Archie Edwards Blues Foundation relocates, keeps the piedmont blues alive
By ALLAN WALTERS — You have probably walked around Riverdale Park on a Saturday and heard music that reminded you of an old movie, with sounds and melodies that we rarely hear being played anymore. A few of you may have been able to identify the instruments being played – a harmonica, a guitar. If you were curious, you may have even tried to find the source of the unique sound you were hearing and walked over to an unassuming building across the street from the train station. If you looked in the window or opened the door to look inside, you would see a group of friends all playing instruments and carrying on the tradition of the Saturday afternoon jams that started over 50 years ago in the barbershop of Archie Edwards in NE Washington, D.C.
The Archie Edwards Blues Heritage Foundation hosted their final Saturday Jam on Jan. 26 at their “barbershop” at 4701 Queensbury Ave in Riverdale Park. The Foundation, the “only organization dedicated to piedmont acoustic blues in the country,” according to treasurer, Miles Spicer, had occupied the space since March 2009 under an agreement with landlord Douglas Development that the rent would not be raised until there was an opportunity to develop the site. With recent development in other buildings around the train station, to include the opening of two new restaurants, the opportunity to develop the building finally came and the Foundation is now in search for a new location to make way for a coffee shop.
Longtime Foundation member and current bookkeeper, Jim Lande, describes Piedmont blues as a “finger-style blues, where the guitar player plays chords with the left hand while using the right thumb to pick out a baseline.” He described the resulting sound as being similar to ragtime.
The Foundation builds upon the traditional instruments of guitar, harmonica and fiddle by adding in other instruments based on who comes to the jam and the type of instruments that they play.
“Over the years, many different types of instruments have made it into the jam, ranging from the upright bass and mandolin to a washtub bass and even a South American instrument called a charango, which is traditionally made from the dried shell of an armadillo,” said Lande.
The final Jam, attended by over 75 musicians who arrived to play over a 6-hour period from across the D.C. area, was not a somber reflection, but rather a joyous goodbye to the Riverdale Park location and a look forward to the future.
Spicer has been through this before. He lives in Riverdale Park and was instrumental in the Foundation’s move there 10 years ago. “The important thing was to bring the community with us,” he said.
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The Foundation is planning to relocate and continue the Saturday Jams and workshops focused on guitar and harmonica instruction. The good news for Hyattsville residents? Their new location will be at 4502 Hamilton St.
Wily Leibel, the Foundation’s president for the past four years, confirmed that “we have a signed contract and are really happy with the new location.
Stuart Eisenberg of the Hyattsville Community Development Corporation assisted with finding the new location. Lande said Hyattsville was an area that the Foundation was focused on during their search for a new location, noting Hyattsville was close to “our center of gravity and a convenient location to people who come to play from all over the area, to include Virginia, Baltimore, Montgomery County and Southern Maryland.”
The Blues Foundation will be completely moved out of the Riverdale Park location as of Feb. 16 and will begin their move-in to the new location. Leibel said the move should take about one month.
You won’t have to wait that long to hear the blues music though. If you happen to be walking down Rhode Island Avenue on Feb. 23, past Pizzeria Paradiso, toward the Shortcake Bakery, you may hear the soulful guitar and harmonica sounds coming from a new location. The Archie Edwards Blues Foundation is teaming up with Maryland Meadworks to host a “Greetings Hyattsville Blues and Barbeque” as a way to introduce themselves to their new neighborhood.