Blues on the Run

Blues on the Run
January 7, 2009
Sherry Lucas

Your automatic response to blues music more a wiggle than a run?


Even so, the Mississippi Blues Marathon presents plenty of pull, even in these cold climatic times.

The feats of human endurance and physical talent - whether it's teasing a few more miles from those legs or a few more beats from that guitar - command eyes, ears and enthusiasm.

Blues music at the Blues Expo today and Friday, at the race's finish line Saturday and at local clubs Saturday night make this a treat for more than merely the fleet of feet.

Now in its third year, the Mississippi Blues Marathon & Half-Marathon in Jackson is one of the country's fastest growing races. The runner count is pushing 2,000, from 46 states and five countries. About 800 of them are from Mississippi.

"That's my favorite race," said runner Jim George of Brandon. "It's just put on really, really well," with organizers who are also marathoners and understand runners' wants and needs. Spectators turn out to watch runners' training pay off for the tough 26.2 miles.

The draw reaches far beyond the blues state's borders. "You would think that most people come from right next door - Louisiana, Alabama," says John Sewell, director of corporate communications for Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi, which sponsors the race.

"We've got 35 people signed up from Alabama and 21 from Arkansas. But we've got 32 coming from California, we've got 54 coming from Illinois and 18 people coming from Minnesota - probably just to warm up."

The course is going to be a cold one this year, thanks to temperatures forecast to peak in the 30s.

"The weather is one thing with an event like this that you can't control," Sewell said. "With it being cold, we'll make sure we're prepared to have hot chocolate, soup and coffee as runners come across the finish line. We've got the heat blankets. We're aware of the needs of volunteers on the course.

"Our primary goal is to make sure the runners have a good, safe experience out there."

Leading up to the race, the Mississippi Blues Marathon Expo is open to the public 5-9 p.m. today and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday at the Jackson Convention Complex. Music by Patrick Harkins, Terry Bean, LC Ulmer, Bill Abel and Cedric Burnside & Lightnin' Malcolm set the tone.

Vendors from across the country will be selling running gear; locals Fleet Feet and St. Andrew's Bookstore are among those with booths. One hot item is bound to be the T-shirt produced for the marathon's "first wave" race in Iraq earlier this week by Mississippi soldiers deployed there; 646 runners participated. Sales of the "I Ran in Iraq" T-shirts, $15, will benefit the Mississippi Military Family Relief Fund.

Expo guests include acclaimed runner, author and speaker Bill Rodgers and motivational speaker Dane Rauschenberg, who ran 52 marathons in 52 weeks in 2006.

Race organizers encourage residents, particularly in neighborhoods along the course, to come out and cheer on the runners. That'll augment the musicians scheduled at seven mile markers along the route.

Additional pockets of support are planned at certain points.

Greater Belhaven's Beignets and Blues Party, 9-11 a.m. Saturday at the corner of Riverside Drive and North State Street (next to the fire station) will cheer on runners as they close in on the marathon's final stretch (between miles 11 and 12 for the half-marathoners and miles 24 and 25 for the full marathoners).

Join them for live music by Virgil Brawley, free coffee and hot chocolate and beignets for sale from Ro' Chez.

Supporters of critically acclaimed soprano and half-marathoner Susanna Phillips will be offering unique encouragement as she passes by Eudora Welty House and the Mississippi Bar Center Saturday morning.

Mississippi Chorus board chairman Royce Boyer, who's known Alabama native Phillips since her Huntsville childhood, said, "we're combining with the Mississippi Opera Chorus to form a group of singing cheerers. ... We're going to sing O Susanna - of course, we'll put a few new words with it - as she passes by a couple of places."

Phillips, an Alabama native who made her Metropolitan Opera debut a year ago and returned last fall, will also sing at a 3 p.m. Friday tea at St. Andrew's Episcopal Cathedral (call Mississippi Opera, (601) 960-2300 for details and tickets, $20).

The race's finish line will find its own welcoming chorus of fine blues musicians.

Dress for warmth and count on hot blues to take the chill off.

A Blues Crawl Saturday night at downtown clubs continues the groove: Martin's has Scott Albert Johnson at 7:30 p.m. and Sons of Subway at 10 p.m.; find the Juvenators at 7:30 p.m. at Fire; Vasti Jackson enlivens Underground 119 at 9 p.m.; Jackie Bell, The Church Keys and Rooster Blues bring the action to Ole Tavern at George Street at 10 p.m.; and Stevie J. and the Blues Eruption close out the night at F. Jones Corner, starting at 11:30 p.m.
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