PICTURED: Eddie Layman, Doc Ventura and Milo Sledge perform for NAMBA TV’s “Delta by the Beach.” Photo courtesy of Doc Ventura
by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer
Feeling blue? Here’s a musical event to tap into that frame of mind — and possibly gain some perspective along the way.
NAMBA TV (a production of the NAMBA Performing Arts Space in Downtown Ventura; see our story in Art+Culture) will premier a very special show this weekend. “Delta by the Beach,” presented by and starring local blues artist Doc Ventura and featuring Milo Sledge and Eddie Layman, will be a two-hour deep dive into the blues. Delta blues, to be exact: the raw, rhythmic, slide guitar-driven, acoustic style played in the juke joints and on the back porches of the Mississippi Delta. The area is widely considered the birthplace of the blues, and its style and influence can be felt far and wide, from Motown, funk and rock ’n’ roll to country, folk, pop and even hip-hop.
Doc Ventura has called Ventura (the city) his home since 1992, but he was born in Mississippi and grew up in Chicago — two locations with powerful and enduring blues traditions. That music has been for Ventura (the man) both a passion and a calling.
“My father was in radio,” Ventura recalls. “I was exposed to it at an early age . . . Being in Chicago, I had some friends with liberal parents who would take us into the city to see some of those blues greats.”
Greats like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, both born in Mississippi, who made their way to Chicago and helped create that city’s uniquely urban blues sound, derived from the more rural Delta blues. “Muddy Waters picked up an electric guitar” is one expression Ventura uses to distinguish between the two musical styles, both of which have helped shape him as a musician.
“These are just experiences that inform my blues every day,” he says.
Ventura appreciates and plays a wide variety of blues styles, as well as roots and Americana music, but the sounds of the Mississippi Delta — what he refers to as the “deeper blues” — are particularly close to his heart. He has spent 20 years, off and on, exploring the area, talking with its people, learning its history and immersing himself in its melodies and rhythms.
“My traveling to Mississippi as a blues fan — it really changed everything,” he says. “We built the show around my experiences of being a blues fan and amplifying my depth of knowledge.”
It’s a show Ventura has wanted to do for years, and he’s grateful that NAMBA TV has given him a platform to do it — and that NAMBA Performing Arts Space, as an organization, has had such a light hand in its creation.
“If a local person has a vision for a show, NAMBA will support them,” Ventura says. “I’ve had an enormous amount of freedom to develop this show.”
“Delta by the Beach” is more than just a concert — although performances by Ventura, Sledge and Layman will be an integral part of it. The trio will play well-known blues pieces as well as “more obscure stuff,” sharing some history and knowledge about the works. In addition, Ventura’s own videos of blues artists and photos taken during his Mississippi sojourns will help give a sense of “the current state of the music scene.”
The audio/visual production will kick off with a film. The 2012 documentary True Delta by Lee Quinby and Daniel Cowen, which highlights the way the blues tradition is passed down from one generation to the next, will “tell you who the characters are today . . . what the ambience is like.” Ventura thinks of this as a demonstration that “the blues will never die. The generations really nurture each other.”
If you are a lover of the blues, you won’t want to miss “Delta by the Beach.” But there’s plenty to enjoy here — music, imagery, cinema, history — for the casual viewer or even (perhaps especially) the complete novice. If there’s one thing that Ventura hopes to do with his show, it’s prove to others just how vibrant, pleasurable and accessible the blues truly are.
“I’m trying to give people a place to get on board,” Ventura explains. “And a way to learn more deeply.”
“Delta by the Beach” streams live on YouTube on Saturday, Aug. 8, at 7 p.m. For tickets and more information, visit www.nambaarts.com.