Turkey welcomes autumn with the Blues. One of the major Blues festivals organized in Turkey for the last 22 years, the Efes Pilsen Blues Festival, has gone beyond İstanbul and spread to a wide range of cities across Turkey with prominent figures of the Blues scene.
Unlike similar festivals, which are generally confined to İstanbul and several other big cities, the Efes Pilsen Blues Festival turns the typical colors of fall to blues in various cities all over Turkey. The festival, which got under way on Sept. 23 in Adana, will visit 20 cities for 24 concerts in total, featuring Lucky Peterson, Rick Estrin & The Nightcats and John Mooney. Organized by Pozitif Productions, the festival will bring Blues lovers together in 24 locations, including Antakya, Mersin, Kayseri, Konya, Antalya, Denizli, Gaziantep, Diyarbakır, Erzurum, Trabzon, Ankara, Eskişehir, Bursa, Balıkesir, İstanbul, Edirne, Çanakkale and İzmir in its 22nd edition, until Oct. 29.
“Keep the Blues alive!” exclaimed Peterson, in an interview with Today’s Zaman. Having made his first record at the age of 5 and taken to the stage of The Tonight Show and The Ed Sullivan Show, Peterson is quite excited about traveling to so many cities with and for music, just like the other acts, Estrin and his band, The Nightcats, and Mooney.
“We’re off to a great start,” said Peterson, who first came to Turkey back in 1993 for that year’s festival. “Great festival, I’m glad to be a part of it, keeping the Blues alive!” he added. Estrin, who has also been in Turkey before for a previous edition of the festival, said: “I was here with Efes Pilsen in 2004. [Since] then, it has been a dream of mine to come back. … The festival is a great opportunity for people to learn about different cultures. Turkish people are exposed to American Blues and we get to experience Turkey.”
For Mooney, one of the most prominent figures of the Mississippi Blues, this festival is his first time in Turkey. “I feel honored and flattered to be invited to perform at the festival. I think it is a great opportunity for peoples of different countries and cultures to get together and exchange musical ideas,” he says.
The festival program is quite intense, with a concert almost every day in a different city. However, the musicians don’t seem to complain about the intense schedule. “Maybe we’ll be a little tired but it’s all worth it,” says Peterson. “Playing music is what I love and I get energy when I play and please people.” Estrin agrees: “Sometimes I may be tired, but I can always get energy from the music.” As for Mooney, he even regrets not having enough time for sightseeing. “Although the festival does involve quite a lot of travel, as I’ve been performing professionally since 1966, it’s not that unusual for me. I just wish there were more time to see some of the sights, architecture, and so on…”
The concert program in each city is different. “I go acoustic sometimes, sometimes with a band or sometimes alone, sometimes a trio and sometimes a duo. I do all kinds of shows; jazz, gospel and so on…” Peterson explains.
“We love to keep things fresh,” confirms Estrin. “We may make spontaneous changes [to the program] any time. There will be surprises, not only for the audience, but for us as well.”
Mooney, on the other hand, says he prefers improvisation on the stage. “I tend to mix it up a bit, depending on how the crowd is feeling. Some shows will be more [focused on] Mississippi [Delta] Blues, and some may lean more towards New Orleans. There won’t be huge surprises, like parachuting into the show, or anything like that. Mainly, just straight forward, good old funky-bucket Blues, with, of course, the usual fireworks display and dancing girls.”
Mooney reminds festivalgoers to “bring their dancing shoes, and be ready to have a good time.”
A history of 22 years
Looking back, 21 years have been left behind since the festival first began. “Our first objective when we first set off on this festival was to spread the Blues culture in Turkey; bring together the unifying role of music and masses with a feeling of joy and contribute to the social life of the society,” says Emre Topsakaloğlu, the communications manager of Efes Turkey, also responsible for organizing the festival. “I believe that we have come quite a long way. At the point that we have achieved today, we aim to bring together Blues lovers and very significant musicians. It makes us happy to see the contributions of the seeds that Efes Pilsen sowed 21 years ago for the development of Turkish music culture and to know that Blues music is loved by several generations today.”
Topsakaloğlu indicates that the influence of the festival can be observed through the increasing numbers of audiences every year. “There are even demands for a concert from the cities that we can’t go to,” he notes. “They want to see the Efes Pilsen Blues Festival in their own cities as well.”
For Topsakaloğlu, one of the reasons why the festival has been going on for 22 years is the meticulous planning behind the event. “For this reason, neither the musicians nor the organizers or the audience face any problems,” he says. “And the musicians leave our country with very good impressions.”
The festival receives increasing recognition on an international level as well, being awarded the “Keeping the Blues Alive” award in 2010 by the US-based Blues Foundation. “The festival is very well known among Blues circles in America,” adds Topsakaloğlu. “Not only in the US, but the reputation of this long-running festival has even spread to Russia, Romania, Serbia and Kazakhstan.”