Blues on the Red
University of North Dakota
The sun shined and the blues jammed during the first installment of Blues on the Red in downtown Grand Forks this summer. The day’s atmosphere was perfect for an outdoor blues concert, with sunny skies at the beginning and cool shade toward the end. The concert featured both the Deb Jenkins Band of Fargo, North Dakota, and James Armstrong, originally of Santa Monica, California.
Frontwoman of the Deb Jenkins Band, Deb Jenkins, defined her music as, “good energy music that makes you want to get up.” When asked about the barometer of a strong concert for the audience, Jenkins responded that she could tell by “the fact that they were tapping their feet.” She stated that the band primarily play in North Dakota, around the Fargo area, and oftentimes in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota.
Jenkins, who runs also runs a catering business in the Fargo area, plays standard, upbeat blues and jazz music. Her vocals sing a tone of acceptance and peace, never wavering from an optimistic vibe with high energy. Originally titled “Second Wind,” the band includes Ron Meier on the guitar, Jermey Cahill on the bass, Frank McDainels on the drums, Deb Jenkins as lead singer, and Mike Jenkins also as a lead singer and on keyboard.
After the Deb Jenks Band, the James Armstrong Band played a combination of funk, blues, early rock, and upbeat swing. Known for his high energy and oftentimes romantically philosophical performances, James Armstrong comes from the West Coast style of blues, influenced by the early Southern blues. He is known for defying any genre categorization and for fusing the two schools of Jazz, contemporary and classical.
Armstrong began performing at the age of eight with his father, who needed a drummer at the time. Beginning with the drums, Armstrong picked up the saxophone and transitioned to the guitar around age 11. Soon afterward, he developed a healthy love of artists like Jimi Hendrix. He would later have the opportunity to perform with Hendrix’ drummer, Mitch Mitchell, at the age of 22. By the time he played in Grand Forks, he had released three studio albums and the fourth, which is about life growing up with his father, will be released this November.
“It was all blues and jazz in the household. When I turned 14, I really got into Southern rock, The Allman Brothers.” He continued, “My music is what I hear in my head from when I made the transition to rock. For me, it’s still using the progressions of the music with other flavoring, or icing, on top of that.”
When asked about what influences his music over time, he said, “I think for me it’s as I get older. I take songs and just try and totally change it around. I don’t try to go way way outside of the box.”
Armstrong’s entire story isn’t as optimistic as his music. In 1990, someone broke into his home. From this incident, he received a stab wound to his shoulder, limiting the mobility of three of his fingers in his left hand and left arm. James views the event that disabled his hand as a sign that he had to fulfill his goal of slowing his music down.
“I consider myself the best two-fingered guitar player in the land. It took a long time to recover. I used to be really fast and good, but I always wanted to slow down and sound like B.B. [King], God made this happen. I literally cannot play fast. You can get more feeling out of one note than you can out of 20.”
Greg Hoover, the organizer of the event and the City of Grand Forks’ Urban Planner, could not have been happier about the Saturday night turnout. “Last year, the first event we had 750 people. This year, we’re estimating it around 1,000.”
Greg came up with the idea to bring the concerts to town. “A friend of mine one day said she really liked the blues and I sad, well let’s get something going.” He continued, “I come from Davenport, Iowa, where they’ve had a three-day bluesfest for years.” He hopes to continue expanding the events, with the goal of eventually having a similar multi-day event that encompasses much of the downtown area.
The Blues on the Red concert series occurs on the last Saturday of every month in Town Square, downtown Grand Forks. The Blues on the Red concerts will continue on the last Saturday of the month for the remainder of the summer.
The next concert is Saturday, July 23 featuring Big George Jackson of Minneapolis and opening act PeatMoss of Grand Forks.
Check out Blues on the Red on Facebook.
Boucher, Evan, "Blues on the Red" (2011). UND News Archive. 76.