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Real Music - Down on the Russian River Blues and Jazz Festival


Real Music - Down on the Russian River Blues and Jazz Festival

by Robert Feuer

In my life, music makes the world go ‘round, and the Russian River Blues Festival is a high water mark. In this impressionistic setting, where the vivid colors of sun, sky, and river conjoin, people commune, and beer and wine flow freely, time stops, and I’m alive to the tiny moments I’ll never remember nor ever forget.

The 2015 lineup features Buddy Guy, Taj Mahal, and Jackie Greene, a fellow roughly half their age. Greene, born in 1980 in Salinas, grew up around Sacramento, in an environment where, he says in a recent phone interview, “There was always music in my house.”

As a teen, he lined up gigs in coffeehouses where he sold his songs, recorded in his basement on a cassette player he still uses. Transferred to CDs, these went for five bucks. Greene says he began writing songs “probably when I started smoking pot and listening to Bob Dylan.” His discovery at one of his shows by the owner of Dig Music led to the production of Greene’s first record, and then chances to open for people like Guy and B.B. King on the blues circuit. 

In 2003, this record won a California Music Award for Best Blues/Roots Album. Performances at the Newport Jazz Festival, the Newport Folk Festival and Austin’s South by Southwest followed. Greene sang a song for the “Brokeback Mountain” soundtrack and played with his band three times on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, describing this as “waiting around all day in a small room for three to five minutes of screen time.”

He’s a frequent member of Phil Lesh & Friends on guitar, vocals and keyboards, “whatever he asks for,” Greene says. Beginning in 2013, he became lead guitarist for the Black Crowes, including a worldwide tour. “It was something I always thought I’d like to do, play lead guitar with a loud rock band.” Others he’s joined musically include Levon Helm, Joan Osborne, Bob Weir, and Luther Dickinson.

At 35, Greene talks like a seasoned veteran. “Breaking into the professional music scene is really hard. It’s increasingly become a low-paying blue collar business. I don’t envy those starting out now. The slice of the pie gets thinner.” 

His new release, “Back to Birth,” is his seventh, and explores the circular nature of existence. “The challenge for me is to distill the core emotional elements into the simplest way possible, and hope people will listen in its entirety. The continuity of an album gets lost otherwise. That’s my challenge in writing songs these days. I would prefer to be in the slow marathon than the fast lane.”

This will be Greene’s second appearance at the Russian River Jazz and Blues Festival. He’ll be doing a handful of songs from “Back to Birth,” plus some old favorites. He describes his band, consisting of two guitars, bass and drums, as “pretty stripped-down, dirty – we’ll do what we do, what we’re good at.”

Russian River Jazz and Blues festival, Johnson's Beach, Guerneville, CA

Photo of Jackie greene by Jay Blakesberg

Real Music by Robert Feuer