Rock the Range, sponsored by local businesses and civic groups in the Chisholm area replaced the blues festival that had been a fixture here during June for a number of years. While blues was still the dominant style of music, there was a greater diversity of music this year which worked well. The two-day festival featured great music, enthusiastic fans, a capable, friendly staff and very smooth operation for a first year event.
Eveleth native Paul Mayasich kicked things off on a strong blues note with his strong, rich-toned guitar playing and heavy, husky vocals on "Strut." The interplay between Paul's guitar and Scotty Miller's expressive organ playing made for some great sounding blues. Paul is an excellent slide guitarist, as he showed on his original, "Black Coffee." His nice, slow, subtle slide guitar intro featured long, lingering chords, gradually transforming into mid-tempo blues that is deeply rooted. Paul played a mix of grinding, soulful blues and up-tempo, rocking numbers, bringing down the house with his fast, powerful guitar on "Guitar Boogie."
Super Chikan and The Fighting Cocks were next up with a powerful blues trio sound. Super Chikan blends a mean guitar sound with strong, expressive vocals in a rich voice with great range. Playing and doing his "rooster dance," which has to be seen to be appreciated, he served up "Red Rooster" and the heavy, funky, infectious "Low Down Dirty Blues." Super Chikan made his guitar snarl and howl over the heavy driving beat of bass and drums. Playing on his gas can guitar, with his bass player on his gas can bass, he delivered "Tin Top Shack," smooth funky blues with a touch of soul. Super Chikan's beautiful, expressive, lingering guitar licks matched his passionate, rich vocals. Super Chikan even gave the crowd a Roy Acuff style yodel, while playing some great John Lee Hooker boogie blues.
Kelley Hunt then brought her boogie woogie piano, powerful, rich vocals, and tight band on for a solid mix of soulful and party blues. Kelley kicked things off with energy and style on the hip, funky "Hoo Doo." She showed off her solid, flashy boogie woogie piano on the fast and fun "Back in the Saddle." The highlight of Kelly's set was "I Can Use You." This love song with attitude had Kelley singing low and gritty, and then letting her voice soar high with passion. Her drawn out, fading vocals, dancing on stage, expressive hand movements, and high energy had the crowd up and dancing and shouting their enthusiasm. Kelley showed off all of her vocal talents and slow, soulful piano on "I'll Survive." Her voice filled with raw emotion, pain, and mourning as she brought her voice from low and soulful up to a soaring, piercing wail.
Roomful of Blues closed out a very musically satisfying first day with their powerful, energetic, horn-driven, jump blues. Lead vocalist and harp player Mark Dufresne has a strong, expressive tenor voice with great range and a hip inflection. "Shame on You Miss Roxy" featured some great, subtle harp playing and Mark's expressive vocals. Right from the start the dance floor in front of the stage filled with happy, sweaty dancers. This great ensemble blues band served up some jazzy blues both St. Louis and Kansas City style, and aware of their surroundings, even some polka edged jump blues on "Sweet, Sweet Woman." This veteran band can do it all, with talented lead guitarist Chris Vachon, the great horn section, and solid keyboards and rhythm section adding up to a pleasing large blues band sound. The grinding blues of "Easy Baby" had Mark blending his vocals seamlessly with the great horn playing for a rich harmony. Chris' slow, expressive guitar licks, where he played low and slow, with fast fills, letting his licks expand and echo out. Mark's smooth, rich voice soared high, bringing it up from low and dirty to a high, mournful wail. A highlight of the show was the fast rolling blues of "Money Talks." Trumpet player Bobby Stevens shared lead vocals with Mark on this hip, infectious song. The band seemed to be having fun playing together, clearly enjoying what they do. After 30 plus years and many changes in line-ups, the band remains true to their central sound and mission, providing great, hip, jump blues along with touches of jazz and Chicago blues to their appreciative audiences. Roomful's solid performance was a great way to end a day featuring perfect weather, enthusiastic fans, a helpful, friendly staff, and the rugged, scenic surroundings of Chisholm.
Day two kicked off with young, Lutsen, MN, blues guitar talent Jacob Michael wowing the crowd with his blues trio. His great fast playing on "Temptation" was a great way to kick off another beautiful day on The Range. His solid cover of "Bit By Bit" showcased his soaring, expressive vocals and powerful guitar. Jacob made his guitar wail with passion on his solo. Later he had his Fender screaming and howling with his great fast playing. This brilliant young guitar player with a strong, steadily maturing voice seems to have a bright future in front of him. His slow, soulful playing with expressive energy on "That's All Right" served as a solid base for his solid vocals. Jacob closed things out strong, delivering some great classic blues with his own spin on "How Blue Can You Get." Jacob played with soulful emotion, picking slow and subtle, and then blowing the crowd away with fast, furious, and expressive fills.
The Twin Cities own Ronnie Lake Band with guest vocalist and harp player Big Everett Smithson kept the energy going. Lead guitarist Veronica Lake kicked things off with some nasty, in your face surf guitar. With the band members sporting their sun glasses, you just had the feeling they were going to play with attitude and style. Big Everett added his low, strong, growling harp to Kathy Smithson's sultry, campy vocals on "Flaming Mamie" for some great old blues. Kathy then played a mean accordion on the mid-tempo, rocking zydeco of "Give Me Some Sugar." Kathy has a clear, expressive voice with an innocent quality she uses to good effect. Big Everett added his deep, growling, tasteful vocals on several numbers. With his heavy, growling harp, rich with deep vibrato, Everett sometimes sounds like he is channeling Howling Wolf himself. He is a talented harp player, as he showed on "A Big Fat Back" with his fluid expressive range from low and growly to high and sharp. This band has a unique sound that blends elements of blues, zydeco, R&B and rock for a pleasing sound. "You're No Good For Me" had Kathy singing high with throaty vibrato to the powerful driving blues/ zydeco beat. Veronica's wicked guitar playing serves as nice contrast to Kathy's vocals and accordion. The bands solid performance of "Treat Your Doggie Right" on this campy song filled with clever double-entendres in the best blues tradition showed off all of their talents and attitude.
