Eddie Stout wants to save the blues, in Austin and beyond.
Stout’s devotion to classic blues and gospel groups is pretty much fanatical — for an engrossing long-read about Stout’s Dialtone Records labor of love, read Statesman reporter Patrick Beach’s 2011 profile — and he says his devotion to the genre is starting to spread.
At least he hopes the fact that nine clubs in East Austin have agreed to participate in his third go-around of the Eastside Kings blues festival suggests more people are embracing the classic music he’s been a fan of his entire life.
“Every year it grows, from the first year when we had six clubs and now we have nine on that part of East 12th (street) that hasn’t quite been run over yet by growth,” said the festival’s co-organizer and main booker. “It’s getting to be like the post-World War II era when you had Red’s, the 1808 Club, the Full Circle Bar and Charlie’s Playhouse, all these places within walking distance that had the blues (music) for people to be out in the scene enjoying.”
Forty acts are slated for this year’s festival, which runs Saturday and Sunday at clubs such as King Bee, Badlands, Longbranch Inn and other nightclubs that make up a growing cluster of live music venues on the east side. Blues isn’t a main attraction for those clubs on a nightly basis, but Stout hopes the classic southern sounds can remind Austinites new and old of the tradition he said traces to Robert Johnson.
“The word ‘blues’ gets thrown around a lot these days but to me that music seems like rock or country and that’s not really the kind of blues I’m putting on,” he said. “I’d like to take it back down to its foundation and bring together these people who have never played with each other, or in some cases never even met each other.”
A large portion of the Dialtone Records roster will take the stages during the fest, including Gene “Birdlegg” Pittman, a virtuoso blues harmonica player and vocalist who relocated to the Austin area from Oakland, Calif., to plug into what he expected to be a thriving blues scene.
Pittman said the reality of Austin’s live music scene and the enthusiasm for blues musicians didn’t quite square with his expectations, but regular gigs at Maggie Mae’s and the Skylark Lounge on top of shows in other Texas markets provide him with enough work to keep his bills paid.
Like Stout, who released Birdlegg’s self-titled album in 2013, Pittman sees the festival as a way to deliver a sound that might at times seem like a relic but, he said, is just as vital as ever.
“The Eastside Kings Fest is about getting people to understand that this is a sound that deserves to be preserved,” he said.
“America has gotten to the point where they don’t know what’s real, and people have grown up with everything they see, hear and say being choreographed and phony. This is music that can’t be choreographed, and my plan every time I go on stage is to entertain and do anything I can to get the audience on my side.”