HAYWARD — The key to Texas-style blues is all in the shuffle of the beat, Sticks says.
"Dap-dappa-dap-dappa-dappa-dap-dap!" he said, tapping a tabletop in time.
Sticks had just finished playing a set with the Rev. Shakespeare Pinetop Coon, the latest gig on a resume that includes stints with B.B. King, Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight.
Sticks — he carries business cards that confirm he's one of those single-name guys — has laid a beat for the blues in venues across the country and beyond. He currently lives in Richmond but was spending Saturday in Hayward as a performer in the Russell City Blues Festival, an annual two-day affair — continuing today — that is one of the city's largest events.
Hundreds came to downtown Hayward to hear bands both local and from afar, with this year's theme, "From Texas to Russell City," emphasizing the sounds of the Lone Star State.
The crowd was diverse but definitely older than that at most music shows. They showed love for the bands, some through dance, some through whoops and whistles and others simply with a constant affirmative bob of the head.
"The blues is the blues," Hayward Councilman Olden Henson said. "What you are hearing right now is what it's always been."
The Louisiana native said he grew up on the "Chitlin' Circuit," and remembers when every gas station had a back room where people were either playing the blues or gambling.
"It's all about the human condition," Henson said. "There's a strong correlation with country music. It's all about 'She left me, and I feel terrible.'""
Victoria Goree, who lives not far from where Hayward's old Russell City area once stood, said that while the stories of a blues band may be rooted in sadness, the music is anything but a downer.
"It lifts your spirits," she said. "It speaks to your soul. You either love it or you hate it."
Goree said she had recently heard about the blues festival, and it has piqued her interest in learning about Russell City, a multicultural community next to the Bay in unincorporated Hayward where the blues thrived from the mid 1940s through the 1960s.
There, dirt-floor dancehalls were the proving grounds of such legends as Big Mama Thornton and Big Joe Turner before they advanced to play more upscale venues in Oakland.
The blues festival, which Hayward has hosted 10 times, was conceived by organizer Ronnie Stewart as a way to pay homage to that part of the Hayward area's musical history.
"I've been listening to blues for 20 years, and when I found out about this, right here in my backyard, I thought it was fantastic," Goree said. "I'll be here all day, and I'm coming back next year."
Eric Kurhi covers Hayward. Reach him at 510-293-2473 or firstname.lastname@example.org.