Past and Present is Alive at Springing the Blues, Happening in Jacksonville Beach April 5-7

When you think of the rich landscape of blues history, palm trees and sandy beaches might not be the first place that springs to mind. Jacksonville Beach is a distant cultural cousin of the birthplace of the blues, far removed by geography and tradition. Yet, there’s an inextricable current connecting the past and present that exists at the annual Springing the Blues Festival. It’s all part of the same story.

The 29th Annual Springing the Blues Festival is held April 5-7 at the SeaWalk Pavilion in Jacksonville Beach with Danny Delves & the Deadly Nightshades kicking things off on the SeaWalk Pavilion stage. Weekend performances follow from Jonathan Long, Alligator Records artist and festival veteran Albert Castiglia and Nick Moss featuring Dennis Gruenling. Other returning artists include David Julia, James Armstrong, Christone Kingfish Ingram and perennial favorite The Lee Boys.

Springing the Blues Festival is the longest running live music event at the Beach. It’s also part of a new exhibit at the Beaches Museum & History Park tracing the memorable moments in music history that helped shape the culture of the Beaches community.

Sand, Soul & Rock n’ Roll: Music at the Beaches follows the progression of music at the Beaches during the 20th century from the elegance of the Le Chateau Hotel in Atlantic Beach to the godfathers of grunge storming the stage at Einstein a-Go-Go. The exhibit features memorabilia, photos and events that make up the Beaches’ vibrant musical history.

An opening reception is held March 8 at the Beaches History Museum in Jacksonville Beach featuring the unveiling of the 2019 festival poster by local artist David Lee.  Jax Beach Festivals will also announce the winner of the High School Blues Band Contest. Contestants were asked to submit a video of them playing an original composition for the chance to win a paid performance slot April 7 on the Springing the Blues stage.

Sarah Jackson, who serves as the museum’s manager of Archives and Collections, curated a timeline through shared oral history and recorded interviews, concert programs, posters, t-shirts and more. “You definitely can’t about music at the Beaches without Springing the Blues,” she says.

With a personality all its own, STB has evolved from one or two “must-see” acts to two – then three! – solid days of every music from folk blues, country blues, jump blues, Chicago blues, Delta blues, Texas blues, fast blues, slow blues, traditional blues and contemporary blues.

The inaugural Springing the Blues Festival was staged in 1991 to celebrate the soul and the sound of the blues in Jacksonville Beach. Founder Sam Veal staged the event with six bands playing on a tiny, open-air stage near the oceanfront. An estimated 3,000 people showed up. Today, the event draws an estimated 50,000 to the Beaches.

Springing the Blues crowd in 1994

“It was such a great feeling, such a great vibe,” Veal says. “It didn’t matter if you were black or white, gay or straight, young or old. Everyone shared something in common with the music.”  

The festival cultivates a unique experience for fans and artists alike, introducing listeners to emerging artists and giving regional talent a platform to be heard by wider audiences. Jacksonville artists include Mama Blue, who returns to the festival and recently performed at the swearing in ceremony for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, and Woody & the Peckers, who performed at the first festival and have continued to roost on their home stage over the years.

“One of the things that makes Springing the Blues such a great event is, of course, the music. Springing the Blues was built upon America’s indigenous art form known as the blues. A lot of the artists don’t get the same kind of recognition that a lot of the big pop stars do,” says Veal. “We thought it was a great opportunity to bring up and coming blues artists to the beach and let a lot of people get to see folks that are now big names.”

Veal is proud of the legacy he’s helped create and the history he’s witnessed spring to life on the Springing the Blues stage. The late Michael Burke gave his last live performance at the SeaWalk Pavilion. A largely unknown Susan Tedeschi tore the roof off the place before coming into her own as a Grammy winning blues siren and one half of the successful Tedeschi Trucks Band alongside husband and Jacksonville native Derek Trucks.

Notable past performers include Joe Bonamassa, Sharrie Williams, Phillip Walker, Tinsley Ellis, Saffire – The Uppity Blues Women, Maurice John Vaughn, Earl King, North Mississippi Allstars, Tab Benoit, Little Jimmy King, Henry Gray and the Cats, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Larry McCray, Charlie Musselwhite, Roger “Hurricane” Wilson, Rod Piazza & the Mighty Flyers, Eric Steckel, Robert Jr. Lockwood, Trampled Under Foot, Victor Wainwright and the Wildroots, R. L. Burnside, Smokey Wilson, Coco Montoya, Smokin’ Joe Kubek, JJ Grey & MOFRO and Bnois King.

The festival also caters to the ultimate fan experience. Following a set on the festival’s main stage, artists may also perform a set on the Westside ‘Mo Blues stage. A VIP package is also available for the more seasoned fan who appreciates a good seat, prime viewing space, bathroom facilities exclusive to the VIP ticket holders, private bar and the chance to nosh on some down-home cooking beside the best in the blues in the VIP tent.

Springing the Blues was named by Down Beat magazine as one of the top 50 Music Festivals in the World and listed as one of the top 20 destination events in the country by the SouthEast Tourism Society.

While it may be considered a nationally recognized event, the connection between the past and present is alive at Springing the Blues and the spirit of the blues is ingrained in the sands of Jacksonville Beach. It’s all part of the same story.

About Liza Mitchell