This year's festival featured a predominantly veteran cast of blues talent, great weather (only a 15 minute shower on Sunday), friendly, familiar fans (many with the wide variety of campy chair markers/flags) and great views of the harbor and lift bridge.
The festival traditionally kicks off with one of the Twin Port's blues bands. This year they mixed this up somewhat by pulling together an "all-star" Hometown Blues Band featuring a rotating lineup of the area's top blues musician's backed by the Busters.
The Lamont Cranston Blues Band, 30 plus years strong, held down their traditional Friday afternoon slot and warmed the crowd up with the every popular Upper Mississippi Shakedown.
Back at the main stage Albert Cummings got the crowd fired up with his rocking, hard-edged guitar. Playing mostly covers with some hard hitting originals mixed in, he wowed the crowd with his slow, grinding guitar riffs covering Albert Collins. Cummings guitar sound is a rocking blues, slightly distorted with strong passion. His version of "Got My Mojo Working" featured his stinging, rocking guitar and clear, passionate vocals ringing out.
Next up at the main stage was the Jelly Roll Kings Reunion, featuring Big Jack Johnson and Billy Flynn on guitar, Allen Kirk and Sam Carr both on drums and Mojo Buford on harmonica. The blues super group reunion got the crowd fired up with Mojo's simple, strong, fluid harp riffs filled with passion, Big Jack's clear, strong, expressive vocals, and the great guitar riffs by Big Jack and Billy. Big Jack's stinging, expressive playing, going back and forth with Billy, made for a great blues sound on "Every Day I Have the Blues." Big Jack broke a string, and picked up his electric mandolin and kept playing and singing without dropping a beat. The long, slow, grinding blues of "Thank You Blue Bird" featured Big Jack's impressive, soulful vocals and subtle, expressive guitar licks backed by a great ensemble sound.
Back on the second stage was the cheeky, upbeat blues with attitude of the self-proclaimed Chicago Blues Diva, Liz Mandeville Greeson. Liz is a strong, emotional singer, solid acoustic guitarist, and dynamic performer with just the right mix of attitude, sauciness, and passion. She featured many songs including the title cut from her last CD, Back in Love Again. Her bold, brassy, and expressive voice rasping with emotion rang out over the crowd as her talented guitarist Mike Gibb laid down some powerful licks. Liz slowly strummed her guitar as she humorously recounted her history of failed relationships. Then she gave the crowd "I Want My Johnny With Me," a love song about her faithful dog. With her dancing, smiling performance, lusty, sultry views on life, she does a great job representing blues from a woman's perspective.
Bernard Allison then took the main stage for some great blues guitar in a set that was mostly a warm, respectful tribute to his daddy Luther and the many great blues guitarists that came before him. Bernard's cover of "Bad Love" showed his slow, subtle, emotional guitar and passionate vocals. He had the crowd singing along to the refrain, working the crowd. Bernard injected some scorching guitar energy into "Who Do You Love?" as he increased the volume and tempo of the song, playing some wickedly expressive slide guitar. This long, jamming instrumental had Bernard coming down off the stage and taking a long walk into the crowd, wowing fans all the way with his jamming guitar.
Junior Watson bounded on to the second stage with a wild, rollicking set that featured his non-stop energy, precise, passionate guitar playing, and blues that ranged from country to jump to traditional to driving. All in all it was one of the most fun and enthusiastic performances of the entire weekend. Junior had a great harp player in Mitch Kasmer who impressed the crowd with his solid vocals and high, wailing harp on the rolling blues of "Midnight Creeper." Junior danced and played fast with great tone and playfulness, kicking his leg high in the air as he played. At one point he ran through a medley of old TV theme songs, delivered with great playing, style, and fun. Junior and Mitch delivered some great blues on "I'm Gonna Find Somebody New" with Mitch's low, dirty-toned harp wailing up high and nicely complementing Junior's tasteful guitar and clear, strong, emotional vocals.
Closing out the first day was a true soul and R&B legend, Sam Moore of Sam and Dave fame. Dressed all in black, and backed by a large, talented group of musicians including three horns, two talented women backup singers, bass, drums, guitar and keyboards, Sam delivered one great song after another in his smooth, rich, soulful tenor. He showed he still has great range and power in his voice, and passion for the music as he smiled, danced, made sweeping, powerful gestures to the crowd, and got everyone into his infectious singing and energy. Sam started out strong with "Hold On" and did a solid cover of "Knock on Wood." On "I Gotta Find a Part-time Lover" Sam's voice wailed with emotion as he started out singing backed only by piano. This solid blues number had his voice rasping with pain as he told the tale of a man wronged by a woman stepping out on him. While Sam's powerful, enthusiastic singing and crowd participation made "Soul Man" a highlight, Sam is at his best on slower, soulful songs where he can let the rich, emotional power of his voice soar. "Soothe Me" featured all of his vocal talents on a beautiful, soulful, love song. Sam closed out his set with an encore of "Rainy Night in Georgia." His solid, emotional singing with soaring passion capped off a great day of music.
