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San Diego Blues Festival returns to Embarcadero Marina Park North on Sept. 11

Southern Avenue 2022
The members of Southern Avenue are, from left, Ava Jackson, Tierinii Jackson, Jeremy Powell. Ori Naftaly, Evan Sarver and Tikyra Jackson. Tierinii and Ori are husband and wife. Ava and Tikyra are her sisters.
(Paul Citone / Courtesy Victory Lap)

This year’s nine-act San Diego Blues Festival lineup includes Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials, Taryn Donath, Ben Powell, and the Phantom Blues Band, with Curtis Salgado.

What happens when a Black American gospel singer raised in a devout Baptist family in Tennessee teams up with a White blues-soul guitarist raised in a devout Jewish family in Israel?

For Memphis-born vocal dynamo Tierinii Jackson and Even Yehuda-born six-string ace Ori Naftaly, there are multiple answers.

Music. Love. Marriage. Kids. Tours. Three albums, the second of which — “Keep On” — was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2019. More music.

Oh, and a video for Southern Avenue’s uplifting 2021 song, “Push Now,” a standout song from the band’s third album, “Be the Love You Want.” The video features a brief but memorable scene in which the couple’s oldest child happily bounces a frosted cupcake off his dad’s head during an outdoor birthday party.

“I had a towel over my guitar,” Naftaly, 36, recalled with a laugh. “It took a while to get the right take. He threw the cupcake way too hard!”

“It was thrown by our son, Bradley, who is 9,” Jackson, 32, added. “Our daughter, Lari, is the birthday girl in the video.”

Bradley and Lari will be staying home in Memphis with their grandparents when Southern Avenue hits the road next week. The band’s first stop will be Sept. 10 at downtown’s Embarcadero Marina Park North. They are appearing as part of the 12th annual Aimloan.com San Diego Blues Festival, which is presented by — and is a benefit for — the Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank.

Since launching in 2011, the nonprofit event has raised more than $1.4 million and 20 tons of food to feed individuals and families in need throughout San Diego County. Southern Avenue’s inspirational song lyrics and lively blend of vintage Memphis soul, funk, rock, blues and gospel seems tailor-made for a festival designed to promote a sense of community and inclusion.

This year’s nine-act lineup also includes Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials, Taryn Donath, Ben Powell, and the Phantom Blues Band, with Curtis Salgado. Rock & Roll Hall of Famer and ZZ Top co-founder Billy F. Gibbons will top the bill at the bayside festival, which he also headlined in 2018.

While Bradley and Lari will remain in Memphis, their 9-month-old sister, Naava, will be making the trip here with her parents and their band. The 7-year-old group’s San Diego gig will mark Southern Avenue’s live debut at the festival, following its performance last year for the event’s first-ever virtual edition (which was broadcast simultaneously on TV, radio and online).

Tierinii Jackson of Southern Avenue
Tierinii Jackson of Southern Avenue is shown at Stubb’s Waller Creek Amphitheater in Austin on July 30, 2021. She and her band will perform Sept. 10 at the 2022 San Diego Blues Festival at Embarcadero Marina Park North.
(Rick Kern / Getty Images,)

An extended family affair

“Naava’s been on the road with us since she was 3 months old,” Jackson said. “All three of our kids came on tour with us this summer when we toured with Sheryl Crow. They really enjoyed it.”

Southern Avenue’s lineup also includes keyboardist Jeremy Powell, bassist Evan Sarver and two of Jackson’s six siblings. Her sister, Tikyra, 26, is the band’s drummer. Another sister, classically trained violinist Ava, 23, provides harmony vocals.

“Music runs very deep in the Jackson family. They all grew up in church playing music in Memphis — and I grew up in synagogue in Israel!” Naftaly said,

Ironically, during his pre-teen and teen years near Tel Aviv, Naftaly had far greater access to classic records by various Memphis music greats — from Al Green and Ann Peebles to Bobby “Blue” Bland and Booker T. & The MG’s — than Jackson did as a Memphis native.

“I grew up in church and we weren’t allowed to listen to anything other than gospel music,” recalled Jackson, whose parents are both ministers. “It was really rough when I was ready to graduate from high school, because singing secular music was dishonoring the family and the church.

