Stage presence is more than an oft-used phrase when it comes to blues ambassador and musician, Maurice Davis. In fact, it’s been a way of life since he was dubbed “Little B.B. King” back in the ‘70s.
The Flint native traveled around the U.S. giving audiences his fine-tuned, showman-inspired interpretation of the blues. A gifted guitarist, Davis was influenced by Jimi Hendrix and B.B. King, but while most players gravitated toward Hendrix, Davis found his muse in King’s musical approach. It suited him perfectly – the blues was like clothing he’d always worn and never cast off.
“I played with everybody but B.B. King. Buddy Guy and all of them … Bobby‘Blue’Bland,” he says, as well as others, although he quickly admits – and regrets – never having the chance to play onstage with his hero. Springing from deep musical roots on both sides of the family, Davis easily found support in his artistic efforts.
“All my kinfolks play – everybody play,” Davis says. “I always loved the blues. Most people gravitate over to the blues. The blues, I know inside out.”
Energetic blues show
Davis, a recording artist with an international following and the sales to go with it, continues to travel and perform, yet another passion project – maybe his biggest project – has been his native city of Flint, and more recently, the second annual Heritage & Harmony Festival, which takes place July 2-4 at in Civic Park.
He handpicks the artists on the roster and believes that this year will be even better than the first. That’s how the blues works: it builds and builds, and Davis is all for building up Flint neighborhoods – and the people of Flint – with what he calls “party blues.”
Think of it this way: a blues artist runs the risk of becoming a human jukebox in front of a live audience, but that’s not what Heritage & Harmony is going to serve up.
“We play a more energetic blues show,” he says. “People pay for entertainment not a juke box band – I don’t do the juke box band thing. My thing is between James Brown and B.B. King. I can throw the mic. You’ve got to be able to entertain folks.”
Known affectionately as “The King of Party Blues,” a moniker given to him years ago by a fellow blues man, Davis has curated a show that is, as far as he’s concerned, top notch, and unlike anything else you’ll see in Michigan or any other festival across the country.
“They’re top-flight entertainers and they’ve got a variety of different styles, and they’re very lively,” Davis says. “This is actually a ‘paid’ event free to the public. You’re going to be getting some real entertainment, as well as (the) Michigan sound. You’re going to get a high-end festival. We’ve got a wide variety of vendors as well.”
Scheduled artists include Chris Canas, Twyla Songbird, Greg Ellis and Davis’ band, including some gospel acts and a variety of DJs. For Davis, who is also a Flint city councilman now just past his second year, it was important to make Heritage & Harmony more than simply another music festival, or a venue with music and food. That’s been done before, but what makes this festival full of potential is its connection to the Flint neighborhoods – its message of hope and resilience.
‘New Flint emerging’
“When you’re inviting people in your house, you want it to be right,” he says. “I want to make sure Heritage & Harmony (becomes) the staple of the city of Flint.”
Davis is proud that Flint residents – or Flintstones, as they used to be called – are a tough group.
“Even with the water crisis … through it all, they (the people of Flint) didn’t never leave the community (whether they could or couldn’t), they stayed and they’re resilient,” Davis adds. “Flint is on the recovery side. Pretty soon the nation’s going to see a new Flint emerging.”
So, really, the blues isn’t about a singing or playing a sad song, the blues is going to be a celebratory experience, unlike any other.
“You see nice things downtown, but to be in a blighted, forgotten neighborhood, now you’ve got it in your own neighborhood, you can hear music throughout your neighborhood,” he says. “It’s an atmosphere moving across the whole city. It’s not a Maurice event. It ain’t about me, it’s about we.”
He pauses like he’s about to take a thoughtful solo, then says: “It ain’t where you live, it’s how you live.”
This year’s festival is expected to get an added boost with the June opening of the new Voice of the Voiceless and Video to the Videoless (V2xV) and Bryan Leach recording studio in the Civic Park neighborhood.
The festival runs daily from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.For more information, visit the Heritage and Harmony facebook page.
Gospel groups, choirs and praise dancers in the city will perform
July 3 Music Lineup
The DJs spin some fun music on the final day
Editor’s Note: The Ruth Mott Foundation-funded V2xV studio, billed as a talent incubator and safe haven, will be operated by the Urban Renaissance Center inside Joy Tabernacle Church. V2xV will host a Summer Boot Camp for area youth. Headed by Bangtown Productions, the camp will run for eight weeks on Thursday and Fridays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. To sign up or for more information call 810-964BANG(2264) or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org