In addition to Little Jake and the Soul Searchers, the stage will be filled with local all-stars, including Sheba the Mississippi Queen, Reverend Billy C. Wirtz, and Rondo and the Mojo Downs Band.
Little Jake of Little Jake and Soul Searchers knows Ocala well.
As a kid touring the famed Chitlin' Circuit, Jake Mitchell would open for soul's biggest stars when the circuit stopped at Ocala's Club Bali in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
“I played at Club Bali years ago. Oh, it was beautiful. I played there with Jackie Wilson, B.B. King, James Brown, The Midnighters," said Mitchell, who is now 70-something and living in Gainesville. "I was pretty big back in those days. I was just a young buck coming up.”
Well, the young buck will be back in Ocala Friday night, headlining the Brick City Blues Festival. Dubbed Soulsville USA, this year's festival will be a multi-act concert that traces the history of soul music, particularly its path through this region.
The annual concert packs the Reilly Arts Center, raises money for Ocala's Feed The Need outreach and educates the dancing masses about the music that has them on their feet. Last year, it was a journey through the Chitlin Circuit. This year, the festival revisits the Chitlin' Circuit with an emphasis soul.
In addition to Little Jake and the Soul Searchers, the stage will be filled with local all-stars, including blues singer Sheba the Mississippi Queen, Reverend Billy C. Wirtz, and Rondo and the Mojo Downs Band (fronted by community activist, restaurateur and Feed The Need founder Ron "Rondo" Fernandez).
As much a music historian as he is a piano-pounding musician, Wirtz will provide the concert's narrative, including soul's reach into Ocala.
Ocala was on the Chitlin’ Circuit, a string of venues in segregated American cities that hosted black musicians. African American performers would pass through the region en route to larger venues, stopping to perform at Gainesville's Cotton Club (still standing) and Ocala's Club Bali (no longer standing).
Wirtz has a particular affinity for blues and soul. Soul, Wirtz contends, bridged races more than political policy ever did.
"Soul music came out during a time when there was a tremendous amount of racial polarization in this country, especially in the South," Wirtz said. "The real hardcore Southern soul we’ll be featuring this weekend comes from Memphis and Muscle Shoals, Alabama."
It found its way onto high-wattage radio stations and, subsequently, into the ears of white kids who were not supposed to be listening to it.
"They grabbed hold of it, and, and boy, I’ll tell you, they would be at all the black shows," Mitchell recalled. "They would be a part of the crowd.”
Soul's power, Mitchell contends, stems from its origins: "Soul came out of the church."
“Soul music happened when rhythm and blues tapped into gospel, as well as country and western," Wirtz said. "It had an attitude. You can’t sit still and listen to ‘Papa's Got A Brand New Bag.'"