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John Jackson died in 2002 after a career in which he performed all over the world, including at Carnegie Hall in New York and in the White House during Jimmy Carter’s presidency.

‘There’s still too much uncertainty’

By Randy Rieland — For Foothills Forum

This fall’s John Jackson Piedmont Blues Festival at Eldon Farms in Woodville has been canceled.

The event to celebrate the legacy of the Rappahannock native and renowned blues singer and guitarist drew more than 750 people to its debut last September. 

But given the challenges and potential health risks of staging that large a public event while the coronavirus remains a threat, the decision was made to delay the second John Jackson concert until next year. 

“There’s still too much uncertainty,” said Kenner Love, the county’s agricultural extension agent who heads the team of volunteers behind the event. “How can you plan when you just don’t know what the situation will be two months from now?”

Foothills Forum is an independent, community-supported nonprofit tackling the need for in-depth research and reporting on Rappahannock County issues.

The group has an agreement with Rappahannock Media, owner of the Rappahannock News, to present this series and other award-winning reporting projects. More at foothills-forum.org.

Love noted the significant challenges of maintaining appropriate social distancing at the venue — particularly for the volunteer staff — and gathering personal information from attendees to enable contact tracing by public health officials if it became necessary. Also, state regulations would require frequent cleaning of microphones, chairs, handrails and bathrooms.

Another big factor in the decision, according to Love, is that almost all of the members of the Rappahannock Unity Choir are seniors and many would be reluctant to perform this year.

“I feel bad because we had a lot of momentum going into this year,” Love said.

He added that he and the other volunteers have discussed asking the county’s Board of Supervisors to declare the last Saturday in September “John Jackson Day.” 

Jackson died in 2002 after a career in which he performed all over the world, including at Carnegie Hall in New York and in the White House during Jimmy Carter’s presidency. In 1986, he was awarded the National Heritage Fellowship, the country’s highest recognition for folk and traditional artists.

But he came from humble beginnings, born into a poor family of 14 children who lived near Woodville.

“We don’t typically celebrate the artists of the past, and that to me is a huge missed opportunity,” Love said. “But it’s more than that. I think you need to celebrate your cultural heritage. And appreciate the man who made it happen.”


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