The annual St. Benedict Blues Festival has been announced for the weekend of October 20-22, benefiting the nation’s historically Black Catholic parish in St. Augustine, Florida—the oldest city in the contiguous United States. The concerts are held on the church property each year.
The event was founded in 2013 to fund the restoration of the rectory at St. Benedict the Moor Catholic Church, founded by the Josephites in 1911. Its residential edifice dates to 1915, and with the church and former school is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a contributing property to the Lincolnville Historic District.
“Kick back, unwind, and indulge in an evening of good food, great company, and toe-tapping melodies,” the organizers said in an announcement this month.
As in previous years, the festival will feature two evenings of jazz, blues, Americana, and gospel concerts on Friday and Saturday, followed by a morning and afternoon session on Sunday to cap off the event.
Returners from last year’s lineup include the Ken Jensen Blues Ensemble, which will repeat as the opening act of the weekend at 4pm ET. They will be followed by the Duffy Bishop Band, and the JW Gillmore Blues Authority will begin their set at 8pm.
The Jazzy Blue Band will open Saturday night’s shows, also beginning at 4pm, with Texas guitarist Mathias Lattin and local soul-rock band Street Preacher closing out the night.
The festival’s “Gospel Sunday” will begin with an outdoor Mass at 10am, followed by a gospel blues brunch at 11am with Arlie Mae Victory. Americana Gospel Revival, another returnee from last year, will play at 11:30, followed by newcomers in The Hillybilly Thomists, a band made up of Dominican friars from the Province of St. Joseph. The last show of the weekend will be from the Rick Spence Jazz Combo, which closed the fest in 2021.
“Blues Fest has become my October tradition,” said a previous attendee in comments shared by the concert organizers.
“I’m counting down the days, knowing each year the music gets better and better.”
The festival, which has seen record turnout in recent years, is one of several fundraisers for the Catholic Mission Rectory Fund. It has received more than $150,000 since its founding by local residents Jess May and Mark Flippin. Alongside the annual jazz and blues event, the Lincolnville Porch Fest in September has also contributed.
The historic Lincolnville neighborhood, well known for its residents’ activism during the Civil Rights Movement, once played host to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who met with local activists at the St. Benedict the Moor rectory during his 1964 visit to St. Augustine. At the time, it was the only city in the state with a Catholic majority—a point not lost on King, who sought (unsuccessfully) to galvanize the local Church hierarchy into action.
His visit, and the local St. Augustine Movement protests surrounding it, precipitated the infamous Monson Motor Lodge terrorist incident from White Supremacists that June, occurring less than a mile from St. Benedict.
Though the church remains an active parish connected to the Cathedral of St. Augustine, the rectory has long been in need of repairs. (Separately, the ruins of the Black Catholic school nextdoor have for years been slated for restoration by the Sisters of St. Joseph.)
This weekend’s festival is expected to draw hundreds of attendees and will feature food for purchase as well as a Eucharistic miracle exhibit on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $5 online on the event website, or onsite for $7. Food can also be pre-purchased online. Parking will be available at nearby St. Paul AME Church.
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.
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