Harvest Insider: Sugaray Rayford

‘It’s not a concert – it’s a party,’ says Sugaray Rayford

By: Adam Bowie

Sugaray Rayford would like to get one thing straight: his headlining show at this year’s Harvest Music Festival is not a concert – it’s a party.

The 53-year-old Smith County, Texas native has been making music professionally for more than 20 years, mixing elements of blues, soul and maybe even a touch of gospel.

The former US marine has visited Canada several times before, but he believes this will be his New Brunswick debut. And he’s hoping to make an impression, suggesting that Harvest fans come prepared to have a good time.

“Our job is to provide 60-90 minutes that will erase – not erase – but to provide a salve to what’s going on outside the gates where you come in,” he said.

“I want them to dance. I want them to drink, be merry, enjoy themselves. Get all of their political affiliations, their religious affiliations and put them aside while they’re there. I’m going to do what I can to alleviate [their worries].”

In Too Deep, Rayford’s latest album, was released in March. His previous effort, Somebody Save Me, was nominated for a Grammy, and it feels like things are starting to pick up for the talented bluesman.

In addition to showcases in various parts of North America, he’s booked gigs in Trinidad and Denmark, with more being added every day.

As pandemic restrictions ease across North America, at least at this moment, Rayford is cautiously optimistic about getting back out on the road.

“Everything is slowly starting to come back,” he said. “That doesn’t mean COVID is gone. It rears its ugly head from time to time, I know.”

Each show is special, he said, and they have been over the course of his career. Rayford said he’s grateful for each audience, and that’s why he doesn’t try to pre-plan the party by drafting a set-list. Instead, he tries to take direction from each crowd.

“It’s like trying to wear running shoes on the beach or trying to swim in basketball shoes. Certain things are made for certain people at certain times,” he said.

“Set lists, to me, don’t really work. What works 100 miles down the road might not necessarily work at the next place. It’s a whole different experience. I pay attention to what’s going on all around, and I play off that with my songs.”

When COVID-19 forced the music business to slow down, many independent musicians struggled to deal with the loss of income and the sudden loss of momentum. Luckily, it was good timing for Rayford, who had other important business on his mind.

“The pandemic was actually good for me. Because I was able to be home with my wife, (Pam), who’s had cancer. Being home was good,” he said, explaining he felt it was important to return all the support she’s given him through the years.

Fortunately, Pam’s health is much better these days, he said.

“She’s doing pretty good now. She’s in remission. She’s strong. She’s pretty much back to being herself,” he said.

Rayford will share a stage with Maritime blues legend Theresa Malenfant at Harvest. He said it’ll be an opportunity to see some new musical talent.

Because he’s still in the midst of promoting In Too Deep, and he’s spending lots of time on the road, Rayford said he hasn’t been listening to any new music.

“At home, I don’t listen to very much music because that’s what I do all the time. Like right now, I’m watching Turner Classic Movies. Or I’m playing video games or doing things to unwind,” he said.

“There’s always a lot going on. Not very often am I just sitting down to listen to music. If I am, it’s usually old stuff – probably Earth, Wind and Fire. Bobby Womack. Bobby Bland.”

Tickets to the show are still available at https://harvestmusicfest.ticketpro.ca/en/pages/HARVEST2022.