LIMA — Rounding the corner of the gallery, you see a Technicolor larger-than-life portrait of Billie Holiday. Her head is thrown back, and she is letting out a note so fierce, you swear you can hear it leap off the canvas.
And the music hadn’t even started yet.
This 11th Pickle’s Blues Extravaganza, Friday night and tonight at Memorial Hall, proves to be another perfect marriage of music on stage benefiting arts in the schools. The portraits of blues greats — created through the Blues in the Schools artist-in-residence program — showcase legends such as BB King, Bessie Smith and Muddy Waters. As is tradition, the work made possible by the extravaganza is showcased so people can see what their $200 tables, $10 balcony seats and glasses of beer fund.
Downstairs, legends-in-the-making play and remind people why the weekend is so much fun.
“I got four top shelf bands. I just can’t wait to hear all of them play. They’re just so phenomenal,” event organizer Jerry “Pickle” Felter said of the musicians he finds on scouting trips to blues clubs in Chicago.
Liberty Arts Magnet teacher Mike Huffman said his middle school students get better every year at connecting visual arts and music, feeling the emotion of the blues and producing it in their work.
“We had a good resident artist. He didn’t say much. He didn’t have to. He was an incredible role model,” Huffman said. “The program is constantly evolving, becoming more and more thoughtful about combinations of music and visual arts.”
Felter said he loves the partnership, which sprang from an attempt to bring a little community purpose to the annual event and show people it was more than a party.
“At the beginning, it was all about the music. I thought it would be really cool to take music into the school, and maybe add some legitimacy to what we’re doing,” Felter said. “Blues, a lot of like neon, it became associated with the red light district, that kind of thing. Today, it’s all about the kids. It’s great that every slice of life of Lima comes out. Everyone’s happy, and the kids benefit.”
This year, even former Blues in the Schools mandolin player Rich DelGrosso joins Jonn Del Toro Richardson for a blow-out final stand to close the festival tonight.