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Why “Big Road” in Chelsea?


“Big Road Blues” was recorded in 1928 by the great Mississippi bluesman Tommy Johnson.  In the song, he sings,


“Lord, the sun gonna shine in my backdoor, someday.

 Hear me talkin', pretty momma.

  Lord, the sun gonna shine in my backdoor, someday;

 A wind gonna change and blow my blues away.”


He also sings,


“Lord, I ain't goin' down this big road by myself.                          

 Hear me talkin', pretty momma.

 Lord, I ain't goin' down this big road by myself;

 If I don't carry you, gonna carry somebody else.”


In this song, the “Big Road” represented a change, a new beginning, the opportunity for a better quality of life.  It can likewise be viewed as a confident, optimistic and empowering metaphor for overcoming adversity during the course of one’s life—the “road of life”—but the period when this song was written was also a time of extensive migration in the African-American community.  The "big roads" were real.  People were not only traveling across the southern U.S. to find economic opportunity, they were leaving the south in overwhelming numbers to break away from the oppressive conditions to which they were subjected.  They traveled alone when they had to, but they also went with friends and/or families--often extended--forming units and communities of mutual support. 


While that is the immediate significance of the “Big Road” in Johnson’s song, the notion of the “Big Road,” both literal and metaphorical, can be applied on an even grander scale.  It is not an exaggeration to consider all of human history a journey on the “Big Road.”  Our common migration started millennia ago in Africa, and spread out across innumerable “Big Roads,” ultimately into every habitable corner of the planet.  Some of these, like the “Silk Road,” have names that we specifically associate with the sharing and exchanging of ideas, lifestyles, and heredity.  In truth, though, all of the “Big Roads” have been the arteries that nourished and facilitated these processes. 


And here we find ourselves in New York, a place that has become a nexus into which the “Big Roads” of the world have brought arguably the greatest intermingling of peoples and cultures this shrinking blue-green globe has ever experienced.  The goal of “Big Road in Chelsea” is to explore and share that multifaceted bounty as expressed in music and related arts (dance, theater, etc.).  That’s a tall order, for sure, and we’re in the "baby step” stage on this particular “Big Road,” but we’re going to see where the journey takes us, and we want to thank you all for sharing in its birth.