The Montgomery Blues Jam: Newporter headlines Great American Hemp and Blues Fest

James Montgomery is a busy guy. The blues legend is constantly touring. “I’m one of these guys who’s never gone off the road. I’m probably performing about 100 gigs a year right now,” he tells us. We caught Montgomery somewhere between performances in Texas and in Ireland, where he also coordinates a blues festival. Ireland? Aren’t the blues a uniquely American musical form?
“The blues are considered by some to be America’s greatest cultural export,” Montgomery explains. “Music is always cyclical, and it’s coming around, but right now the blues are more popular than ever in Europe.” The European audiences are more up to speed on the blues in many ways than Americans.
Montgomery is working on a new album tributing the work of Paul Butterfield. He’s producing, advising on or appearing in a number of upcoming documentaries.
“I was brought on as a blues consultant for a fictional movie with Morgan Freeman, and we ended up making a documentary called Delta Rising, with Willie Nelson and a number of other people.” Another film focuses on his brother, Jeffrey Montgomery, who was a ground-breaking gay rights activist in Detroit. Yet another is being made about legendary American blues player and Montgomery mentor James Cotton. Montgomery helps organize an annual music event as part of the prestigious Woods Hole film festival, raising money for health care for musicians. Participants have included Aerosmith, J Geils, John Belushi and many other big names. They also raised money for beginning filmmakers, which led to him getting involved in a variety of film projects.
You can see Montgomery live in a few spots this summer – as a Newport resident, he is in town from time-to-time. His biggest upcoming show is the Great American Hemp and Blues Fest. “This is going to be really exciting. It’s the first ever American Hemp & Blues festival. They’re billing it as the biggest Phish pre-event ever. So even though there will be blues, it’s appealing to a wider demographic. There’s going to be a wacky marching band out in the parking lot, we’ll have a performance by one of the best Grateful Dead tribute bands in the area, called the Mystic Dead, there’s a reggae band and a great band called Muddy Ruckus – I call them the delta White Stripes. Inside we’ll have a ‘Shakedown Street,’ an aisle with a bunch of vendors to educate people about hemp and the latest products – all cutting-edge stuff related to the emergence of the hemp industry. We recommend people coming to see Phish – they get there well in advance – just wander in. If they have a Phish tic they get a reduced price, and can have a good time with some live music, rather than sitting around the parking lot.”
Montgomery will also be selecting from the jammier side of his repertoire. “We’re a jammy band anyway because we based ourselves after Paul Butterfield and they were actually the first jam band ever. Even though they started out as a strict Chicago blues band, he was such an innovator that by the time they put out their second album, East-West, they had the first real integrated band, and it was also based on Eastern modes, and when they performed live they did these extended blues solos that inspired jam bands … like Quicksilver Messenger Service and the Grateful Dead. Since we modeled it on him, we have songs where my guitar player will break into a solo for like five minutes. We’ve always had a jam element.”
What’s the tie in with hemp? “Well, it’s interesting because hemp has been around for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. Then there was a big hemp scare. But we know that hemp has many, many, many uses. Now that those days of movies like Reefer Madness are gone, it’s time to treat the subject differently and educate people about it.” •
The Great American Hemp & Blues Fest takes place July 10, 1 – 6pm at Mohegan Sun, 1 Mohegan Sun Blvd, Uncasville, Conn. Tix at