Summertime Blues Come to Capitol Hill

Posted July 16, 2004 at 4:18pm

Ryan Costello, legislative director for The C2 Group, laments that “There’s not enough music in Washington, especially the blues.” So to remedy that, he is bringing the First Annual Congressional Blues Festival to the Capitol on Tuesday.

Six Senators and 21 House Members are taking part in the bipartisan and bicameral host committee. In addition to speeches by Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Rep. David Price (D-N.C.), Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) will step behind a drum kit and Rep. Jon Porter (R-Nev.) plans to wow the crowd with his keyboard prowess.

Rehberg, a drummer since grade school, said “I’m bringing my shades,” and feels “the blues just might be America’s musical heartbeat.” Porter said he is “eager to use his love of music to help others with the same passion.”

The money raised from the event will go to the Music Maker Relief Foundation. The foundation works with artists who are “rooted in the Southern tradition” and have an annual income of less than $18,000.

Government officials are not the only ones taking interest in the event. Levon Helm, the drummer for the seminal blues band The Band and a throat cancer survivor, is also participating.

Costello, who has taken the lead in promoting and organizing this event, believes that this is much more than the average appearance by a musician on the Capitol.

“A lot of rock stars have played for Congressmen” at fundraisers and other such events, and these concerts are usually a chance for Representatives and Senators to rub elbows with famous musicians and donors who can afford tickets to such programs.

But this event, he believes, is a chance for “true blues pioneers — the roots of American music — to play with and for Congressmen” and expand the influence of the music.

In addition to the added exposure that the blues will get on Capitol Hill because of this event, Costello believes it is a great chance to raise money for a very worthy cause.

The Music Maker Relief Foundation has three main programs that support blues musicians: The Musician Sustenance Program gives direct grants to support basic needs such as rent or medicine; the Musical Development Program helps artists get new instruments and helps with booking and the promotion they need; and the Cultural Access Program supports and promotes blues artists to create awareness of the cultural impact of blues music on America.

Price, the House chairman of the host committee, says he is “proud of the work the Music Maker Relief Foundation has accomplished — and I’m proud that they hail from my district in North Carolina.”

The First Congressional Annual Blues Festival will take place Tuesday at the 101 Constitution building, at Louisiana and Constitution avenues Northwest. A handful of tickets are still available; contact Costello at blues@bluesonthehill.org for information.