Though Mike Holley loves most genres of music, the blues has always been especially dear to his heart.
“Back in the day when I worked at the Iron Horse Tavern, I would play (blues) on a little flatbed truck,” Holley said. “I just started bringing my friends there to play, and it grew and it grew.”
As more people started to play with Holley, and locals started looking forward to the music, Holley had an idea: celebrate Norcross’ blueberry scene with the blues.
“Basically, I put together a festival,” Holley said. “(The performers) were all my friends that I play with.”
Now, nine years later, Holley’s creation, the Bluesberry and Beer Festival, has become a summer staple in Norcross, drawing attendees of all ages and backgrounds.
While some Bluesberry-goers are clearly avid blues fans and others are craft beer aficionados, the annual event, which was held Saturday at Betty Mauldin Park, has a little something for everyone.
This year’s lineup included the Cazanovas, a frequent Bluesberry festival participant; Beverly “Guitar” Watkins; Real Deal; Cody Matlock, another recurring Bluesberry festival participant; Red Sugar Blues; and Frankie Lee’s Blues Mission — all of whom are top-notch blues artists, Holley said.
“It’s just a good day that brings everybody together to have a good time,” he said. “I do it for the music; it’s keeping the blues alive.”
For the Atlanta Blues Society, which helps sponsor the festival, keeping the blues alive is key, which makes sponsoring events like Holley’s important for the organization.
“(Blues) is the only true American artform,” Atlanta Blues Society Co-President Carlin Smith said. “It truly is, and we have to keep that heritage alive. A lot of old blues musicians are passing away, so it’s important. Plus, most of the music that we know of is derived from blues. Jazz, country, rock, hip hop — they’re all rhymes, they’re all stories about life, and that’s what the blues heritage is about. That’s what we want to keep alive.”
Keeping the blues alive is part of what brought Terrayel Cartmill, a local resident, back again this year to the Bluesberry festival.
“I’m a blues fan; that’s why I’m here,” Cartmill said. “I do love being out and about and enjoying the small community, but I love blues and I want to support whoever’s playing.”
Cartmill’s cousin, Marquitia Davis, echoed him, though said this was her first time at the event.
“I came here a year or so ago for a jazz festival, and it was amazing and I loved it, so when (Cartmill) told me about it today, I was like, ‘Oh, I’m definitely going, I’m definitely coming out,’” Davis said. “I love the people, I love the atmosphere — it’s just a cute community. I’m so happy to be here.”
Brian Truex, whose wife, Daren Sue, brought him to Saturday’s festival as an early Father’s Day present, said he, too, was also very happy to be at the event.
“It was her treat — how cool is that?” Truex said. “We’re sitting here going, ‘That music is very very good.’ I wasn’t expecting such fine bands — it’s nice. And I will tell you, the beer is very good, too. This one tastes and smells like blueberries, it’s crazy cool. But beer, great music and a lovely downtown setting — what could (be better)?”