to have something that is both educational and entertaining," said Kris Marshall, Grafton Blues Association president. "We kept an open mind to a lot of different ideas, but we knew we wanted·tohave some big names . as well as loca1 talent, and acknowledge the history we have here.
"Everyone should be able to findd something they enjoy."
In addition to tradititmal blues performers whose music echoes the Southem sounds of artists such as Charlev Patton, Son House, Skip James and Blind Blake all of whom recorded in Grafton - the festival will feature rock-oriented music that reflects blues roots.
Cummings, who will take the stage as· Nora Jean Bruso the festival's fina1 act at 8:30 p.m., is an acclaimed guitarist from Massachusetts whose style has been likened to the late Stevie Ray Vaughan. On Cummings' first album, he was backed by Vaughan's original Double Trouble band.
Bruso, who will perform at 6 p.m., is an award-winning vocalist who began her 'musical career in Chicago and has appeared throughout the United States and abroad. Her debut CD "Nora Jean Sings the Blues" remained on the Living Blues . Radio Charts for six months.
Opening the festival stage acts at 11:30 a.m. will be David Evans with Joe Filisko, a duo who perfonn Delta blues.
Herman, who will serve as the festival's master of ceremonies, will perform at 12:45 p.m., followed by the Steve Cohen Blues Band with Greg Koch at 2:15 p.m. and Reverend Raven and the Chain Smoking Altar Boys at 4:15 p.m.
Presenting educational programs. wiU be Filisko, Evans and fellow Paramount historian Gavle Dean Wardlow.
Wardlow, a Florida resident, will pre-- . sent a lecture on Paramount history from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30p.m., followed by a harmonica workshop by Filisko at 2: 15 p.m. and a 3:45 p.m. workshop by Evans, a _ Memphis University professor, on "The Guitar in the Blues of the Deep South."
Wardlow and Evans have both written books on Paramount artists who recorded in Grafton as well as articles on pre-World War n blues artists.
Alex van der Tuuk, a music historian and writer from the Netherlands, will also be at the festival to sign copies of his award-winning book "Paramount's Rise and Fall - A History of the Wisconsin Chair Company and its Recording Activities."
The musical entertainment and educational programs will be presented in separate tents on the park grounds. "The times will overlap with one another, but the' tents will be separated enough to have their own space," Marshall said.
Advance tickets are $30 for reserved seating. However, concert seats are not assigned and will be filled on a fust-come, first-served basis.
General admission is $20 in advance and $25 at the gate. Children ages 10 and younger will be admitted free when accompanied by a paying adult.
Tickets can be purchased at local Ozaukee Bank offices, from Grafton Blues Association members and on line at www.grafonblues. arg.
The festival will be held rain or shine. Gates will open at 10:30 a.m.