The blues and the gray
Gray clouds rolled across the sky Saturday, but the blues filling the air in downtown Lenoir lured a crowd that dared the weather to try to spoil their day.
A few raindrops fell, but mostly the clouds just kept the afternoon temperature pleasant for the fifth annual Pop Ferguson Blues Heritage Festival, centered this year on the stage on the downtown square. By 4 p.m., all of the chairs were occupied, people who brought their own chairs filled all the spaces along the sidewalk, and the standing crowd lined the perimeter as dozens more roamed between booths selling crafts and food.
Early in the afternoon, as singer Veronika Jackson performed, Clyde “Pop” Ferguson Sr. – at age 85, one of the last practitioners of traditional blues in the North Carolina foothills – sat to one side, greeting fans and autograph seekers, including Jack Cornett of Hudson, who had his photo taken with Ferguson.
“I’m just a fan of him. I’ve seen him on TV a lot,” Cornett said.
It was the first time Cornett had been able to make it to the festival, as it was for Juanita Dula and Lisa Coffey of Lenoir. Dula said they just decided it was time to go.
“I’ve just always loved the blues and couldn’t believe this went on every year,” she said.
It was the second time Dewayne Ramseur of Lenoir had been to the festival. He said he finds that the songs resonate with him and bring to mind personal heartbreaks.
“It’s like, just listening to the words, it takes you back,” he said.
Many in the audience were knowledgeable fans, some of them singing along. And it’s a festival on a true fan’s scale, small enough that any seat is a good seat, and you might find yourself sitting beside one of the performers. Clyde Ferguson Jr., Pop Ferguson’s son and the festival organizer, pointed out to the crowd performers Rosa Russ, Cool John Ferguson, Veronika Jackson and Wanda Johnson, all sitting in seats throughout the audience, blending in.
He also peppered his chatter with historical tidbits and stories, driving home the living lesson of history carried in the music, and illustrating why this small festival is a big deal.
“We don’t always have four Grammy winners together at one time in Caldwell County, do we?” he said. “But we do today."