Year in and year out, the Prairie Dog Blues Fest (PDBF) in Prairie du Chien, WI. continues to offer one of the best blues fests in the Upper Midwest along the beautiful Mississippi River.
2003 marks the sixth consecutive year for the PDBF, making it one of the few fests that has established itself as a "can't miss" blues events for the Summer.
The setting is adjacent to downtown Prairie du Chien on the banks of the Mississippi, giving you a fest grounds that is about as perfect for a blues fest that one could ask for.
Let's look at this years show.
Friday, July 22, 2003
"BIG DADDY" CADE & THE BLUES MASTERS
The festival kicked off with one of the most exciting new acts on the Midwest scene, "Big Daddy" Cade & The Blues Masters.
The group is based out of La Crosse, Wisconsin, but features musicians from Chicago, Florida, and Texas.
This lineup featured Billy "Big Daddy" Cade on guitar and vocals, Dave Armstrong on bass, James "Hurricane" Hackney on Hammond B-3, Jukebox Eddie Vespa on piano, and the dynamic young drummer, Bill "The Hawk" Tourville.
Cade's show has to be one of the hottest West Side Chicago blues shows heard in recent memory. Cade originally hails from Chicago, and one can see and hear the influence for his style. He has leaned his craft well. Cade is a spectacular talent!
Much of the material played was from Cade's new forthcoming CD on Blues Co-op Records, "Livin' For The Blues". His guitar style is quite reminiscent of that of Otis Rush or Lightning Sam, and with a vocal presentation that fits somewhere between B.B. and Albert King.
The musicians that he has hand picked for the Blues Masters, make for a very powerful
line-up. What a way to open up a blues fest.
NIGEL MACK & THE BLUES ATTACK
Hailing from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, Mack has been one of the most popular blues artists on the Canadian music scene for years. Now, he's trying to make the same happen in North American as well.
Mack is a multiple nominee for Canada's Maple Blues Award, Canada's equivalent to our Handy Awards.
Touring in support of his latest CD release. "Road Rage", Mack is a triple threat. An excellent guitarist, an accomplished harp player, and a killer vocalist.
His show had a traditional "west side" feel to it, but his stinging guitar work gives it an "edge" that was more based upon the blues of Canada's "Big" Dave MaClean.
His harp work was stellar throughout the show and showed influences of the late Junior Wells.
Backed up on this show by some of Chicago's newest talents, they included: Pete Thomas-drums, Matt Goodman-guitar, and Sam Green-bass.
Mack did some "tribute" harp numbers to the late Paul Butterfield. An artists that way too few remember the way Mack does.
Nigel Mack and his Blues Attack have to rank up along with the Downchild Blues Band, as one of Canada's finest blues exports.
What a change up, from the sound of the Blues Attack, to the more rock styled sound of the Chicago, Illinois based, Jan James.
James is a very skilled vocalist, that shows urgency in her voice, while at the same time having perfected the dynamics that showcases her talent.
While her show would not be what you would call blues, it had a blues base to it.
The group that backed James also fit more of a rock group style. They consisted of: Deric Perry-drums, Franklin Coggiano-Guitar, Craig Calvert-guitar, and Ryan Olbrysh-bass.
Most of the material for her show came from a mix from her past six CD releases. James didn't do many covers, as she proved to be a very accomplished song writer doing her own material. Especially impressive were her songs from her new CD, "Limousine Blues"
Headlining Friday's show was WALTER TROUT & THE RADICALS.
There was no question who the Friday night crowd came to see, it was Walter Trout and The Radicals.
Trout was the headliner on Saturday night of the 2002 Prairie Dog Festival, who's show got canceled due to very bad weather. This show was what you might call a "make good" after last years last minute cancellation, and Trout didn't disappoint.
Trout had appeared the night before in Rochester, Minnesota, so he and the Radicals were primed and ready to deliver an unforgettable blues blowout.
He had with him the "cream of the West Coast" blues scene in his band. Long time Trout band mate, James Trapp on bass, Joey Pafumi on keyboards, and Sammy Avila on drums.
What makes Trout's shows so powerful is the "concrete solid" bass work of Trapp, the uncanny showmanship and incredible stick work of Pafumi.
Trout is one of the truly magnificent guitarists in music today. I didn't just say blues, but in all of music.
He defines the word "technician". He pulls, prods, and drags more sound out of his worn Fender strat and almost any guitarist playing today.
His live shows are of legend, and this one will do much to keep that reputation alive and well.
The show was a mix from his past Ruf CD releases, but with special emphasis being put on his new Ruf release, "Relentless".
In typical Trout style, he stayed on after the show meeting with the fans and signing autographs well into the next morning.
This blues man is the real deal. Catch him whenever and wherever you can.
