The Wahlberg Recital Hall filled with folk music lovers on April 22 as local folk artist Evo Bluestein and his musical guests kicked off the Music of America Concert Series at Fresno State.
“Folk [music], bluegrass and Zydeco that you may see occasionally in different places around the Valley, but you don’t really have anything devoted to [it], It doesn’t make enough money,” Dr. John Karr said.
The series was spearheaded by Karr, a professor of music history and ethnomusicology, who began coordinating the event one year ago. His goal: to provide exposure to music genres that are not considered “commercially viable.”
“The idea here is to tie it to the educational function of the school.” Karr said. “We’re teaching all [these] different cultural influences but the music is part of it and we want to make sure everyone has exposure to it. Doing it mainly as an adjunct to what we’re doing in the classroom but also because it would be fun.”
The concert, to be the first of many to come within the next year, served as a celebration for Bluestein’s upcoming book “Road to Sweet Mills Folk Music in the West during the 1960s and ‘70s,” which is to be published through the university press. Bluestein’s family has been associated with folk music in the Valley since the 1960s.
“[Bluestein] is still kind of like ‘the guy’ in the Central Valley who is ‘the folk guy’ so we thought let’s celebrate the Valley’s heritage,” Karr said.
Bluestein’s father, Gene Bluestein, was a professor of English at Fresno State and a well-known folk artist. The Music of America series is like many events Gene Bluestein put on in his time at the university, Evo said.
“We worked to produce a program that involves a range of interesting people from around here. People will not only find out about their American heritage but something about our own heritage here in Fresno county,” Bluestein said.
The concert began as Bluestein took the stage, banjo in hand, and played his own renditions of songs from folk legends like Dock Boggs and Chuck Berry.
In addition, Bluestein played original pieces such as “Not a Person (against Citizens United)” which was written following the 2010 court decision Citizens United, which ruled laws preventing the use of corporate funds in political campaigns is a violation of the First Amendment.
“I never saw one profiled for his color/I never saw one deported across the border/I never saw one with a sign saying I’m hungry,” Bluestein sang.
Among his guests were the Gilly Girls, Patricia Wells Solarzano, Agustin Lira, Terry Berrett, Barry Shultz and Two for the Road.
The music for the evening was both laid-back and upbeat as well as politically moving. The Gilly Girls, made up of two sets of twins – Savannah and Morgan, age 13, and Hailey and Jillian, age 10 – took to the stage in matching red boots and their string instruments.
The crowd cheered and clapped along in amazement of the young talents who played a selection of pieces alongside Bluestein.
Bluestein also welcomed Agustin Lira and Patricia Wells-Solarzano to the the stage. Lira spoke of his time working for Cesar Chavez as entertainment for farmworkers between their union meetings.
Many of Lira’s songs focused on political messages such as racism and the discrimination faced by homeless individuals in the city of Fresno. Lira, who was homeless when he moved to Fresno, expressed his frustrations through his music.
“I wrote this song with a little bit of anger, and I’ll play it for you,” Lira said to the crowd.
“A heartfelt performance and soul” is what Bluestein looks for in his fellow performers, and the Music of America Concert Series showed just that.