Although 1998 may not see like that long ago, The Brigg’s Farm Blues Festival has been a staple around the mountain for the past 20 years. This year’s annual summer festival runs Thursday July 6th through Sunday July 9th at the Brigg’s family farm in Nescopeck, along route 93.
The event has grown steadily year after year to accommodate roughly 7000 people from all over the US, Canada and even Europe while maintaining an intimate, family friendly atmosphere; Two thousand of those patrons set up camp for the weekend, drawn to the picturesque farm to soak up some music, enjoy great food and listen to internationally known Blues artists.
According to their press release, the Briggs Blues Festestival features acts on three stages, ranging from the regionally to the internationally recognized. The music begins for “Early Arrival” campers on Thursday Night with Brothers in the Woods, The Mighty Susquehanna’s & Third Street. The Saturday Night Main Stage performances include Eric Gales, Detroit’s “Queen of the Blues”, Thornetta Davis, Lonnie Shields and Saxophone player Vanessa Collier. Headlining will be John Németh and The Blue Dreamers at 9:45 pm, Friday July 7.
“I’ve never seen [Thornetta Davis] perform live and I’m looking forward to meeting her,” said farm owner, Richard Briggs, who started the Blues Fest with his wife and family in 1998.
On the Back Porch Stage, regional acts including Swampcandy, Vanessa Collier, Bobby Kyle & The Administers, Jesse Loewy, Miner Blues, Clarence Spady, and Phyllis Hopkins. Hopkins performed at the very first Briggs Farm Blues Festival in 1998.
There are quite a few things that make the Brigg’s Farm Blues Festival unique, not the least of which is the fact that it is held in the middle of a farm and is completely family run. The festival boasts free hayrides and traditional Soul Food such as pulled pork, fried catfish, fresh cut fries and collard greens as well as local fire-roasted sweet corn. A new tradition for the 20th anniversary is an open yoga flow to begin each day of the festival, while the tradition of Sunday Gospel Blues performances will continue with Davis, Shields and Alexis P. Suter Ministers of Sound (AMOS).
“We use 60 acres of rolling hills in the center of the farm with the mountains in the background,” said Briggs. “There are trees everywhere ad the audience is in an open hay field on the hill, with campers in the woods behind the stage.”
A Blues Festival had always been on Brigg’s mind while working as a producer and editor for WVIA Public Media. He said he wanted to use his technical knowledge and experience to provide a venue for the kind of music he grew up with; acts like Janis Joplin and the Allman Brothers, and felt his fourth generation, 400 acre farm seemed like the perfect place to try it. Briggs said that the event started out “grass roots”, with his research on the history of Blues music in America.
“This dream led me to look into the rich history of Blues in this country and its connection to rock and roll and gospel,” explained Briggs. “A lot of people don’t know what to think about the Blues, but Blues music is very common and recognizable to everybody once they experience it”
In addition to the familiarity with American rock music, Briggs said the Blues lends itself to some great live performance music too, such as artists like legendary bluesmen Louisiana Red and Eddie Kirkland; both in their 80s when they performed at Briggs Blues Festival.
“Artist are able to make a good connection with the audience. It is a ‘story telling’ type of music and they put on a good show, ” noted Briggs.
Brigg’s said that in the last 20 years, he’s been lucky to not only see some great acts, he has also met some incredible people and been witness to the power of Mother Nature. Several acts have been nearly rained out, but perseverance prevailed, as the crowd that waited for the rain to stop before hearing Louisiana Red was treated to a set that didn’t end until 2am.
“There was water running under their feet,” said Briggs of the musicians hunkering down in the tent they had designated as the ‘green room’. The rain stopped just long enough for us to get them on and once he started, I couldn’t stop him, he was having such a good time. It was raining and people just loved it. It was an amazing thing.”
Briggs also laughs about the time two years ago when his grandsons had to tow RVs and camping trailers through the mud after several days of rain left the parking areas too soft to drive on. At the time he was interviewed for this article, Briggs was taking time out from mowing the hayfield that would eventually act as the parking lot for this year’s festival.
“My grandsons just got out of school for the summer and they’re here helping to clean things up,” said Briggs. “In the beginning, we didn’t have much help, but now we have a growing team of people that come from all over the country to help us.”
“There are four generations of us on this farm” continued Briggs. “My mother, my wife and I, son Dylan and his wife and two grandsons. We all work together on putting this on. “
Organizing bands, trash removal, food stock, parking spaces and precautionary medical personnel are all in a day’s work for this farmer and Blues enthusiast, who says his family always has a “plan B” in the event things go awry. He says that while the festival preparations keep him and his wife, Allison, busy most of the event, they both look forward to seeing the friends they’ve made over the years return to the farm every summer.
“As we walk around, people come up and talk to us and its hard to get work done.” Said Briggs “Eventually, all I want to do is talk to people. I look forward to seeing the people rolling in every year with smiles on their faces.
In case you still don’t believe that a nationally recognized Blues Festival could possibly be right here in our own backyard, This year, Barbara Newman, the president of the Memphis Blues Foundation, will be on hand to present the prestigious “Keeping the Blues Alive” award.
“We have a lot of music history in this country and its great for me to be to attached to it in this way,” remarked Briggs.
The Briggs Blues Fest is keeping
the Blues alive, but it is also working to help local women and children in crisis. For the 5th year, The Blues Fest has partnered with C. F. Martin & Co who is again donating a guitar to benefit Beyond Violence; a Berwick based non-profit Women’s Shelter and Confidential counseling Center for victims of domestic violence. Event goers will have a chance to win a collectible DJR “Dreadnought Jr.” Martin Guitar donated by C. F. Martin, along with a Crush 20RT Amplifier by Orange Amplifiers from London, England. Young’s Custom from Nuremburg and Rock Street Music from Pittston have donated additional guitars for the giveaway.
“They need everything; its hard to believe just how bad it is out there. Whatever causes it, we would like to be part of breaking that cycle. We tank these companies for their contribution and support for ‘Beyond Violence, Inc.’,” said Briggs.
All the accolades and the growing numbers of people don’t seem to distract Briggs from the original intent of the festival, however. He says his family was in it “for the long haul” when it started 20 years ago, and he sees the next 20 years as a continuation of the grass roots, family run event it has always been.
“Its not a commodity to sell. It’s something that will be passed on to my grandkids and my family, if they want it. “…and I don’t think the audience is going to let them not do it.” added Briggs.
If you are interested in attending the Blues Festival, the grounds are open for “Early Arrival” campers on Thursday July 6th while the main gate opens at noon on Friday and Saturday and 9am on Sunday. Tickets are available at Gallery of Sound, Perfect Blend in Berwick, The Amish Pantry in Nescopeck and The Exchange and Endless Records, both in Bloomsburg.
For online tickets and information please go to briggsfarm.comor call (570) 379-3342.