Added to the Friday mix in the Blues Fest Beer Tent, from Tasmania, Australia, blues power trio, PETE CORNELIUS & THE DeVILLES.
The 19 year old Cornelius is an amazing guitar player as well as a very strong vocalist. Backed on this tour by Bruce Cornelius on drums and Phil Wilson on bass, this blues gang from "down under" gave a very strong account of themselves.
It won't be long until you will start to see them on the "main stages" at blues fests across the U.S.
Saturday July 26, 2003
The day opened with local Prairie du Chien, WI. blues artists, MAMA'S WORRY.
This five man group got the day off to a solid start with their strong set of blues covers. One of that areas top blues attractions. They are a very solid group.
I'd highly recommend a copy of their latest CD, "Sometimes You Get The Blues".
THE CLAYTON MILLER BLUES BAND
What's that old saying, "The family that plays together, stays together". Well, this is your blues based family band, and it's like one you've probably never seen before.
You have father Larry Miller on bass, the hot guitar licks of Clayton Miller on lead, brother Cole and lead vocalist on drums, managed by mother, Tammy, and are you ready.......little nine year old L.D. Miller on harp. That's right, nine years old!
Now let me clear this up, just because L.D. is 9, this not a gimmick act. The kid can flat out play!! So much in fact, that he was a finalist on the resent NBC TV's, Worlds Most Talented Kids. When you hear this kid play, you'd think you were hearing a shorter version of Charlie Musselwhite.
Their blues is a cross between SRV because of the strong guitar work of Clayton, but with a definite "west side" edge because of the wailing harp of L.D.
The Millers are based out of Lafayette, Indiana and have been real "kingpins" on the college circuit for the past couple of years, but we are starting to see them more on the club and festival circuit as well. A real "on the rise" act for the 2000's.
PHIL GUY & THE CHICAGO MACHINE
This has to be one of the best shows this reviewer has seen Guy give in recent years. The large fest crowd seemed to pull the best out in Phil, as he didn't hold back and put out 90 minutes of "rock solid" Chicago based blues and R&B.
One fun fact you can always look forward to, is who is going to be in the Chicago Machine. Guy brought with him some of the best. The legendary Vernon Rogers on drums, Hassan Kahn on bass, long time Guy guitarist, Osee Anderson, and hot Chicago blues keyboard and alumnus of the Shemika Copeland band, Dona Oxford.
While Phil does not get the notoriety of older brother Buddy, there is no question Phil Guy, is one of the Windy City's premier blues men!!
While Phil is usually quite laid back, at this years PDBF, Guy took all the time necessary to meet and talk with his hundreds of fans. One would hate to count the number of autographs he signed.
JOHN PRIMER & THE REAL DEAL
If one were to do a survey of today's Chicago based blues artists, who they consider to be the best guitarists Chi-Town has to offer, the name John Primer would have to be at the top of the list.
As one stands and listens to the guitar work of Primer, you begin to wonder why Primer has not become a true "national act". He is THAT good!
Primer's Real Deal band consisted of Mike Morris on bass, the very talented Dan Beaver on harps, and doing double duty on drums, Vernon Rogers.
The harp work of newcomer, Dan Beaver added a "youthful" edge to Primer's show. One could see the mix of ages in front of the stage was very broad based. Mr. Beaver is a true young star in the making.
This Muddy Water band alumnus has carved out a solid reputation for himself based on great live shows, sizzling guitar work, and "real deal" blues, all delivered many times over at this year's PDBF.
It was exciting to hear Primers slide work shine as he showcased new material off his new Wolf Records CD, "Blue Steel"-A Tribute To Elmore James. Very few artists can pull off the depth and soul to what Elmore James was all about, but John Primer can.
For the closer on his set, Primer brought Phil Guy and Dona Oxford back to the stage for good old fashioned "head cutting" contest. It was a classic!
This might have been one of the best ninety minutes of live blues heard in recent memory.
THE LAMONT CRANSTON BLUES BAND
What could be more fitting than Pat Hayes and the Cranstons having an Upper Mississippi Shakedown, "live" on the Mississippi River.
Long time PDBF regulars, the Lamont Cranston Band, "brings em in the gate" like no other group.
Their usually stellar lineup included: Pat Hayes on guitar, harp, and vocals, Jim Greenwell on sax, the newest Cranston, Jeff Rogers on drums, Mike Carvale on bass, Dale Peterson on Hammond B-3, and Ted "Lightning" Larson on guitar.
Inch for inch, pound for pound, there is not a harder working and more entertaining blues artist working anywhere, than Pat Hayes.
Half way through the show, Hayes brought to the stage as a special guest, Billy "Big Daddy" Cade who along with Hayes and Larson, put out a blues guitar "wall of sound" not heard at the PDBF before. It was one of those truly classic moments.
