Blues Series events entertain Monroe

The Monroe County Library System has presented four of the six acts for the Black History Month Blues Series.

This Saturday at 7 p.m. is the Big Gig, the crown jewel in the series. The event is free.

The Big Gig usually closes out the series, but this year the snow had different plans. The first scheduled show, Arthur Migliazza, was postponed because of the Feb. 1 snowstorm to March 1.

Ben Wiley Payton & Rev. Robert B. Jones

The Dorsch Memorial Library hosted Ben Wiley Payton and Rev. Robert B. Jones on Feb. 8. Jones has been a part of the Black History Month Program since the beginning.

Payton grew up in 1948 in Coila, Mississippi, playing guitar since he was in second grade.

“When I was growing up, music was all around me, my uncle played guitar and my grandma played piano.”

At 16 he moved to Chicago where he encountered a new type of blues. He joined his first “proper” band with a man he looked up to, James Wheeler.

In 1970 he was asked by friend and fellow musician Randy Weston to play a 10-month stint in a blues and jazz club in Tangiers, Morocco.

“Man I loved playing in Tangiers. The feeling was so different than playing in Chicago. Chicago was more like a dance party; people didn’t come to see you, they came to dance.”

In 1976 he was asked to fill in for legendary guitar player Hubert Sumlin in Howlin’ Wolfs band.  

The next year, he left the music industry, got married and returned to Mississippi.

“Disco happened, there was no money to make, a club could either pay a band a few hundred dollars or the club could pay a DJ a third of the same amount, and the DJ could play more, a lot more. It was a no brainier, plus the people didn’t want to see us anyway.”  

In 2003 he returned to his folk blues gigs. He said it was calmer and he received audience attention in ways he hadn’t gotten in years.


On Feb. 15, Bluesapalooza was held  at MCCC’s Meyer Theater. The concert, hosting Mr. Seley and The Troublemakers, was aimed for kids.

The group consists of Mr. Seley on acoustic and electric guitar and lead vocals,  Richard Johnson on drums and backup vocals, Sidi Henderson on bass  and backup vocals and Paula Messner on lead guitar and backup vocals.

The band played two shows, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The Meyer Theater filled with kindergarteners, and first, second and third graders from local schools.

The show began with the title song from the band’s latest album, “Cupcakeasaurus.” That began an hour and a half of rock ‘n’ roll heaven for kids.

For the song “Eat Your Books and Read Your Vegetables,” Henderson performed an impression of President Obama for the introduction.

All band members were jumping up and down, interacting with the crowd. At one point Seley asked the crowd “do you have homework? Wouldn’t it be great if you were paid for doing your homework?” The whole crowd yelled.

More than once, Seley went into the crowd to find back up singers and dancers.

Before Seley left the stage he asked one kid from each class to come up for an autograph and a free copy of “Cupcakeasourus.”

Later that night the theater gave way to an intimate show with up and coming folk musicians.

The Starlight 6 consists of Seth Bernard, May Erlewine and Josh and Rachel Davis, all playing guitar and alternating lead vocals. Josh also plays piano. 

The rhythm section consisted of Dominic Johns Davis on bass and Mike Shimmin on Drums. Both sang backup vocals.

There is little relations between the three Davis’s in the group and only two of them are really named Davis. Rachel and Dominic are married and Dominic took Rachel’s last name. Josh has no blood relation to Rachel. Even though Josh said they have tried to play on it in the past

“We used to tell people that me and Rachel are brother and sister, but we’re bad liars…so we dropped it.”

On some songs all six would play, on others only a few would play,  and sometimes they would pick up a fiddle, slide guitar or a banjo.

Seth and May performed three duets. They spoke about an Ethiopian tour they’d gone on for the cause Run For Ethiopia, which intends to spread Ethiopian culture and build schools.

The band’s second set was more focused on the group playing together  rather than showcasing individual talent.

At the end of the set, a special guest was called out of the audience and joined the group on stage. Peter “Madcat” Ruth of Madcat, Kane and Maxwell Street, finished the show with his harmonica.