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St Benedict Blues Fest, benefitting historic Black parish, set for this weekend in St Augustine

St Benedict the Moore Catholic Church in St Augustine, Florida is hosting its annual blues festival to fund repairs for its historic rectory.

The St Benedict the Moor Blues Festival is back, now in its 9th year and continuing to bless the community of St Augustine, Florida—the oldest city in the contiguous United States—and its historic Black Catholic parish.

The event, held on the grounds of St Benedict the Moor Catholic Church, will run throughout this weekend and feature 9 bands from around the region.

The Ken Jensen Blues Band will kick off the event on Friday at 4pm ET, followed by the Warehouse Blues Band and Last2 Leave.

Saturday’s proceedings will begin at the same time with the Jazzy Blue Band, and the Duffy Bishop Band will take the stage at 6pm. JW Gilmore and the Blues Authority will close out that night at 8pm.

Sunday will have an earlier start—though not too early, given the obligations of the St Augustine faithful—beginning with brunch at 11am, and vocalist Arle Mae Victory performing at 11:15. Fitting for the Lord’s Day, the Americana Gospel Revival will play at 11:45, and the Rick Spence Trio will bring the weekend to a close.

Founded in 2013 by Jess May and Mark Flippin, the annual festival in St Augustine’s Lincolnville Historic District benefits restoration efforts for the St Benedict rectory, a historic building next to the parish which has fallen into disrepair in recent years.

The building was built in 1914, three years after the parish itself was founded as a Josephite-administered mission of the Cathedral Basilica of St Augustine, the one of the nation’s oldest Christian communities. (Some of the first Black Catholics in North America had landed at St Augustine roughly 350 years earlier, in 1565).

As of 2019, the most recent year the festival was hosted—alongside a second fundraising event, the Lincolnville Porch Fest—around $150,000 had been raised so far, alongside 12,000 volunteer service hours.

“It’s all for God. It’s His legacy we preserve,” May said at the time.

“Success has many parents,” she added.

Lincolnville, well known for its residents’ activism during the Civil Rights Movement, once played host to Martin Luther King Jr., who met with local activists at the rectory during his 1964 visit to St Augustine, then the only city in the state with a Catholic majority—a point not lost on King, who sought (unsuccessfully) to galvanize the local Church hierarchy into action.

His visit, and the local protests surrounding, precipitated the infamous Monson Motor Lodge terrorist incidents that June from White Supremacists, less than a mile away from St Benedict’s.

Now, hundreds will gather on that same holy ground to hear indigenous Black music and honor the legacy of a historic Black parish located—where else?— on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue.

Tickets are $5 and can be purchased on-site at the event.

Support the St. Benedict the Moor Catholic Church Rectory Committee

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Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).

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