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Q&A: Blues Festival Director Johanna Mathieson-Ellmer

"People should know that the blues genre is a reflection of the human condition," she says.


Johanna Mathieson-Ellmer just pulled off the fourth annual Barrier Beach Blues & Arts Festival, held last week at various locations in Long Beach and Island Park. Each year the event features a different theme, and the 2012 festival focused on the local blues scene, since the co-producers, Mathieson-Ellmer and Howie Haber, were recently inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame with other Long Island blues artists.

The blues festival is sponsored by Long Beach arts groupof which Mathieson-Ellmer is the director, and the Long Beach Public Library. It kicked off July 5 with a Birthday and Blues celebration in the new music hall at the Hub Billiards Club in Island Park and featured Benior & The Long Beach All Stars and the Halley Devestern Band. The festival ended on Sunday evening at the Hub and Lola's Kitchen & Wine Bar in Long Beach.

This week Mathieson-Ellmer sat down with Patch for a post-festival interview:

What was new and exciting about this year’s Barrier Beach Blues & Arts Festival in Long Beach?

The thing that was new and exciting this year was having the participation and support from the City of Long Beach and Recreation and Parks and their staff. Some people don't realize that as an all-volunteer run, not-for-profit organization, Artists in Partnership is dependent on grants and collaborations in our efforts to provide these free programs to our community.

When you started the festival four years ago, one of your stated goals was to spotlight some of Long Island’s top female blues performers. How has that worked out so far?

We have been very fortunate to have had female blues singers represented and even headlining our festivals. This year was no exception. In addition to Halley Devestern, we had Sweet Suzi and Sugafixx, Roxy Perry and her band, Dee Chetta with MOTU, Chrissie O'Dell and One Hot Mess, and Michael Barnett's jam brought out local ladies Lucille Morris, Theresa Domingues, Ally Weiss and Diane Hoffman.

What should people know about the blues genre? What are some of the biggest misconceptions about it?

People should know that the blues genre is a reflection of the human condition; its struggles, joy, love, family, betrayal, hope — all the things that make us similar and connect us. Some people think that the blues are jazz, or that they're just sad or depressing songs. Some young people think that the blues are not relevant to the particular genre of music that they listen to, when in fact they are at the root of many modern musical genres.

Since you first started the festival, what have you learned about organizing and running it that maybe you didn’t anticipate?

I didn't realize how many months of research and preparation I was going to have to put into the blues events in order to have them fit the vision and theme for that particular year. I also didn't realize that I was going to expand our offerings to include a "Folk-2-Funk Festival," the "Roots Music Project", "Kickin' Country" and a Hip Hop event.

What are some of your goals as the director of the festival and how can you build on it?

My goals are to secure some serious sponsors so that we can take the festival to the next level and be able to pay for staff and advertising. Next year's blues theme will have a focus on the Chicago Blues scene and I want to bring some major names to the event. I'd like to involve local merchants and the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce and have the city take an even more active role as a supporter and promoter.  

As a not-for profit arts organization, any donations and services made to Artists in Partnership are tax deductible. I would like to focus on recruiting new members and volunteers who are interested in the arts and would like to participate in the creation of a truly unique cultural arts and music scene here on the Barrier Beach.

For further information about upcoming festivals, memberships or volunteering, contact Johanna at aip4arts@gmail.com or visit www.aip-arts.org.

Valerie griffin July 13, 2012 at 02:55 PM
Mrs. Ellmer is the Best enjoy.
Benjamin Metzger July 13, 2012 at 08:49 PM
You did a great thing for the community and all us local artists. Thanks again Johanna! Looking forward to Chicago blues!
Joe Smith July 14, 2012 at 01:07 AM
Get Buddy Guy in here. Use the Long Beach Movie House. Also...........have a booze cruise from Lido Beach on one of those fishing boats. In addition, use that gym in Point Lookout. It fits hundreds of people if set up right
Barbara J Lee July 14, 2012 at 01:39 PM
How does the woman do it - wearing so many hats: the Harriet Eisman School; Director of LB Children & Family Services; as well as Arts in Partnership? We'll have to start referring to Johanna as "Ms. Long Beach".

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