The blues, a homely import from the American south, has never been popular in Taipei. No live house features it regularly; no mainstream band has made it a calling card.
“The promising aspect is that more and more young people are playing the blues,” said Douglas Rapier, founder of the Blues Society on Taiwan (BSoT).
“Mostly though, people don’t know what it is. Because it’s called the blues, they sometimes associate it with any music that’s sad, depressing. Or any kind of ballad. I asked a woman once who her favorite blues singer was and she said Celine Dion,” he said.
But Rapier is never lonely at Blues Bash, a one-day annual concert he has coordinated since 2005. In its first year, the event drew some 600 people. Last year, the turnout reached a thousand.
This event might appeal in part because of its carnival atmosphere. Blues Bash is held outdoors, with room to spill beer and eat tapas and noodles on the grass.
Yet the main lure is the music, Rapier said. The casual passerby can be reeled in when he hears the blues for what it is — fun, defiant and not just for sad sacks.
“The blues is not about being sad,” he said, “that’s the biggest misconception about the blues.”
It’s an umbrella genre for different styles with differing emotional ranges.
“There’s jump blues, Chicago style, electric style. People don’t know and it’s a matter of not being exposed,” Rapier said.
This year, Blues Bash headlines Wolf Mail, who sings and plays an unusual rock-infected blues on guitar. Mail, born in Montreal and raised in California, tours regularly across the globe to sellout crowds and released his sixth album Above the Influence in March.
Other performers at next week’s event include Rapier’s Chicago-style blues outfit BoPoMofo (ㄅㄆㄇㄈ), up-and-coming Taiwanese acts like 3 Jam and Two of a Kind, Japanese songstress Nacomi and Curtis “King” Kovach, a Cleveland native who plays an upbeat improvisational blues show on guitar and harp. For a full list of performers, visit www.bsot.org.