Alabama Slim

Blues musician Alabama Slim is seen in this tintype photo taken by Tim Duffy, founder of the Music Maker Relief Foundation. (Courtesy photo)

Despite the musical genre named in the title of the festival, some diehard blues fans may look at this year’s Telluride Blues & Brews lineup and ask where’s the blues? In the festival’s 26 years, many of the headlining blues acts have passed away.

But fear not, blues music aficionados. The Telluride Blues Stage and the festival’s partnership with the Music Maker Relief Foundation have that authentic blues salve to soothe your soul. Not only are a handful of wildly talented, real deal blues and gospel artists playing throughout the weekend thanks to their partnership, but the foundation will also have an entire area dedicated to their mission in the lobby of the Blues Stage (Hanley Pavillion).

The Music Makers Relief Foundation (MMRF) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit based in Hillsborough, North Carolina dedicated to preserving the musical traditions of the South by supporting the musicians who make it. They ensure these artists’ voices are not silenced by poverty and time.

MMRF was founded by Tim Duffy, a trained folklorist, who could see musical traditions in the South being silenced by poverty.

Over the past 25 years, his organization works to improve the lives of artists living in poverty with emergency grants to musicians in need and support those healthy enough to tour and perform through tour booking and management services. According to the foundation’s website, to date, they’ve supported 435 artists and facilitated more than 12,000 musician grants, more than 7,000 performances and more than 2,400 songs released.

Duffy met festival producer Steve Gumble at New Orleans Jazz Fest several years ago and the two instantly bonded over their shared passion for music.

“Tim is just a brilliant, energetic and enthusiastic man,” Gumble said of Duffy. “Their passion is infectious and the whole crew that works for him, they’re there to help people, and it’s beautiful.”

In the last handful of years, the festival and MMRF worked together to book some incredible blues and gospel artists on both the main stage and the Blues Stage. This year’s artists include Jake Xerzes Fussell, Alabama Slim, Willie Farmer, Sandra Hall and the Como Mamas.

The Como Mamas, for example, who will play Sunday’s traditional gospel set, are three women from Como, Mississippi who learned the traditions of gospel music from the elders of their church growing up. The MMRF helped them put out a new record, “Move Upstairs,” on the Daptone Label.

Alabama Slim has played the festival before, and this year he plays three slots at the Blues Stage. As a kid, he learned to sing from the workers in the field at his grandparents’ farm.

“The people that Music Maker brings still live in the communities and culture where this music was born,” Duffy said.

The foundation will be set up the lobby of the Blues Stage with the Drink House featuring an art exhibition and tintype photography shot by Duffy, listening stations with original vinyl records, artist meet and greets, a photo booth, silent auction and as the name indicates, a full bar.

All festival-goers can support the organization simply by buying a drink. One dollar of each Sierra Nevada Brewing or Tito’s vodka drink sold during the festival goes to the organization.

Last year Blues & Brews raised about $37,000 for MMRF, and this year, Duffy’s goal is $50,000. Before they even flew to Telluride, a Telluride couple had already committed $10,000 to that goal.

 “You can’t help but want to donate when you understand what they do,” Gumble said.

“People are very generous here in Telluride,” Duffy said. “They love blues and want to give back to it.”

To learn more about the organization visit musicmaker.org or swing by the festival’s Drink House all weekend long.