“When we started touring, there was a gradual acceptance. And when we got the Grammy nomination, it was the first time my family told me they were proud of me.”

Naftaly’s parents encouraged his secular musical pursuits from an early age. He was only 8 when he began taking guitar lessons from Tony Pearson, a former James Brown and Four Tops’ touring band member. After marrying an Israeli woman who had been Tina Turner’s makeup artist, Pearson had moved to Naftaly’s hometown, Even Yehuda.

“Tony was my teacher, twice a week, for 10 years,” Naftaly said. “He’s one of the main reasons I have such a big affinity for African-American music and soul-roots music. When Tony taught me how to play, I really listened because he is the real deal. He taught me to never solo faster than you can talk. If you gotta take a breath, take a breath.

“If I hadn’t met Tony and spent time with him, I wouldn’t have the right attitude to play soul music. We talked about what the Jewish people have gone through and what African Americans have gone through, and I connected it to his history. When you listen to blues or soul, or Bob Marley, and hear the message and the journey behind that music you can’t not relate. Tony prepared me for real life.”

After high school, Naftaly studied composing and arranging at the Rimon School of Music near Tel Aviv. In 2013, he and his blues band flew to the U.S. from Israel to represent their homeland at the annual International Blues Competition in Memphis. They didn’t win but still stood out. By the fall of that same year, the guitarist had relocated to Memphis, where he met Jackson.

Southern Avenue at the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards, January 26, 2020.
The members of the 2020 edition of Southern Avenue, which is now a six-piece band and will perform Sept. 10 at the San Diego Blues Festival, are shown attending the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on Jan. 26, 2020. From left are Jeremy Powell, Daniel McKee, Tikyra Jackson, Tierinii Jackson and Ori Naftaly.
(Amy Sussman / Getty Images)

Signed by Stax Records

Southern Avenue was formed in 2015. A year later, it became the first new band signed to Stax Records in several decades.

It was a pinch-me moment for such a young group to join a record label whose roster in the 1960s included such legends as Otis Redding, Booker T. & The MG’s, Albert King and Sam & Dave. More recent Stax acts have included Ben Harper, Charlie Musselwhite and Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats.

“It was an amazing feeling” Jackson said.

“Getting signed by Stax really encouraged me to study more and to understand my roots and myself better. Now, I understand who I am and my Memphis music roots, and I can get the most out of my experience.”

When did Naftaly first become aware of Stax and its storied roster of artists?

“I’ve been listening to Stax all my life,” he replied. “My dad had a lot of Stax albums and I first heard (Rufus Thomas’ 1963 Stax hit) ‘Walking the Dog’ when I was 6. I grew up on blues and jazz. Buddy Guy played in Israel in the 1980s, ‘90s and 2000s. Joe Cocker was playing at a kibbutz every other year. And everybody in Israel knows who B.B. King is.”

Naftaly is quick to note that Southern Avenue is not a blues band, although the music is part of its stylistic palette. Jackson, whose gospel roots are palpable each time she sings, welcomes the opportunity to draw from different genres.

“Music is a way of life for us,” she said.

“We preach positivity and empowerment. We want people to let loose and feel happiness. When I’m on stage, I feel the most free I ever have in my life and that’s the feeling we want to give to people.”

12th annual Aimloan.com San Diego Blues Festival, presented by the Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank

When: 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 10

Where: Embarcadero Marina Park North, 400 Kettner Blvd., downtown

Tickets: $60 advance ($70 at the gate) general admission, $300 VIP. Children 12 and under receive free entry to the festival with a paid general admission adult ticket. Cash donations and cans of food will be accepted at the front gate, with all proceeds benefiting the Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank.

Online: sdbluesfest.com

Saturday performance schedule

Front Gate

Mighty Joe Milsap, 9:30 a.m.

Baker Electric Home Energy Stage

Taryn Donath Duo, 11 a.m.

Ben Powell, 12:35 p.m.

Eddie 9v, 2:25 p.m.

Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials, 4:35 p.m.

Delta Dental Stage

Memphissippi Sounds, 11:45 a.m.

Southern Avenue, 1:20 p.m.

Phantom Blues Band, with Curtis Salgado, 3:30 p.m.

Billy F. Gibbons & Friends, 5:40 p.m.


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