Arts preview: Columbus a blues bastion? Art show thinks so.

By Sarah Thompson
From the September 19, 2013 edition

Think “blues” and you might hear pain-dripped lyrics flowing hoarsely over a 12-bar chorus, all from a Mississippi man who’s seen too much. Or you see the likes of John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters or any of their Chicago blues counterparts gracing an intimate, smoke-filled, bar-room stage.

Fairly accurate? We thought so.

But as Wexner Center’s new Blues for Smoke exhibition aims to prove, Chi-town and the Delta aren’t the only places worthy of being hot spots for the classic American music form. Columbus is too.

With the likes of Columbus natives Rahsaan Roland Kirk — whose innovative circular breathing method allowed the blues and jazz musician to play three saxophones at one time — and Rusty Bryant — revered by jazz musicians the world over and honored by James Brown’s “Night Train,” which Bryant wrote — as well as countless others, the city is teeming with rich blues history that not many know, said Jerry Dannemiller, director of marketing and communication at the Wex.

Perhaps this is why the exhibition, which kicked off in L.A. and showed in New York, is making this capital city its third resting spot.

But it’s not just about encouraging bustling blues towns to share the limelight; it’s also about breaking open the blues concept — and in effect, the concept of jazz, blues’ descendant — and showcasing it as much more than a simple music genre.

With more than 40 artists from past to present, and through a variety of media, lectures and performances, you can view, watch and listen to learn about the blues movement, from its history and social implications to its influence on today’s music and art — as well as see the city’s foothold in it all.

“We want people to see the [show’s] great work, but we thought it was important to connect [Columbus figures] to a larger idea of blues and jazz,” Dannemiller said. “It’s the noble thing to do.”