Amanda Gresham is a blues entrepreneur. Her company, Delta Music Experience, was created to give blues fans unique opportunities to interact with their favorite artists and learn something about the genre’s origins at the same time.
For fans yearning to make pilgrimage to the Mississippi Delta – the blues mecca – DME offers a guided experience with fabulous Mississippi musicians including Cedric Burnside, Eden Brent, SuperChikan, and Bobby Rush to name a few. Seattle-based vocalist Lady “A” will be joining in the fun, too. The setting couldn’t be more interesting: blues music fans on a bus with the best musicians in delta blues today, touring and traveling the back roads of Mississippi’s mysterious delta. The Delta Music Experience Rockin’ the Real Deal Delta Juke Joint Fest Trip culminates in April to coincide with the Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale.
American Blues Scene was eager to find out more about Amanda and the Delta Music Experience excursions that her company offers. Amanda’s enthusiasm for all things Mississippi, Louisiana, and Gulf Coast-related is contagious. No doubt everyone fortunate enough to participate in one of her musical adventures will come away from the experience rejuvenated and just as eager to share their love of the region and its music as is Amanda.
I’m so interested in your company – tell me what you do at Delta Music Experience.
Delta Music Experience is a company that produces events, festival attractions, vacations such as train trips and cruises to raise awareness of, and appreciation for the Mississippi Delta, the Louisiana Delta, and the Gulf Coast.
I’ve been doing these types of events, whether they be fundraising or trips of some nature, prior to even establishing as a company — since college. Delta Music Experience was founded in 2004.
How did you get started organizing such events?
I guess you could kind of blame it on Luther Allison in a way. He was my first musical mentor. He really shared with me a connection and love for blues music and stories. Through that I really came to know the roots of blues music, and that’s what really stimulated my interest in getting deeper into the roots of Blues music: Where did it originate? What other stories come from it? We talked about Honeyboy Edwards, and the founding blues greats who really laid the land for what we know today. He gave me an all-access pass so wherever he performed, he said, “Please join me backstage.” Through blues, jazz, rock and roll, hip hop – he connected all those music genres together based on blues. I wanted to bring that to others the way that he brought it to me.
It’s very important to me to make it a very small musician to passenger ratio so people really get that connecting experience and they can go home and say, “I travelled with these musicians that are now my friends, I had a conversation, I had lunch, breakfast, dinner with, we travelled around town with.” So it’s not like I heard this musician was on the trip with me, but I spent time with this musician.
For this trip coming up in April, we’ll have basically a 1 to 1 (if not 2 to 1) ratio of passenger to musician which is really important to me, especially in the Delta. This is such an interesting journey, and to really hear the stories and hear the music — very impromptu from the musicians’ hearts, it is important for it to be a very intimate experience. Only a select number of people can travel with them.
Do you have a team with you, or is it just you doing all this?
Fortunately I have an excellent partner, and I have a nonprofit arm which really helps. I created DME; I develop the concepts, I produce all the events. I do love celebrating with other people. It’s really no fun to toast me, myself, and I at the end of an evening, so I really do have other people come in and work with me on this. It’s called the Crew DME, and they come and help out for various projects. They’re volunteers. Then I have a nonprofit collaborating team with Hammerman Philanthropic Partners, and Barbara Hammerman is the president of that. She helps out tremendously with United by Music, which we’re developing as a nonprofit here in the States. With DME every single event donates money to a nonprofit. There’s a nonprofit connection with every single DME production.
Education is a major component of DME. DME is entertaining, educating, and enriching, and also engaging. Those are 4 very important concepts that are always included in this. Education is a huge component of it. Musicians on this trip are most likely involved in Blues in the Schools and have a love for giving and enriching students and young adults.
How do you go about choosing the artists that accompany your guests?
Obviously they’re musicians who have a connection to the area where I’ll be. It’s very important to me that they are personable. Not only are they talented and have connections to the area but be personable so the musicians and guests get to know each other very well. They have to really have a passion to share their stories. Musicians love that connection they feel from being at one with the audience.
You’ll see Mizz Lowe featuring Bobby Rush. It’s a concept called LOWEdownRush, something exclusive to DME – never been anywhere else. It’s going to feature Mizz Lowe in a way she’s never been featured before on stage. Bobby is excited to be her special guest. I don’t want to give it away, but it’s really going to round out and complete the ensemble way the performers come together. Lightnin’ Malcolm will come on and join them, Eden Brent will come on, and Lady “A.” SuperChikan’s going to come on. They’re all going to do the concept and free flow together and make a jam happen like no other.
Tell me specifically about the bus trip next month. Where does it start, and where do you go?
It starts in Memphis where we go to Sun Studio. From there we spend the day in Mississippi Hill Country, a guided experience lead by Cedric Burnside and Trenton Ayers.
How hard is it to nail down Cedric Burnside who is hotter than a firecracker? Scheduling has got to be a bear for this.
How do I get the musicians I get? It’s through friendships being developed sometimes over 10 years. They respect what I do, and it’s a collaboration. They love what I do and ask to be included in the experience.
Back to the trip – after Hill Country, then what happens?
We go back to Sun Studio for a performance that evening, studio session style, where people can see what it’s like to be in a recording studio. The artists will tell stories about what it’s like to be a recording musician.
Then we’ll go on to Clarksdale, Mississippi, which is where everyone spends the nights for the rest of the week. After every daily adventure, we come back to Clarksdale that night. On Tuesday we’ll have a welcome breakfast and from there explore the Delta, including Greenwood and Indianola, the BB King museum. We’ll have an ensemble-style performance that evening and for the next 2 evenings by all the musicians. There’ll be different songs each night.
Because we’re smaller, we can be flexible. It’ll be a show like no other. In 2008 we had a schedule, but what happened was the bus driver and SuperChikan had a different concept in mind. As I say, the musicians are in charge. After we’re on the road, SuperChikan says, “Whoa, wait. My cousin’s uncle’s nephew – you gotta take a right here.” I’d told the bus driver to go the route the musicians want – this is their home. We went to a gravesite I didn’t know existed. Everyone got off the bus and heard a story that was remembered by everyone. We took pictures we didn’t think we were going to have. What distinguishes DME from a tour is that we have a framework for the day, but each day has surprises.
So you have quite an international attraction.
I really want to expand on that. It’s attractive to other markets, and they want to have a safe way to explore. The Euro being what it is, they have an advantage in coming to the States. They really do love this music and appreciate its art form. All they’ve got to do is show up and enjoy it.
You’re an entrepreneur in some tough economic times. Where did you get the confidence to do this?
Maybe by not knowing what you’re getting yourself into, I think. I’d say I was moving to Louisiana, my roots, and I’m going to develop this concept. While I’m there I saw this beautiful area where an art gallery would be – wouldn’t be nice to have an art gallery to get the seed money for this venture?
I learn best by experiencing things. History was a little bit difficult for me growing up. I would read about it in a history book and say, I don’t get it, and ask my parents to take me there. We would do field trips to Washington, D.C., or go to a museum. So taking that personal approach for other people, I feel that in order to understand the Delta and blues, to be there. Once I understood blues music, I wanted others to. What’s that developed into is not only taking them to the Delta but also taking it to them in little bits, so when they come to the DME Louisiana Pavilion at Waterfront, they’ll get a little taste of what it’s all about.
It’s scary to be an entrepreneur, because you never know. That’s why I everyone to know about it; to go along on this dream with me.
Seats aboard the DME express bus are still available and very reasonably priced! Check out amandagresham.com!
For more information, please check out AmandaGresham.com or call 504.524.BLUEs(2583)