For the second consecutive year, London was the sister site of the highly successful Windsor-based Bluesfest International. It is now fully established on the festival circuit and enjoying its 7th year. Weather over the 3 day duration was completely amazing, if anything it was too hot! The outdoor festival grounds were once again at the picture-esqe Covent Garden Market in downtown London. The indoor market features many vendors selling farm fresh fruit, vegetables and meat in addition to a series of take-out restaurant stands. This provides an excellent selection of food not normally available at festivals plus somewhere to escape from the sun and heat. Of course, the availability of real washrooms instead of porta-potties comes as a joy to many festival-goers too! The stage was arranged differently than in 2000 due to the construction of a new arena and entertainment complex. In order to make way for it, London's famed Talbot Inn (that use to house the Firehall blues club) was knocked down earlier this year. Over the weekend, many of the Canadian musicians bid the club farewell by reminiscing about playing at the club and staying in its infamous guest rooms. As a unique offering, the organizers offer a blues cruise via a train that runs between the 2 cities. This gives the die-hard blueshounds a chance to see both sites and hear some great music while in transit courtesy of some of the bands on the festival bill. London site organizer Adam Green and festival director Ted Boomer are to be commended as the 15,500 paid attendance meant being packed in like sardines and outgrowing the present site. This will surely result in a larger festival next year in terms of both location and artists. Again the lineup was heavy on blues-rock with some of the standouts from last year returning to the Rogers/AT&T stage.
After Friday night's hot performances by the Fabulous ThunderBirds, Jeff Healey and Johnnie Johnson, the crowd arrived in droves on Saturday morning. Opening act, local Windsor-based band the Doctones, laid into a set of energetic covers that featured their extraordinary sax man. Unfortunately, due to problems getting the fest started on time, the band had their set cut short. Two of the hottest blues-rockers and two of the strongest real blues players followed the Doctones. This resulted in a blues guitar slinging afternoon and evening that could have been billed as the attack of the mad, bad axemen.
Ontario, California's Greg Serrato is a smokin' southpaw electric blues-rock guitarist known for his versatility as a writer, guitarist and vocalist. He began playing at the early age of five. By eleven he was already performing professionally. His triumphant return saw him taking to the stage with a hurricane force. He combined elements of Jimi Hendrix, Frank Marino and Stevie Ray Vaughan into his own dynamite, hot-rockin', fiery live performance. To put it simply, he burns the kind of blues-rock that smacks you in the face and forces you to pay attention. Alan Cater (drums) and Phil Fistori (bass) rounded out the power trio while seventeen year old Chris Reidl provided rhythm and occasional lead on a few songs. Instrumentals like "Warrior of Peace" where the best. This 'marching off to war' battlehymn captured the essence of Serrato where his single guitar contained the force of an entire army. Greg didn't need to lean on the Hendrix material (Voodoo Chile, Little Wing, All Along The Watchtower) as much as he did but the fans love it, have come to expect it and demand it. Within minutes fans snagged up all the pre-release copies of his new disc "Like A Tornado". That release is sure to see Serrato's career skyrocket to the same stratosphere as his solos.
Performing 250 shows a year, Texas bluesman Sonny Rhodes is the self-proclaimed Disciple of the Blues. Wearing his trademark bejeweled turban, white patent leather shoes and a bright red suit, he was certainly the snappiest dressed performer. He tore into "Blues Is My Religion" as he took the stage. His conviction and passion for the blues emoted off the stage and surely converted some of the audience. He was backed by an excellent road-tested band featuring the hot pickin' of second guitarist "Big" Bob Deance. This year's long, extended set made up for last year's brief one. This time around there was plenty of time for Sonny to play guitar, lap steel (more common in country music circles) and sing without playing as instrument. Raw edged Texas blues with stinging single notes picked out on the steel and the electric guitar worked to provide solid support for Rhodes' gritty vocals on the likes of "Standing On Shaky Ground" and "Since I Met You Baby." It was obvious he was having a blast but he publicly declared it when he announced "I feel so good, make me wanna eat fried chicken". He used the gig as a pre-release party for his new CD "Good Day to Sing and Play the Blues". He performed the title track which tells the story of the disastrous van fire that nearly cost him his life a couple of years ago. He held the audience spellbound on closing number "Rainbow" which was dedicated to Johnny Clyde Copeland. There was a very long line to purchase CDs after his incredible set. His wife, business partner, manager and road companion had the nasty job of telling many who were not fortunate enough to get one of the few copies that they had sold-out of CDs!
Throughout the 1990s, Scott Holt, was the Buddy Guy Band's secret weapon. At 19, Holt began playing guitar upon hearing Jimi Hendrix for the first time. After taking lessons for a year and regularly practicing for 8 hours daily, Scott's father took him to see Buddy Guy. After meeting backstage, a friendship formed that would last a lifetime, resulting in Scott joining Buddy's band at the tender age of 23. At the end of 1999, Holt quit Buddy's band to pursue a solo career. At London International Bluesfest, Scott severed the ties to his blues musical past. His collection of fiery, hard rocking grooves combined southern rock, country and a wee touch of the blues to create a unique brand of radio-friendly pop rock with coarse energy. His guitar gymnastics, high-energy music and hip wardrobe epitomized the image of a blues-rocker. Throughout his set the tone of his 6 strings is impressive on every song and all the rhythms were catchy. It is rare to find an artist who is equally talented with his guitar playing, singing and songwriting. Backed by a band that looked and sounded like members of the sub-culture, they ripped through many tunes from the new CD including: "I'll Make Love To You Anytime" and "Angels In Exile". On "Mind To Give Up Living", intense pain was expressed on his guitar and face. Keyboardist Geno Haffner absolutely superb. "Mustang Sally" (from his Buddy days and played in honour of him) drew plenty of ecstatic applause. At times his set felt like being at a rock concert especially during the extended drum and bass solos. "Voodoo Chile" (played for the 2nd time in the day) was just wild. Here, Scott walked through the crowd (a trick learned from Buddy) and proceeded to walk right out of the festival area and down King Street! The entire time, jamming frantically like a maniac while the crowd went nuts and was left completely exhausted. Scott Holt is a wailing, scorching rocker who is destined to be on the next G3 tour. This was probably the last time to catch him at a festival. The next time around it will be the nosebleeds at the stadiums.
