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Juneteenth Revisited

Two arts organizations attempt a new spin on an old event

Across the tracks, no longer do huge hordes of white kids yearn to hear and draw inspiration from the blues, or any other form of black music, for that matter. Outside of hip-hop world, American youth culture seems more segregated now than it has ever been in all my 38 years.

As pop critic Sasha Frere-Jones noted in the New Yorker last year, today's rock bands draw inspiration almost exclusively from other rock bands – rarely if ever blues, jazz, R&B or funk, which had been the case from the days of Elvis up to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Today, when rock bands like Vampire Weekend do draw from black sources, it tends to be from African and not African-American music, and even then it seems as much in homage to Talking Heads as to any African musician. I guess it's some kind of Obama effect...

Of course, even today, there are blues-based exceptions like the Black Keys and White Stripes, but I'd be willing to bet that few of today's most ardent neo-garage rock fans could tell you who Elmore James, Guitar Slim or Jimmy Reed were. As for the rest of the modern rock landscape, be it mainstream indie or dance-punk or the alt-rock schlock on the radio, there's nary a whisper nor even a faint echo of black influence of any kind to be heard. The contemporaneous rise of rap and Nirvana has polarized the races.

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Miller Outdoor Theatre

6000 Hermann Park Drive
Houston, TX 77030

Category: Music Venues

Region: Kirby-West U

Details

A Gulf Coast Juneteenth Festival is next Thursday, July 19, at Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park at 7:30 p.m. The Rebirth Brass Band, Sherman Robertson and Trudy Lynn, Geno Delafose and French Rockin' Boogie are on the bill. In addition, Corey Ledet, Tamara Williams and Tony Henry will perform songs composed specially for the event. Call 713-521-3686 for more info.

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And then there's the Internet...Speaking broadly, black American music has always been about what's new. Back in the '80s, most of the black people you would find at Juneteenth were either old enough to remember when Albert King or even John Lee Hooker had chart hits, or they had been brought there by older relatives who did. Few youngsters came of their own accord — with music, anyway, there wasn't much of an appreciation for ­history.

Today, the Internet has brought about a similar mindset in young white audiences. Rock bands once had a window of a few years when they were perceived as cool, and there was often a real veneration for elders and forerunners of popular styles.

Today, that window of cool is only open for a few weeks, as this week's MGMT becomes last week's Vampire Weekend and so on and on and on down to the Strokes, the world's first blog-hype-­backlash band. Yesterday's rock fans learned about the music from books; today's do so from fast-evolving blogs.

And ay-yi-yi, I've come pretty far astray from the rebirth of Juneteenth at Hermann Park. I wish it the greatest success, and I plan on being there for the duration. I dearly love all the artists on the bill, but I fear that this event won't get the support it deserves.

Years ago, I wrote that I loved this city best when it reveled in its provincialism, by which I meant when it turned out for events like this in droves, when people here went out of their way to find a regional pride in the music that evolved here under our oak trees, beneath our sweat-inducing subtropical sun, in our barrooms and icehouses.

Outside of hip-hop (which really should be on any Juneteenth bill here), too few aspire to wallow in our indigenous music. Give it a try, just this once. It's free. Jasper and Lacy have put together a great bill, a collection of three swatches of the great American musical quilt that have been hand-stitched here and only here over the centuries. You won't even have to miss a Rockets game.

john.lomax@houstonpress.com

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