Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Blues Fest Weekend Report

Lynwood Slim

Yesterday marked the beginning of a very busy week and the conclusion of a very busy weekend.

Friday afternoon, I caught the kickoff event of the San Francisco Blues Festival, the West Coast Harmonica Jump featuring: RJ Mischo, John Nemeth, Birdlegg and Lynwood Slim. Backing these guys was a band that knows how to back harmonica players, the current Charlie Musselwhite Band fresh off the road and sounding great. Kid Andersen, Randy Bermudes and June Core.

John Nemeth kicked off the festivities to a crowd which continued to grow in size and stuck around until the last note was played. He began the afternoon's performance with a really nice version of the BB King classic, Sweet Sixteen. After his performance, Birdlegg kept the crowd on their feet with one of his electrifying performances including walking out in the crowd using a wireless microphone. When he left the stage, people were screaming for an encore. The requests came to an abrupt halt when RJ Mischo started playing some excellent post war Chicago Blues. Lynwood Slim kept the groove going, but brought things straight back to the West Coast with some excellent chromatic harp playing that invoked the memory of George Smith.

Overall, the weather was fabulous. It was a warm and sunny day. The music was great. It was a perfect way to spend the day.

There was a lot of great music happening Friday night. I got sort of a late start on the evening, so I thought why mess with success. The West Coast Harmonica Jump was happening at the Mojo Lounge, so I decided to head down there for a while. Vance Ehlers had replaced Randy Bermudes on the bass for the evening performance. John Graham played some fantastic slide guitar during Birdlegg's performances. Lynwood Slim played the flute on a couple of numbers. The place was packed. It was a really fun evening.

Saturday, I took things easy. I don't bounce back as well as I used to.

James Cotton

Sunday morning, I took the family to the Great Meadow at Fort Mason in San Francisco to take in the San Francisco Blues Festival. We got stuck in a traffic jam at the Bay Bridge toll plaza. Once we got off the bridge, the traffic gods were smiling on us. Almost every traffic signal was green. We made it from the Bay Bridge exit to Fort Mason in less than ten minutes.

When we walked into the park, Steve Freund was going up on stage joined by Ken Saydak, Harlan Terson and Marty Binder. Ken sang a couple of tunes before bringing Dave Specter to the stage. Steve sang a few songs off of his Delmark releases and played a couple of nice instrumentals off of there most recent CD before bringing Shirley Johnson to the stage. It had been about ten years since the last time that I saw Shirley Johnson perform. Her powerful voice has improved like a fine wine. It was really unfortunate that she only sang two songs. She was great!

After she walked off the stage, I was disappointed that I hadn't gone to see the Delmark Blues Revue the previous night at Biscuits and Blues, but then I remembered that I don't bounce back as well as I used to.

Next up were the Campbell Brothers followed by the North Mississippi All Stars. Mavis Staples was up next. For the next two hours, I felt like I had been transported to a festival somewhere in the deep South. The music was filled with energy and great.

The Fabulous Thunderbirds were celebrating their thirtieth anniversary. Prior to the festival, I had seen almost every member in the group. However, it was the first time that I had seen this band. They weren't my favorite band of the day, but they were really enjoyable. I liked how Kim Wilson would lead the band into a slow blues with a very hypnotic quality and then Nick Curran would come up and smack the audience upside the head with a really high energy number. Overall, their set was pretty cool.

The final set of the afternoon was billed as The Legends of the Chicago Blues. Bay Area artist, Ron Thompson joined Bob Stroger and Willie "Big Eyes" Smith. He sang a few tunes, before turning over the microphone to Bob Stroger. The groove got real nice and laid back in keeping with the lazy Sunday afternoon. Willie Smith sang a few numbers before introducing Hubert Sumlin. He sounded really good. You certainly couldn't tell that he had been ill in the past year. After a couple of great Howlin' Wolf tunes, James Cotton joined the band. He immediately tore into a couple of his classic instrumentals, How Long Can A Fool Go Wrong and Cotton Boogie. He proved once again that he is one of the best blues harmonica players of all time. Elvin Bishop and Kim Wilson came on stage. Kim Wilson sang a tune and traded harmonica solos with James Cotton. When he left, Willie Smith sang Got My Mojo Working and Charlie Musselwhite walked on stage and exchanged soloes with James Cotton. They finished up the evening with an extended version of Sweet Home Chicago before everyone called it a wrap.

Overall, it was another great festival weekend.

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