Concert Preview: Ryan Lee Crosby, Willie Farmer & More to Bring the Blues to the Green Room at Crosstown Arts

On Thursday, June 15, some of blues music’s brightest talents will be brining the party to the Green Room at Crosstown Arts for an evening of blues across time and space – music that crosses generations, cultures, and continents. From as nearby as Mississippi to as far as England, the group of A-list bluesmen taking the stage includes veteran guitarist Willie Farmer, storyteller extraordinaire Shaun Marsh, and guitar maven Ryan Lee Crosby. In anticipation for the show, we sat down with Crosby to learn more about his music and inspirations and what to expect from Thursday night’s show.

1. First things first, for those who may be unfamiliar with you and your music, give us a quick rundown of your background.

I am a musician, teacher and producer currently based in Rhode Island, where I relocated from the Boston area last summer after 24 years of living in the city. As a young musician, I came up in the Boston nightclub scene playing post-punk influenced music from 2000-2004 in a band called Cancer to the Stars. From 2004-2012 I wrote and presented music as a solo artist in a number of styles, including as an acoustic singer/songwriter, a rock guitarist and a multi-instrumentalist. I also scored an independent film during that time. In 2013, after a lot of years of late nights and internal difficulty, I got sober and began studying country blues with Paul Rishell. Just a few months after cleaning up, I went on my first tour in Europe, which became something I did annually until 2019, which was the same year that I started regularly visiting Jimmy “Duck” Holmes in Bentonia, Mississippi.

2. Although you’re from Boston, your music is largely steeped in the Delta Blues tradition. Tell us a bit about how you first got interested in the music from this region and your connection to Memphis and the surrounding areas.

I first heard the blues through John Lee Hooker’s music when I was a child and it spoke to me deeply, right away. In high school, I was mainly interested in punk and rock music, but I bought and listened to albums by artists like John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Reed and Robert Johnson. When I was first beginning to play around in Boston in 2001, my friend and mentor Ted Drozdowski often sang the praises of RL Burnside, Junior Kimbrough and Jessie Mae Hemphill, who he was spending time with and writing about. However, it wasn’t until about 2012 that I really connected to Fat Possum Records and some of the great artists playing in Mississippi and Memphis. My favorite Fat Possum bluesman is Robert Belfour, who lived and played in Memphis and who I got to hear and meet once in Clarksdale in 2014. In 2019, I was able to connect with Bruce Watson (of Fat Possum/Big Legal Mess/Bible & Tire) through a friend and he graciously agreed to record me at his Memphis studio. I’ve been coming back to Memphis and Mississippi as often as I can since – usually 2-3 times a year – to study with Jimmy “Duck” Holmes at the Blue Front Cafe in Bentonia, to meet other musicians and to play around the region as much as I can. Everyone I’ve met in Memphis has been very, very welcoming – especially at Crosstown Arts, WYXR and Beale Street Caravan (but that’s just to name a few).

3. You’re part of a pretty large and impressive showcase for this show. Tell us about your co-performers for the evening and your previous connection to them.

Willie Farmer is an exceptionally skillful blues guitarist and singer, who can play in a wide range of styles. He has made a number of albums, including “The Man From the Hill” on Bruce Watson’s Big Legal Mess label. I first met Mr. Farmer in April 2019, when I played before him twice at that year’s Juke Joint Festival and when I came back a couple of months later to play the Bentonia Blues Festival, he kindly allowed me to visit him at his home, where we played guitar together on his property for a few hours one afternoon. Since then, we’ve stayed in touch by phone and been on other bills together, including last year’s Bentonia Blues Festival. I am so glad that he’s playing on the June 15h show – he’s a unique and inspiring musician. I met Shaun Marsh also in 2019, when we played together in Memphis at The Center for Southern Folklore. I was immediately struck by the beauty and sensitivity of Shaun’s playing (which in a blues context, tends to focus on the pre-war era) and we became fast friends that night. He and his partner Maysey Craddock (a very inspiring and gifted fine artist) have really helped me to feel at home in Memphis and I try to see them every time I am in town. Shaun usually plays blues solo, but this time he has Lynn Greer on drums. And I’m very fortunate that Grant Smith, my long time collaborator from Boston, will be joining me on this run. Grant is a world class percussionist, who plays a wide variety of instruments and has played for Itzhak Perlman, Yo Yo Ma, and the Violent Femmes, among many others.

4. You’ve said that you’re most inspired by the “Bentonia style” of Delta blues. Could you explain what differentiates the Bentonia style?

The Bentonia style is known for its uniquely haunting, ethereal sound, which is played often at a slow to mid tempo, with one or two chords in an open minor guitar tuning. The singing tends to be high, at times in falsetto, and the traditional lyrical themes focus on the otherworldly and on occasion, the devil. There is a brooding quality to it, a moodiness, that, even at its most joyful, still holds a mysterious feeling of unease, or to my ears, a kind of dread. However, for all of its heaviness, the music is also hypnotic and quite beautiful. There is nothing else in the world quite like it. There is only one original Bentonia musician left who plays the style – Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, who owns and runs the Blue Front Cafe, which is the longest continually run juke joint. Jimmy has been very kind and generous in teaching me about the style and about an approach to music in general, which I try to pass on to my own students who I see in New England and around the country online.

5. Other than attending the concert, what are the best ways for people to discover more of your music?

My latest album, “Winter Hill Blues,” (which was recorded in Memphis by Bruce Watson) is available on Spotify and on Bandcamp. I also have dozens of analog home recordings exclusively for patrons on my website at and I teach guitar online via Zoom, with a group class for blues every Monday (more info here).

While I’m down for this trip, I will also be playing in Clarksdale at the Travelers Hotel on June 16 and the Bentonia Blues Festival on June 17 with Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, RL Boyce, Robert Connely Farr and many more (including Shaun Marsh earlier in the day).

Tickets for the show are available now here.

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