Workshop helps to keep Louisiana Blues strong

Workshop keeps Louisiana Blues hot
Bluesman Chris Thomas King (Source: WAFB)
Bluesman Chris Thomas King (Source: WAFB)
Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - PreSonus, a company specializing in audio recording equipment and sales located near Santa Maria Golf Course and Blue Bayou Water Park is crawling with teenagers.

It's Blues Week in Baton Rouge, with the Blues Fest taking the stages of downtown's outdoor theaters Saturday and Sunday. But this day is for the young.

30 high school students from across Louisiana are at PreSonus to learn from Baton Rouge-born, Grammy-winning Chris Thomas King. A blues man from birth. He's the son of the late Dean of Baton Rouge Blues, Tabby Thomas.

The students are primarily from schools in the Baton Rouge Metro Area, Lake Charles, and Lafayette. The Tippitina's Foundation in Louisiana has been sponsoring blues internships within schools and the best and brightest are invited to the hands-on learning experience in a recording session.

Speaking before the crowd of students prior to setting up for the session, Chris Thomas King told them that the "blues" is nothing like sadness, and grief, but instead, "It's a little bawdy, and risque. You take risks and it's subversive, but it's in a good way." King smiles.

The students are excited. For some, this is their first-ever recording session, and probably something they've always been curious about.

The first ones to start were a collection of students from Tippitina's blues intern program in Baton Rouge.

Carter Wilkinson, a blues guitar player who's a sophomore at Catholic High in Baton Rouge, says "I learn something new every day, how to record, music theory, and it's a big inspiration for me." Wilkinson participates in the weekly sessions sponsored by Tippitina's. Chris Thomas King was recruited to add some real-life expertise. While the PreSonus staff, Educational Marketing director Michah Blouin, sound engineer Eric Welch, and others spread the PreSonus equipment among the groups large and small present.

A band from Lake Charles wears white t-shirts with the Tippitina's logo on them, and with a lineup of brass and woodwinds, belts a hard-driving blues sound. Students move as they play, they are completely absorbed in the experience. The band director, as per jazz bands and blues bands, basically starts them up and lets them go.

When they halt, Micah Blouin grabs a mic, "All that practicing that I do at home," he mimics the students, "All the biddle-ipp, biddle-ipp biddle-ipp biddle-ipp, until it's perfect, nobody hears it this weekend," says Blouin as he drags the mic closer to his mouth, booming out "Unless I'm playing straight into the microphone! Okay?" The kids smile and gravitate toward the microphones.

Sound Engineer: I've got two mics, you just need to play at the mics. And you, use this headset."

Eric Welch, the engineer, is assigning headphones for players. The idea is to let the musician here what is on the mics and block out the sound in their ears from feeding back into the microphone.

Welch says the kids are eager to learn in today's time of technology. They may have tried some of their own recording back home. They may watch closely has he sets up.

" I get them all set up with the gear," Welch says, "We get mixes dialed in, and talk to them about studio production, about the ins and outs of the studio."

The students from Lafayette feature four female singers. Even some of the brass players help with harmonies. The added vocal element shines with this group. The drummer also plays bongos. The group has fun and sings two songs, one upbeat, and one slow and sultry.

Chris Thomas King waits until the recording is through and then talks about what he's observed. The students from the Baton Rouge area are pleased when King grabs a microphone and does a number with them. Wilkinson, the kid from Catholic High, displays sizzling riffs on his guitar, and King grins.

"The high schools that are in my program," he says, "We don't charge them. And so they get hands-on experience with the equipment, with knowledgeable successful musicians and engineers. And it's something like when I was a kid, I had an opportunity to play in a juke joint, but I didn't have an opportunity to do anything quite like this."

King wants to assure that the blues is still around in the years to come. Mentoring tomorrow's blues artists is one way to do that.

The talented group of students chime in "Just hearing the different people interpreting it, it was a really good thing, super educational. I learned a lot today," says one. And another adds"It was really cool to see what different groups from different areas did with like the same idea. Because with the Tippitina's Foundation, we all come here with the idea of students making music and seeing how that take that and what they do different with it."

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