Touching: Emotions go deep with bluesmen

Cephas and Wiggins
at the Prism
Saturday, February 12

Cephas and Wiggins played at the Prism Coffeehouse this past Saturday, and most of you weren't there. It was a miracle that I was there myself. I went because I had a feeling that I needed to see them play– at least this time– because I had missed them twice before when they came to town. By the end of the show, I was ashamed that I'd passed up those previous opportunities. What was I thinking?

On February 12, two older black men dressed in modest suits walked out to a small room full of big applause and blew my mind. The one with the guitar, "Bowling Green" John Cephas, wore his history across his forehead. He licked his lips more than once before he sang, and he didn't talk much while he tuned. He preferred to speak to the audience while he strummed the chords of the next song.

Cephas spoke about the history of the blues and all the styles of blues– the Piedmont blues and the Mississippi delta and their differences, about how one features an alternating thumb and finger picking style while the other prefers single-string phrases that follow the melody of the vocalist. He related the styles to differences in western and central African music.

When he was finished talking, he illustrated his point with a song. The illustrations were vivid, stories upon stories. Cephas stressed time and again that there's a blues tune for just about anything we encounter in everyday living.

If you just lost your job, there's a blues. If you've fallen in love, fallen out of love, or never even felt love, there's a blues. There have been so many blues songs written and sung that I'm sure someone wrote a song about not knowing what blues to sing.

But Cephas and Wiggins definitely knew what blues to sing Saturday night. Every soul in the room was under their spell, locked into their energy.

Phil Wiggins is a treasure on his own. He's a man of very few words. As a matter of fact, the only thing I heard him say during the show was "thank you" to the audience. He didn't have to speak: his harmonica spoke volumes for him. If there's a master harmonica player title to be given, then Phil Wiggins deserves it.

Wiggins' harmonica solos told just as much of a story as the duo's song lyrics. His humble grace let us know that he considered it a privilege to play his music for us. There's a dignity to the man that carried the whole concert to a higher level of experience. Cephas and Wiggins made their music belong to everyone in the room– not just through education about the art form, or with the stories in the songs, or the skill with which they executed each note. They played with a feeling that comes from understanding the struggle at the root of the blues.

Each song came to life in the emotional side of the performance. That's what made them spectacular, true ambassadors of the blues. Their performance reached out and touched me in a way I didn't think music could touch me anymore. What was I thinking, missing them perform so many times before? I won't be missing them again.

Cephas & Wiggins