The second day of the Bayfront Blues Festival turned out as bright, sunny and warm as Day 1, as festival goers stood in a long line waiting to enter the festival grounds. Based on the scheduled line up for Saturday, starting with Wisconsin's own Reverend Raven & The Chainsmokin' Altar Boys and finishing with the signature sounds of Texas blues guitarist Jimmie Vaughan, things were looking good for blues lovers at the Festival.
Led by Richard "The Reverend" Raven, the Chainsmokin' Altar Boys strode onto the Fon-du-Luth Casino Stage at the appointed time. The fine Wisconsin-based blues band put out some excellent Chicago-style blues, featuring "The Reverend" on his powder blue Gibson ES-335 style guitar and supported by his "secret weapon", harpmaster "Cadillac" Pete Rahn. Performing a 45-minute set that just did not seem long enough, the band got Day2 of the Bayfront Blues Festival off to an excellent start.
A long time transplant from Kansas City, Minnesota favorite and perennial Bayfront performers Big Walter Smith and the Groove Merchants kept things moving on the Leinenkugel Stage. Big Walter started the Groove Merchants back in the mid-1980's and the band has been going strong ever since, receiving numerous awards and recognition for their fine music. The band holds the distinction of being the first group inducted into the Minnesota Blues Society Hall of Fame. As usual, Big Walter and the band were in fine form, performing a nice mix of blues, soul and r+b tunes fronted by the smooth vocals of Big Walter and led by musical director Scotty Graves on guitar. Performing classics and newer material from the band's recordings, Big Walter Smith and the Groove Merchants put on their usual entertaining performance that always sounds great whether they are performing in a club or outdoors on a festival stage.
Though not quite into the "legendary" status yet, Renee Austin is another Minnesota resident and favorite among blues fans in Minnesota. The recognition of Renee's talent is spreading across the country and is sure to explode with the release of her debut CD on Blind Pig Records scheduled for late September of this year. With her long, beautiful red hair, a vampish red dress and her winning smile, Renee and her exceptional band cooked on the Fon-du-Luth Stage. After surviving some early technical difficulties that knocked out an amplifier early in her set, Renee and the band really brought the Bayfront audience to their feet, crowding the stage and getting into her music. With songs like "Texas In My Veins," "Love Is Like A See Saw," and others from her independent release, Dancin' With Mr. Blue and the soon-to-be-released Sweet Talk, Renee's music has a distinct Texas style flavor to it with stinging guitar and honky tonk piano, no doubt fostered by her Austin, Texas roots. The set ended with a great version of "Proud Mary," the classic by Creedence Clearwater Revival that was made even more famous by the electrified version performed by Tina Turner. Needless to say, Renee's version was far more Tina-like than it was true to the original Creedence Clearwater version.
What could be classified as one of the biggest "surprises" of the day occurred with the performance of soul singer Bettye Lavette on the Leinenkugel Stage. Despite Ms. Lavette's enormous popularity in England and Europe, she has remained relatively unknown in the United States despite her 1962 R+B hit, "My Man, He's a Lovin' Man" and her work on Broadway with Cab Calloway in "Bubbling Brown Sugar." Suffice it to say that after her performance on the stage at Bayfront, Ms. Lavette's talents are now burned into the collective memories of the very appreciative festival crowd. From the moment Bettye walked onto the stage with a big smile and a look that certainly did not give anyone a clue as to her age (60-something according to her website), she captivated the audience with her fantastic voice and youthful energy. As her set progressed, Bettye rarely stopped moving, singing and dancing her way back and forth across the stage with songs like "He Made a Woman Out of Me," "The Forecast Calls For Pain," "It Serves Him Right," and songs from her latest CD entitled A Woman Like Me. Bettye made a strong connection with the audience, appearing to sing to individuals personally at one time or another and even sitting cross-legged and pensive on the edge of the stage to sing the emotion-filled torcher, "Souvenirs." Using a song entitled "Falling In Love" from her album Motown, Bettye introduced the members of her band, laughingly admitting that she didn't know that stand-in horn players names, but indicating that they "blew the hell out of them horns." Bettye Lavette put on a great show and definitely one that I would like to see again soon.
As the day continued to warm, the styles of music changed again when Portland, Oregon harp player Curtis Salgado made his appearance on the Fon-du-Luth Stage. With a resume that includes work with another Northwest legend, Robert Cray and the East Coast's legendary Roomful of Blues, Salgado led his excellent band through an entertaining set that included the combined sounds of blues, rock, r+b, soul and even gospel. Backed by Rusty Hall (keyboards), Willie Barber (bass), Don Werth (drums) and guitarist Jacob Wolfe, Salgado's set represented a great blend of styles. With songs like "The Harder They Fall" and the B.B. King classic, "Whole Lotta Love," Salgado put on a great show with some extended musical jams that at times even reminded me of Sting (who Salgado even looked a little like from a distance).