What a way to bring on the headliner.
The best way to describe Hubert Sumlin, is a "National Blues Treasure". Sumlin, who has faced some tough health challenges in recent months, but was looking fine, and sounding magnificent.
Backed by one of Wisconsin's most legendary blues groups, from Milwaukee, the Jim Liban Blues Band. They consisted of: Jim Liban on harps, Perry Weber-guitar, Jim Schutte-drums, and Dave Kasik-bass.
While there had been some great blues played this day, Sumlin proved when he took the stage on this hot and humid day, why his unique guitar playing is loved by fans and fellow musicians alike.
Hubert started his show out with "Sitting On Top Of The World" showing his snarling, yet beautiful guitar riffs. He does so many things well on the guitar, low, grinding licks, interrupted with sharp stinging tones, all delivered in a rich full style that is all his own.
As a concession to the heat and not feeling all that well, Hubert sat down after the second song of his set and remained seated for the remainder of the show.
Sumlin showed all the guitar fire that one could imagine when he tore into Howlin' Wolf's "Killing Floor" backed by "red Rooster". Hubert played like the veteran blues guitar master that he is, delivering great penetrating licks that rang over the crowd.
At one point in the show hew interrupted his playing to thank the crowd by saying, "You know I've been sick, but when I see a stage and a crowd of fans like you, I feel well!!!"
As his set came to an end, the cheering and applause by the crowd brought him back to the stage one more time as he re-did "Sitting On Top of The World" with as much passion, love, and emotion as one could imagine going back and forth between Sumlin and the crowd.
One word describes this man and what he means to the blues............priceless!
NORA JEAN BRUSO
Here was an interesting twist. The blues press for the past few months has been touting as the next big star from the Chicago blues scene to be Nora Jean Bruso.
PDBF booked her to perform in their beer tent. Here was this unbelievably classy lady, with the incredible voice, playing in a tent.
I guess her booking agent thought she'd get greater exposure, for longer periods of time, to more fans, by playing the beer tent. While he was right in all three cases, Nora Jean is not an artist you will soon again see or hear in a beer tent!!
I was so taken back by her signing ability, I know it caught everyone by surprise.
You knew something is up, when the main stage act is over and during "change over" time, the fest grounds looked empty with literally hundreds of people crammed into a beer tent to see what all the buzz was about.
Bruso's singing style reminds me of a mix between Shemekia Copeland and Koko Taylor. I know, strong company.
PDFB pulled off a real coup with this booking.
I'd suggest you jot the name Nora Jean Bruso down. You'll be hearing a lot more on her soon. I was just glad to be able to say "I saw her when".
IT WAS FUN AGAIN
It was fun to work with fellow TCBN writer and photographer Rich Benson, as well as TCBN's photographer, "Mindy" on doing this show. They are real pros to work with. (Tourville)
ONE NOT TO MISS
Milwaukee's, Tom Radai, founder of the Blues Management Group, and long time manger for the late Jimmy Rogers, reported that coming soon at Rosa's Blues Club in Chicago he has put together a Tribute Show to Jimmy Rogers. To date, he has secured the likes of: Sam Lay, Billy Flynn, Steve Guyger, Madison Slim, Piano Willie, Ted Harvey, Eddie Taylor Jr. and many more to remember the legendary Mr. Rogers. (Tourville)
There there will be an unveiling of Jimmy's new headstone at the cemetery. Mr. Radai, you are a class act. (Tourville)
In talking with Nigel Mack, he's made the move from Canada to become a permanent resident of Chicago. It's something he has been wanting to do for some time. Welcome to the Windy City, Nigel. (Benson)
On Saturday the 26th, the daytime temperature was close to 100 degrees on stage. It was an ironman effort that drummer Vernon Rogers gave, playing almost 3 hours straight in 100+ degree temperatures for both Phil Guy and John Primer. (Tourville)
THEY LEFT THEM TALKING AWARDS
Every year certain shows by musicians stand out at the PDBF and they deserve one of our "They left Them Talking Awards". This year they go to:
Nora Jean Bruso-Wow, what a powerhouse. People are still talking weeks later. (Tourville)
Bill "The Hawk" Tourville-- This young 17 year old drummer for "Big Daddy" Cade's Blues Masters had all the musicians talking about his incredible style and "blues feel". This kid is going to become one of the top drummers on the Midwest Blues scene, if he not already. (Benson)
L.D. Miller- What can one say about a 9 year old harp whiz. This little musician has the chops, the tone, and the dynamics. He'll be heard from for years to come. (Tourville)
John Primer- Primer offered a free course to all in attendance, it was titled
"Blues Guitar #101." He proved to be the blues guitar master. (Benson)
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