Rhonda Robichaux to perform at Bull Durham Blues Festival
Guitarist and vocalist Rhonda Robichaux was born and grew up in New Orleans, but she had to come to the Triangle to be crowned Mardi Gras queen, a title she earned at the Durham Mardi Gras parade in February. “That would have never happened in New Orleans,” she laughs during a phone interview.
Robichaux’s music is drawn from the many musical styles that in one way or another originated in her hometown and surrounding area – the blues, jazz, funk, rock. She will perform with her band at the Bull Durham Blues Festival Sept. 7 at Hayti Heritage Center.
She came to the blues later in life. She earned a music therapy degree in college, where students learned the craft of classical music or jazz improvisation. “I was definitely not into jazz or classical when I went to college,” Robichaux said. After graduation, she began listening “to more local music known to New Orleans, jazz and blues. … I really didn’t get into the blues until my late 30s and early 40s.”
When she moved to Chapel Hill in 2000, she began to gravitate to the blues. She would sing and play at different venues. Soon, “more and more people would say, You must be from New Orleans. You have such a bluesy voice.”
That voice and her guitar playing earned Robichaux and her band a winning slot in the Triangle Blues Society’s 2012 Blues Challenge. The band then participated in the International Blues Challenge held in Memphis, Tenn., earlier this year.
“So the blues kind of fell in my lap,” she said. Some of her original and cover songs, recorded at the Blue Note Grill in Durham, are available on ReverbNation.com, where her composition “Ain’t Nothin’” has been “trending since late June. “I’m excited people are really paying attention,” and she plans a Kickstarter-type campaign to get some funding for a CD of original tunes.
She has numerous influences on vocals and guitar. “What I’ve noticed is that the artist that I find myself drawn to and inspired by and sometimes compared to is Etta James, Janis Joplin … and also Nina Simone. I’m just blown away by Nina Simone,” Robichaux said. Other influences are Joni Mitchell, Roberta Flack and Sting.
A few years ago, listeners in New Orleans told her she sounded like vocalist Cassandra Wilson. Robichaux bought one of her recordings, and now Wilson “is one of my favorite singers.” She and her band do an arrangement of Miles Davis’ “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down,” which takes its lyrics from Wilson’s arrangement of the tune that she included on a Davis tribute album.
Robichaux’s arrangement (available on YouTube) has a strong funk feel. “The version that I do is an arrangement I came up. Often when I hear Cassandra’s version, I realize I’m doing something different. … When I do that tune people pay attention,” she said.
B.B. King is one of her guitar influences. “I always admired the sweet, simple beautiful leads that he does.” She likes the spare quality of his solos, and those of Eric Clapton and Robert Cray, and tries to incorporate their style into her playing.
At the blues festival, she will be performing with a new band she met at a monthly jam session in Pittsboro -- Wes Newell on horns, Bob Moore on keyboard, Danny Addabdo on bass and Dorian Dimitrov on drums. Listeners can expect to hear some music of New Orleans musician Roy “Professor Longhair” Byrd, and the Neville Brothers’ “Fire on the Bayou,” another audience favorite, Robichaux said.
The September date will be her first time performing at the Bull Durham Blues Festival. She remembers hearing fellow New Orleans musicians The Wild Magnolias at the first festival she attended, and Shemekia Copeland. “I never thought all these years that I would perform for the blues festival, so I’m really excited about that.”
For blues festival tickets, call 919-683-1709 or visit www.hayti.org.
Here are some other fall music festivals to put on the calendar:
-- Fiddlers and other musicians will gather for the 7th Annual Hoppin’ John Old-Time & Bluegrass Fiddlers’ Convention Sept. 19-21, at Shakori Hills Farm, 1439 Henderson Tanyard Road in Pittsboro. Hoppin’ John is a three-day event for musicians, dancers, and music lovers to come together and celebrate the traditions of old-time and bluegrass music.
Tickets (purchased at the gate only) are $22 for contestants. Tickets are $6 for Sept. 19, $8 for Sept. 20 and $12 for Sept. 21. Camping is $10 per vehicle per night (free on Thursday), $15 per night for RVs. Day parking is free. For information, visit www.hoppinjohn.org.
-- The Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival of Music & Dance is held twice annually in the spring and fall. The fall festival will be held Oct. 10-13 at Shakori Hills Farm, 1439 Henderson Tanyard Road in Pittsboro. Performers for the fall festival are Big Fat Gap, Peter Lamb and the Wolves, Robert Randolph and the Family Band, Donna the Buffalo, and many others.
For a complete schedule and more details about tickets and camping, visit shakorihillsgrassroots.org or call 919-542-8142.
-- The Carrboro Music Festival presents musicians of all styles in outdoor and indoor venues throughout town, and all for free. The 16th annual festival has been expanded to two days. On Sept. 28, the town is partnering with the N.C. Folklore Society in observance of the organization’s 100th anniversary. Musicians are scheduled to perform on the Town Commons between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.
On Sept. 29, some 180 performing groups will play at 25 venues. As a prelude to the festival, the town will present Music on the Street beginning Sept. 23. For a full schedule of artists, visit www.carrboromusicfestival.com.
-- CenterFest, held every fall in downtown Durham, is primarily a visual arts fair, but it also has music and dance. This year’s festival will be held Sept. 21 and 22. For a schedule of performers, visit www.centerfest.durhamarts.org.
-- The 2013 Hillsborough Jazz Festival will be held Sept. 21, at Moorefields Estate from noon to 6 p.m. This year’s festival is dedicated to N.C. native Nina Simone. Performers will be Yolanda Rabun, Jo Gore & the Alternative, Capital Transit, Stacy Looman Trio, Robert (Griffanzo) Griffin with Taz Halloween, and Serena Wiley. For tickets, call 919-643-2500 or visit hillsboroughartscouncil.org/hillsboroughjazzfestival.