Barbecue and blues was on the menu Sunday night as the McLean Community Center celebrated its eighth annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day gathering, with over 200 people coming out to listen to Curtis Blues and feast on hickory smoked barbecue.
“It’s the occasion of celebrating Dr. King, what he stood for and to continue honoring his legacy,” Sam Roberts, the Special Events director said of the event. “Most people like barbecue, and who doesn’t like the blues?”
Tables filled the community room, lined the hallway and into an overflow room. The Martin Luther King celebration is always McLean's most integrated event of the year. Black folks and white folks, young and old moved their heads to keep time with the music. Folks talked to their neighbors and greeted old friends.
“We had 90 people pre-register, so we could have an idea of the head count,” Roberts said. “But we had over 200 people show up, which was great.”
Curtis Blues, the night’s entertainment, is a preservationist of acoustic Delta blues of the 20s and 30s. Perched on a stage at the front of the room, he surrounded himself with seven guitars, each with their own timbre and cadence. With his southern drawl, he smoothly shifted between playing and providing historical and lyrical context of the songs. It's no wonder he is called a “one man band” with his vocals, harmonica, guitars and drums.
“He is talented and knowledgeable about the blues as a percussionist, soloist and guitarist,” said Sam’i Nurridin, the President of the DC Blues Society. The non-profit organization, which also collaborated with the Community Center last year, was founded to promote and support the musical genre in the DC Metro area and helped to bring Curtis Blues to perform at the event.
“He’s an educator,” Nurridin continued about Curtis Blues. “The history of blues is 100 years old, and its story has gotten lost over time. There’s more to it than most people think. Curtis knows a lot and wants to teach about the genre.”
An enthusiastic and passionate performer, Blues, at one point, jumped off the stage and walked round the tables, so that the crowd could properly hear timbre of Bo Diddley. It is a one-stringed, usually home-made, guitar of African origin and made popular in the South. From B.B. King’s move to Memphis to the history of the African gourd banjo, he kept the crowd musically and intellectually entertained.
“The thing about the blues…it has many meanings” he said at one point while strumming his guitar. “That’s why it can be enjoyed by any age group.”
In the kitchen, the family owned The Tender Rib, based in Temple Hills, Md., catered the dinner, serving delicious minced pork, grilled chicken, ribs, string beans, mac and cheese and coleslaw. The long line of folks waiting to be served and food running out testified to the popularity of the event.
“It’s a wonderful event,” said Ellen Kabat of Reston, Va., who came with a friend to see the show. “Every year I try celebrating something about Martin Luther King.”
Guests stayed for the whole two-hour event, with bellies full and ears entertained, promising to return next year, when the event will move back to the Alden Theater which will undergo a renovation in a few weeks.