Larry McCray lit things up next with his power blues trio featuring his searing, often funky guitar and strong, soulful vocals. His snarling, screaming guitar got down and funky as he used his wah wah and special effects pedals to good effect on "Blues Is My Business." This is a powerful band with a tight, funky, blues sound. Larry can play it slow and soulful, as he did on "Somebody Watching Over You." This beautiful, emotionally powerful number seems rooted in Jimi Hendrix's slower, soulful vocals and guitar stylings. Larry is a strong, smooth singer with good range, all of which he showed off here. He played great, high, repeating riffs, strummed it fast and powerful, and had the crowd cheering enthusiastically at the end. Larry closed things out with a powerful, twisting, funky version of "Real MF" With Larry's drummer and brother Steve singing, Larry worked his Flying V Gibson hard for a powerful guitar finish to a great set of blues guitar.
Singer / songwriter / guitarist Todd Snider then took things in a completely different direction with his humorous, off-beat original musical musings on life while playing guitar and harp on a neck brace. Barefoot and dressed in t-shirt and jeans, Todd delivered songs covering relationships, wistful remembrances of childhood, and positive, hopeful messages that are unbowed by bad experiences or people that try to bring him down. Todd engaged the crowd with his mile, clever lyrics, and simple folk music sound. He said he loves the job because no one cares if he drinks at work. His "Feel Like Missing You Today" he dedicated to Father's Day. This slow, sweet soulful and thoughtful song had a basic, easy rhythm that along with Todd's engaging singing just reels you in to his world. He offered advice on never having more stuff than you can pack up and get out the door in 15 minutes. "Sideshow Blues" was an up-tempo, humorous take on the difficulties of life and success. He mentioned Chisholm in the song, and got a standing ovation at the end. Todd had to do two encores before they would finally let him leave the stage. After quickly selling all his CD's, Todd showed his generous spirit by signing and giving away many of the harmonicas he had been playing to kids who came up to thank him for his music.
The Paladins then brought their powerful mix of rockabilly, rock, blues, and roots music up for a tight, solid set. Dave Gonzalez is a brilliant guitar player. The trio also features solid players on drums and stand-up bass. The strong, driving rockabilly on "Going Back to the City" featured Dave's strong, sharp vocals, his ringing, buzzing guitar riffs, and great, thumping stand-up bass. On "Hot Rod Rockin'" the double shuffle tempo and Dave's fast, furious guitar provided the energy to propel the dancers out onto the dance floor, where most stayed through the entire set. The trio served up some country blues tinged rockabilly on "My Baby Is Coming Back." While the instrumental sound was great, it was sometimes hard to hear the vocals over the loud, hard-charging instruments. The band even served up a little country polka on "Hey Girl." The infectious, danceable beat kept the dancers right on moving. The band included in their energetic, enthusiastic set a new number due on their next CD, "Looking for a Girl Like You." This high-energy, driving rockabilly song will be featured on their new CD due out in a few weeks. The Paladins have that retro look and feel, yet their deeply rooted music is solidly in the present. For their encore, "Mind Your Own Business," they invited Todd Snider, and good friends Paul Mankske and Paul Bergen from the Hillbilly Voo Doo Dolls out to sing with them.
Otis Clay closed out the show with the great ensemble sound of his tight, five piece blues band and his incredibly soulful, expressive voice. Dressed stylishly all in black, Otis brought his big, smooth, soulful voice for a great set of soulful blues. Otis sang with power and emotion on "Here I Am Baby," getting the crowd to clap along to the music and getting a loud, cheering ovation at the end. Smiling and personable, he interacted and joked with the crowd throughout his set. Otis has great stage presence, knowing when to pose, smile, and make dramatic gestures to reinforce the emotional impact of his singing. In addition to blues, he delivered some great old school R&B on "The Other Side of the Tracks." Otis worked his expressive, passionate voice around this song smoothly as his band provided a solid, funky foundation. At the end of the song he playfully threw punches out in front of him in time to the music.
Otis started as a gospel singer, and he remains true to his roots. "Let It Shine" was a great old gospel song delivered with style and passion in his warm, rich vocals. Otis gave a nod to the man he called one of the greatest soul singers of all time by covering Otis Redding's "Sitting on a Dock in the Bay." His beautiful, soulful version was made more powerful by the enthusiasm of the crowd when he asked them to sing along on the refrain. "I'll Treat You Right" was Otis at his soulful best, serving up a beautiful love song with power and rasping emotion, singing from deep down within his soul. You could see the cords on his neck bulging with the strain of giving the number everything he has. Otis connected to the crowd right through the heart, which is how he sang. On "Precious Baby of Mine," dedicated to a couple celebrating their anniversary, Otis brought his voice to a high, emotional howl. He commented the song was for lovers and strangers who might become lovers. The dance floor was filled with couples holding each other close. Otis finished strong with a medley of soul songs, concluding with a short version of "Respect Yourself" which he called the ultimate soul song. Otis' show had great energy and emotion from power to end. The fans at Rock the Range were privileged to see a great soulful blues singer at the height of his powers. All in all the first year of Rock the Range was a very pleasant musical experience. Fans should look forward to next year and hope the folks in Chisholm continue this event.
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