As the festival started moving into the evening performances, probably one of the more anticipated performances of the day was put on by Oklahoma "country boy" guitarist, Elvin Bishop. As the band opened with a zydeco-flavored instrumental, Bishop made his way on stage wearing his standard Hawaiian shirt and bibbed overalls, playing some great slide guitar on his Gibson hollow-body guitar. The set included everything an Elvin Bishop fan could want from classics like "Fooled Around and Fell in Love" and "Fishin'" to new, unreleased songs scheduled for future albums like "What The Hell Is Goin' On," a song that spoke to the unbridled craziness in the world today. Bishop's excellent guitar, tight band and down-home banter, was both entertaining and energizing for the crowd that seemed to really get into the performance. Given the long line at the autograph tent following Bishop's performance, it was clear that he was one of the more popular artists performing at Bayfront on Saturday.
The final act of Day 2 on the Fin-du-Luth Stage was Lil' Brian and The Zydeco Travelers, a last minute replacement for the scheduled performer, Joe Louis Walker, who was stuck in Oakland, California. Perhaps with a bit of added incentive because of their unexpected good fortune, Lil' Brian and The Zydeco Travelers really knocked themselves out to get anyone and everyone over any disappointment at Walker's late cancellation. Performing their own well-crafted style of "New Wave" zydeco, incorporating elements of hip-hop, funk, jazz and Caribbean music with the traditional sounds of zydeco and Creole music, the band powered through songs from their CD, Funky Nation, including "Get Up On That Zydeco," "Funky Nation" and "Black Butterfly," along with zydeco style versions of songs like the Rolling Stones, "Beast of Burden." Joe Louis Walker might have left the band with some big shoes to fill, but they filled them admirably.
The final performance of Saturday evening featured Jimmie Vaughan and The Tilt-A-Whirl band, including a scheduled guest appearance by Austin, Texas blues diva, Ms Lou Ann Barton. While Jimmie's musical resume is pretty well known, Barton has remained more of a regional talent, despite her work with Jimmie, his late brother Stevie Ray, Marcia Ball and several other notables throughout her career.
Jimmie Vaughan and his band were warmly received as they arrived on the stage, sans Barton, who was no where to be seen at the beginning of the set. Opening with a very Texas sounding guitar instrumental, the band was in good form with Jimmie as enthusiastic as I have ever seen him. Performing songs filled with Vaughan's signature style guitar, the first forty minutes of the set included songs like "Texas Flood," "Like A King" and "Let Me In," each from Vaughan's previously released solo recordings. Vaughan's guitar style is unique among Texas guitarists, featuring fills and solos offered in short, powerful bursts.
Approximately halfway through the set, Jimmie asked Lou Ann Barton onto the stage and, as if by magic, she appeared from nowhere. Lou Ann's featured portion of the set opened with a song entitled "Power of Love," followed by "Sugar Coated Love," one of Lou Ann's better known songs. The Barton's portion of the set also included an interesting version of Slim Harpo's classic, "Scratch My Back," "Natural Born Lover" and "In The Middle of The Night," a song previously recorded by Jimmie Vaughan, Lou Ann Barton and Double Trouble.
The evening ended with a nice extended encore, with Vaughan opening up solo before being joined by the band for "Ooo Wee Baby!". About the time one would have expected things to wind up, Lou Ann Barton returned to the stage for a nice slow number called, "Baby Don't Go." The added bonus for the evening occurred once the music had ended, when Jimmie Vaughan showed up at the autograph table, signing autographs, getting his picture taken with several fans and being generally gracious given the lateness of the evening.
After a fine second day of the show, anticipation certainly was running high that the great weather and great music would continue for the final day of the Festival.
Sunday's line up started with the traditional gospel group in the opening time-slot. Minneapolis Gospel Sound returned again this year and provided a nice transition from the late night events of Saturday to the final day of the festival.
Corky Seigel's Chamber Blues was a refreshing change of pace featuring violins, cello and viola as well as Corky's harmonica and keyboards.
The rest of the day featured some blues veterans and a southern rocker. Crowd favorites Mick Sterling and the Stud Brothers featured Mick's emotional and heartfelt delivery. Maria Muldaur added a nice change of pace followed by the high-powered guitar sounds of Walter Trout. Lucky Peterson with Rico McFarland on guitar lit up the stage with his award-winning smile and versatile keyboard and guitar playing. He also had an extended walk-about out in the audience.
Dickey Betts and Great Southern closed out the festival with a set of mostly instrumental tunes made popular by the Allman Brothers a couple of decades ago.
More pictures from Bayfront
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