Day Two: Saturday, August 11, 2001
Azure du Jour started day two of BBF 2001 with their typically energetic and varied blues styles. Mixing slow and uptempo blues with a little Chicago, R & B and harp powered classics, this popular Nor' Shore group left no doubt they were here to party! According to bass player Jim Hall the group prefers to "play off each other" lending a more spontaneous feel to their performances. An appreciative crowd of early Saturday festival goers was generous in demonstrating their support. This set was recorded "live" and CD's were brought back to Bayfront for sale that afternoon. Many fans took home a performance from Bayfront Blues Festival #13!
On the new permanent stage following Azure du Jour, Big Walter Smith and the Groove Merchants once again turned in a memorable set. As the only band to have appeared at all 13 Bayfront Festivals, to many in the crowd it just isn't Bayfront until the Groove Merchants call out for Walter to take his place onstage. Off their recently released CD the band's reggae version of "Johnny Be Goode" will become as popular as their "Mustang Sally" has been for years. This year marks Big Walter's 70th year and he continues to one of the premier acts in the upper Midwest. Heartfelt renditions of such classic blues as Albert Collins "Honey Hush" make new fans and reestablish ties with existing ones whenever he plays. Walter is a special part of Bayfront!
Of the various musical styles and diverse genres represented at each Bayfront Festival, I look forward to some performers I know very little about, this year one of those was The Tarbox Ramblers. This quartet from Boston presented an assortment of musical influences that included: string band hoe-down, folk, blues, Appalachian mountain, Delta, Gospel, Depression era ballads, WPA work songs, bluegrass and other influences as well. Led by guitarist/vocalist Michael Tarbox, their enthusiasm was evident as they entertained the early afternoon crowd. They attempt to remain true to the "spirit" of the music and yet not approach it as purists. All are accomplished musicians and brought a creative and energetic feeling to the performance. In appreciation of the set the audience brought them back for a well-deserved encore.
The next set, for me, was one of the best performances of the weekend! I heard one of my colleagues say the "sleeper performance" of the festival. There are many young (relatively speaking) guitar slingers today playing blues music. Some are even talented! Few have that intangible, almost unidentifiable ability to translate feeling and emotion with their instrument. Sean Costello has that ability. I have seen him play a less than satisfying show before and that lackluster performance left me hoping the next time would be better. His performance with solid backing players was inspired and the crowd witnessed a very talented young blues artist and this time he not only made up for a flat almost boring performance, it was one of the best of the weekend! His playing was effortless and he moved between songs with ease. The solos were blistering yet tasteful and on "Who's Cheatin' Who" it was as good as it gets live. He closed his set with Clarence Carter's "Slip Away" and the vocals were solid and soulful with a gravelly edge. Keep an eye on this guitar player; he'll be one of the best.
Following Sean Costello on the smaller stage Texas Bluesman Sherman Robertson demonstrated why he is one of the most in demand blues performers touring today. Born in Louisiana and raised in Houston his musical influences were, as you can imagine, Cajun, R & B, country and of course blues by artists such as Freddie King and Albert Collins. His performance was a mix of all the styles mentioned and delivered with a passion and obvious love for the music. Backstage in attendance was friend and fellow Bluesman Bernard Allison, who obviously enjoyed watching Shaman's set, The crowd too shouted and expressed their appreciation of one of the finest guitar players to come from the Lone Star State.
Back on the main stage as the Saturday evening shadows started to lengthen, Aussie Dave Hole launched into a stunning display of slide pyrotechnics. It's not easy bringing your own unique guitar playing style to blues audiences in nearly every corner of the globe, but recording five albums for Alligator Records has made Dave Hole a master of the slide the world over. While playing chords in the traditional position he then instantly plays slide passages from the top of the fretboard, overhand with a metal slide on his index finger. In addition to his unique playing style his exuberant onstage presence is energetic complete with spontaneous jumps and leaps. He left the Bayfront crowd clapping and shouting for more following a well-deserved encore.
Taking the stage after Dave Hole's terrific set, John Mooney, another master of the slide guitar, continued what had been a blues guitar fan's dream all afternoon. After dropping out of school at age 16 Mooney became close friends and was schooled in the blues by Delta legend Son House. He later played for several years with the Crescent City piano maestro Professor Longhair. Both of these early influences are evident in Mooney's interpretations of others work as well as his originals. Solidly backed by his band, "Bluesiana" kept things cookin' behind his creative and incendiary slide work. The festival goers by now had been listening to varied approaches to blues and were not timid in voicing their approval of his show. He tours occasionally and like his appearance at Bayfront, he torches a club! .
Mention places like The Cotton Club and The Apollo Theatre and it brings to mind the classic clubs and dance halls of the thirties, forties and the nostalgic image of a bandstand of tuxedoed jazz performers-main stage Bayfront Saturday night! What a finish to a day of varied (though guitar dominated) blues performances. Calvin Owens was B.B. King's lead trumpeter and arranger for more than twenty years and his ten-piece band took the Bayfront stage to a receptive and by far largest crowd of the weekend. His Blues Orchestra featured excellent individual soloists and performers yet together never missed a beat in putting together a truly "fat" ensemble sound. Thanks to Chris Mackey and a great effort from his staff for one of the most enjoyable Bayfront Festivals yet and reason enough to get your tickets early for next year.
Photo © 2001 by Ray Stiles
Can you tell me who this shoe belongs too? Hint: It is one of today's sidemen.
Bayfront Blues Festival 2001:
Bayfront Festival Park 2001 by Michael Evan
Bayfront Blues Festival 2001 Day One by Rich Benson
Bayfront Blues Festival 2001 Day Two by Terry Marshall
Bayfront Blues Festival 2001 Day Three by Al Rohweder
Chair Marker Pictures
This review is copyright © 2001 by TR (Terry) Marshall, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.