Basic Folk podcast, eps. 256 – Jontavious Willis

Host: Lizzie No

Originally from Greenville, Georgia, musician Jontavious Willis is a Blues music phenom. When we talk about the Blues, the phrase or the word “torchbearer” comes up a lot when it comes to young, new Blues artists. I think of that word as a double edged sword. When you think of a torchbearer, you think about someone who’s carrying on a flame that was lit long ago. It’s somebody who’s carrying on a tradition, but it also can come with restrictions. Such as oldheads telling you you’re not doing it right or asking you: “have you really paid your dues? Are you really faithful to the tradition?”

Jontavious handles that double edged sword with alacrity. His writing is firmly contemporary at the same time that his playing is rooted in the tradition of Country Blues. He knows so much about the genre that he’s basically a walking encyclopedia of the Blues. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but instead of the the traditional Basic Folk lightning round, we played a pop up game at the end of the interview. I put different styles of the Blues (like Delta or Piedmont) in one cup and different ripped from the headlines, 2024 topics in another. Then we just matched them up. He was so quick on his feet.

Jontavious is a great example of a new spin on a genre that a lot of people think they know already. He is so adamant that the blues is a contemporary genre and always has been. He made the point during our interview that a lot of the Blues legends that we’ve kind of encased in the amber of memory were young teens or twentysomethings when they wrote their iconic songs. It’s really a genre for free people, for young people, for people looking ahead.

This interview and live performance was recorded for the podcast live at Fort Worth African American Music Festival (FWAAMFest). When I (lizzie) was a kid, my dad’s family used to have these big reunions. They’re from North and South Carolina, a Baptist family, and it would be like a big barbecue at the state park or in a church hall. We would have t-shirts made, people of all ages milling around, catching up. Often there would be an elder getting up to say a long prayer or make an announcement. This sense of belonging and intergenerational connection — that is what the FWAAMFest felt like.

In addition to getting to interview Jontavious live on stage, this was my first time headlining a festival, so it couldn’t have been more of a special day for me.


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