There were a couple benefits to attending the London site as opposed to Windsor and Long John Baldry was one of them! Yes I'm talking about the same Baldry who helped turn Reg Dwight into Elton John and discovered Rod Stewart playing harmonica on a railroad platform. The British Invasion is long over and Baldry left Britain years ago in favor of residing in Canada. Yet the great, grandfather of the British Blues still turns in a hell of a show. His brief acoustic set was similar to his latest live CD on Stony Plain. Songs such as "Linin' Track", "Black Bird" and "Don't Lay No Boogie Woogie On The King of Rock & Roll" went over well. To boot, the laid back set was timed perfectly around the supper hour!
Since the late 70s, Canada's Powder Blues Band has been vibrantly incorporating swing, blues, rock, and R&B into a sound they proudly call their own. They have endlessly toured Canada, the United States and overseas, sharing a music that forces people to smile and dance. For over 35 years, leader Tom Lavin has been singing and playing guitar for a living. He is credited for writing the band's best-known songs. What definitely sets the band apart from all the others is the joyous horns of Dave Woodward (tenor sax) and Bill Clark (trumpet).
Unlike their newest release which includes nothing but swingin' big band style tunes, their live set featured a variety of infectious rhythms. The best way to describe their performance was very tight and completely professional. They seemed to naturally sense each others moves. The set featured a complete retrospective of their career which began in 1978. His long black hair and beard from the 80s may long be gone but Tom's vocals were as strong and clear as ever. His guitar work was very slick yet kicking. The heavy bass of Bill Runge, tingling ivories of Willie MacCalder and solid drumming of Adam Drake were prominent throughout and especially on "Oh Well Oh Well". The band has been performing the song for years and on this particular night, Fulson was surely with them in spirit.
"Same Old Blues" was a little slow-paced but the trumpet, piano and guitar solos were phenomenal. They returned to their second album and played the title track, "Thirsty Ears". To anyone who had listened to Canadian radio through the 80s, the song was recognized instantaneously. "He Knows The Rules" was given a boppin' flavour as on the new disc. Most of the standing room only crowd were singing, dancing and swaying along to "Doin It Right". Overall, it was an incredible display of precise musicianship with songs played exuberantly by the long-time performing band. If you are looking for a fun blues party, catch them when they come to your town.
Saturday Headliners Double Trouble were a complete disappointment. It sure looked like Tommy and Chris but it didn't sound like what we were hoping to hear. The band player major hard driving rock without a drop of blues however lead singer Tina (formerly with Tina and the B-Sides) excelled with attitude. I was warned not to expect any blues from Double Trouble earlier in the day by one of the performing blues-rockers' managers. Turns out the tip was spot on. Their set can best be described by the reaction of the mass of people who flocked to the exits like the original Exodus, "so much for the grand finale".
Advertised as a Gospel brunch, Sunday's festivities kicked off with the Holmes Brothers. Their music touched our souls while their lyrics challenged us spiritually. They smoothly combined soul, blues, gospel and R&B to create some of the most funked-up music available today. The set included many tunes from their Speaking In Tongues disc which is sure to present the band with many awards. There was so much energy and funk on "Can't No Grave Hold My Body Down" that nothing could hold most of the crowd from moving to it's beat. Popsy Dixon sang enthusiastically with his falsetto voice on the resurrection of Christ tune. Later, he performed a completely solo version of "Precious Lord". "King Jesus Will Roll All Burdens Away" highlighted Wendell Holmes' surly and coarse vocals while he stroked the keys of his electric piano. Then he switched to guitar for the rest of their brilliant set. The most bluesy song was "Baby What Do You Want Me To Do" which was slow-paced while Wendall's guitar was a-blazing. All in all, it was contemporary roots music to rejoice to. This was another band who only appeared in London. The band had the longest line to purchase CDs both in numbers and in duration. The line lasted well into the next group's set.
Big Daddy G had the unenviable task of following the Brothers. However, they were up for the challenge from the moment they started with a smokin "T-Bone Shuffle". They didn't stop flaming for the rest of their set. Throughout, Dave Glover played wicked Albert Collins style guitar while Tortoise Blue contributed soulful B3, solid lead vocals and blazing harp. They are a solid band rich in their own diverse material as proven on the title track of their latest CD "Topless". These boys enjoy humor too which comes out time and again in the lyrics. They turned the blazing hot afternoon into a beach party by throwing beach balls and T-shirts into the crowd. Later Glover roamed through the audience while playing up a storm but it didn't have the same bewildering effect as Holt had on the night before.
I wish I had had the time and stamina to stick around for Levon Helm, Rita Chiarelli, Big Dave McLean, Jonathan Russell, Denise Pelley and Mudpuppy.
For further information about the London International Bluesfestival and Bluesfest International, contact: www.thebluesfest.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
This review is copyright © 2001 by Tim Holek, 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.