Hot time at Carolina Blues Festival

One of the five bands who performed on Saturday at the Carolina Blues Festival in Greensboro

Hot time at Carolina Blues Festival
May 23
04:00 2019

By Judie Holcomb-Pack

Over 1,000 fans turned out on a hot day last Saturday at LeBauer Park in Greensboro to enjoy the music of well-known Blues bands and to honor the legacy of Blind Boy Fuller and recognize Big Ron Hunter with the “Keeping the Blues Alive” award.

This was the 33rd annual Carolina Blues Festival hosted by the Piedmont Blues Preservation Society, an organization dedicated to preserving the Piedmont’s particular Blues style and tradition. This year, the festival was dedicated to honoring the life of the late N.C. Blues artist Blind Boy Fuller, who was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame last fall. According to Aliba Berkley, the president of the Piedmont Blues Preservation Society, the N.C. Hall of Fame recognized the similar goals of the Blues Preservation Society and invited them to accept the Hall of Fame award on behalf of Blind Boy Fuller. The Blues Society dedicated the festival in his memory and several of the bands played tunes in the style of Blind Boy Fuller. Fuller, born in Wadesboro in 1904, became a popular guitarist, singer and street entertainer across North Carolina, including in Winston-Salem. He is an example of the “Piedmont Blues” style and he recorded many songs before his death in 1941.

Also honored at the festival was Abraham Johnson, a 14-year-old musician who attends Brown Summit Middle School. He received the “Junior Bluesman of the Year” award for his volunteer service entertaining special needs children at the After Gateway program, as well as playing for local nursing homes. Johnson credits his father, Benjy, for introducing him to the guitar. Aliba Berkley said Johnson is “an amazing young player who supports our mission. …We want to engage the youth and this lets us know we’re doing the right thing.”

Big Ron Hunter, a native of Winston-Salem, was surprised to receive the Keeping the Blues Alive award at the festival. Berkley said they presented this award to Hunter because “of his commitment to his instrument, to this area and to this art form. He embodies joy.” Indeed, Hunter is often referred to as “the world’s happiest Bluesman.” Hunter was born on a tenant farm just off Germanton Road that he described as “way back in the woods in a log cabin.” His father raised tobacco and as an only child, he often worked in the fields. He started playing as a youngster and said, “my first guitar was a Mickey Mouse, then a Roy Rogers, and then I got a Kay.” His father taught him “how to make a guitar talk” and he has developed a style that is unmistakably his own. He has toured throughout North Carolina and played at the New Orleans Jazz Festival, the Lincoln Center in New York City, and internationally, including Belgium, France and Australia. He currently tours with the Music Maker Revue and is looking forward to playing at this year’s National Black Theatre Festival.

When he was presented with the award on stage, Hunter was almost overcome with emotion, showing his trademark smile and telling the audience, “I love you and tomorrow when I come out to play, I’m going to show you how much I love you.”

The Blues Festival continued on Sunday afternoon with a free concert, including a set by Hunter. The festival featured a weekend of funk, soul, blues and jazz, but focused on the unique style of Piedmont Blues and is the longest running Blues festival in the Southeast. For more information, visit

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