"Blues People," a seven-movement piece by local drummer, composer and bandleader Mark Lomax, is based on the 1963 book of the same name by militant African-American writer Amiri Baraka (who also published under the name LeRoi Jones).

"Blues People," a seven-movement piece by local drummer, composer and bandleader Mark Lomax, is based on the 1963 book of the same name by militant African-American writer Amiri Baraka (who also published under the name LeRoi Jones).

Baraka was one of noted playwright August Wilson's primary influences - he called them his "Four Bs" - and thus does a Mark Lomax Trio performance of "Blues People" help kick off the year-long Wilson celebration/retrospective, The August Wilson Festival, hosted and curated by Short North Stage.

Wilson's work "reflects a journey that goes along with American history," Short North Stage executive producer Rick Gore said.

Mark Clayton Southers, artistic director of Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company and noted Wilson expert, will serve as artistic director of the festival.

"It's a big endeavor, but a great opportunity to familiarize folks with August Wilson's work," Southers said.

Heavy with themes of Negro spirituals and free improvisation, Lomax's hour-long composition follows Baraka's text, which chronicles the transport of Africans to the New World as slaves and the development of their artistic and cultural voice - "How they became the 'blues people,'" Lomax said.

"The flow of the piece does follow the book. It starts in Africa and moves through the Middle Passage and ends with the question of whether freedom is free, which is the essential question of Baraka's book," Lomax said.

Also opening Jan. 13 is an exhibition of the works of artists Romare Bearden and Aminah Robinson at the Columbus Museum of Art. Bearden is another of Wilson's "Four Bs." The remaining two are Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges and the blues.

Short North Stage will hold a staged reading of Wilson's "Gem of the Ocean" Jan. 14-17 (with an opening reception prior to the Jan. 15 performance, starting at 6 p.m.) at the Garden Theater. The play is the starting point for Wilson's "Pittsburgh Century Cycle," 10 plays that cover each decade of the 20th century and, through Wilson's characters, tell the story of the unfolding African-American experience.

Events will be added to the festival schedule - among the other organizations already scheduled to participate are the Johnstone Fund for New Music, Denison University Theatre and PAST Productions, which will stage "Two Trains Running" in March at the Garden Theater in the next scheduled festival event.

"Adding arts groups as partners to the festival also exposes new audiences to new venues and experiences," Short North Stage board president Peter Yockel said.