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Durham Blues Festival: Preserving the blues heritage and taking it back outdoors

John Dee Holeman- Friday, September 5th
John Dee Holeman- Friday, September 5th
Hayti Center

The Hayti Heritage Center in Durham has a rich history. It was founded in 1975 as St. Joseph’s AME Church and a National Historic Landmark. Today, the St. Joseph’s Historic Foundation, Inc. (SJHF), is a nonprofit with a mission to offer cultural enrichments and arts education to the Durham community and beyond. For the past 27 years, Hayti Center has also produced the Bull Durham Blues Festival (DBF) and initiated a new format for 2014.

Kermit Ruffins- Saturday, September 6th
Hayti Center

Angela Lee has her own history with the Hayti Center, from her beginnings as a volunteer to her role since January 2013 as executive director, “We have a mission here of preserving the tradition of Hayti’s community and legacy of this facility,” said Lee. The other part of their mission is promoting and advancing the arts, particularly the African-American cultural experience. Lee’s interests in cultural arts programs is a personal “joy and a passion” for her. As she said, “It allows me to wear my creative hat to interact and connect and build relationships with people in the arts world and in the community, but also with people with an affinity for the Hayti Center’s community and what it means to them. People grew up here whether they attended church, took dance classes or piano lessons, or came out for concerts.”

The blues festival venue changed over the years from its original location at the Durham Athletic Park. When the baseball park went through major renovations last year, the Hayti Center hosted the event at Durham Performance Arts Center instead. With a tradition like DBF that has showcased extraordinary local, regional, national and international talent for 27 years, the adage is accurate that “the show must go on.” The festival had to be moved into an indoor venue in 2013 but this year a new tradition begins by hosting the two-day festival at two different locations.

The DBF starts at the Hayti Center on Friday, September 5. Lee said, “We have a perfect space for anything that is musical. The performance hall is beautiful and it is acoustically flawless. The idea to move (the festival) forward is to have one day at our space, ‘our house’ (Hayti Center), and it allows people to come here for the first time to experience the performance hall or (for those familiar with it) to come back and enjoy the space.” The ambiance at Hayti creates a more intimate setting for this year’s lineup. Lee highlights one of the performances, “The Campbell Brothers will be tapping into three vital and important genres that were part of African-American experiences and goes back to Africa. You got blues, jazz and gospel, all rolled up in one.” she said. “The lineup on Friday is perfectly suited for the space at Hayti,” as the Campbell Brothers come from gospel roots.

Schedule for Friday, September 5th at the St. Joseph’s Historic Theatre
• The Campbell Brothers
• Phil Cook
• John Dee Holeman
• The Rousters

On Saturday, September 6, Hayti will host the festival at the original location at Durham Athletic Park and bring back the life of an outdoor blues festival format. As Lee stated, “(We will go) back to the outdoor space that people are used to, with food and arts vendors, and continue to keep the blues alive."

Schedule for Saturday, September 6th at the Historic Durham Athletic Park
• Kermit Ruffins
• Shemekia Copeland
• Grady Champion
• The Ori Naftaly Band
• The Calvin Edwards Trio
• The Red Dirt Revelators
• Rick Tobey

Choosing the music has become a collaborative exploration. Lee uses the “wealth of resources at my disposal” and collaborates with various organizations such as the Triangle Blue Society (which hosts a blues challenge competition), The Music Maker Relief Foundation in Hillsboro, North Carolina Central College of Arts and Science, North Carolina Central Jazz Ensemble, and other connections with blues enthusiasts and people with various insights in the music industry. This collaborative effort results in an interesting blend of music and a blues experience that makes listeners feel happy.

Lee said, “Sponsorships are key to moving forward. (Yet) we could have all the sponsorships in the world but we can't do it without the people that continue to love the music, and our tremendous willing volunteers, and I have deep and sincere appreciation to the patrons who buy tickets and our volunteers.”

For ticket and other information, visit or call 919-683-1709. Children 12 and under are admitted free.

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