“If you build it, they will come.”

By Christine Zemla

We’ve all heard this line, “If you build it, they will come.” This not-quite accurate Field of Dreams quote still resonates. For me, it became kind of a mantra, build it and they will come. Build what exactly, you’re wondering? We at the Jersey Shore Jazz & Blues Foundation reached out to our Mississippi friends. Reflecting upon the legacy of the MS Delta blues and the integrally related rock ‘n roll heritage of the Jersey Shore, we created The Mississippi Delta Meets the Jersey Shore!   

Some of you may have heard me say this before: Years ago, during a conversation about the shore’s prolific musical output, former Asbury Park Mayor Ed Johnson proclaimed, “I’m not sure how to explain why so much amazing music sprang from this one relatively small area.” Pausing slightly, he continued, “it’s as if there’s a beat underground. Barely discernible, but if we stop for a moment, we just might feel it.”

And Mississippi? According to Cleveland, Mississippi’s Grammy Museum, “Mississippi is the cradle of American music. The nation’s most essential music form, the blues, evolved on Delta plantations more than a century ago. Spiritual and gospel were nurtured in Mississippi churches, and the blues built upon songs of workers picking cotton and building river levees. Families sang hymns and folk songs on back porches and in yards, and the sounds of rhythm & blues from juke joints and Saturday night dances filled the air. Mississippi is synonymous with music.”

Two musical meccas! Each of them geographically distinct, but connected in so many ways! Let’s build it, we said! To kickstart this relationship we joined forces with the Bruce Springsteen Archives & Center for American Music and invited Clarksdale, Mississippi’s Anthony “Big A” Sherrod & the Allstars to perform at the Lauren K. Woods Theatre on the Monmouth University Campus. “Big A,” along with Preston Rumbaugh on bass and Quicksand on drums, wowed their newfound NJ fans! Many in attendance already were familiar with local blues legend Kenny “Stringbean” Sorensen who opened the show, and joined the band for the finale. Honestly, I lost count of how many people exclaimed on their way out, “Best show ever!” and “When are they coming back?”

The Two River Times has a great write up of the Woods Theatre concert, “Singing the Blues at Monmouth University.” We’ll follow up here with a link as soon as the digital version is available. For now, suffice it to say, we built it! – and people came in droves, filling every seat in the theatre.   

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the tremendous support we received along the way to make this inaugural event happen, notably the Plangere, Jr. Family Foundation, as well as additional Plangere family members, the Clarksdale Tourism Board(Visit Clarksdale), and the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area, as well as the Springsteen Archives & Center for American Music. We’re extremely grateful to all else who shared our vision through financial and additional means of support. We hope that y’all (as our Mississippi friends would say) continue to come out to future events (already in the planning stage!). A few of you may even be thinking about visiting the Delta. I can guarantee that if you do, you’ll get as warm a welcome there as our guests did here … and most likely will be planning a return trip before you even get back home.

Photos courtesy of Kimberly White and John Posada