This year's festival picked up right where last year's inaugural festival left off, and it didn't skip a beat. The fans steadily filed in as the day went on and once again, we wound up with about 1000+, as we did last year. Even with the threat of rain, for the second year in a row, the weather held out and it was perfect. Sunny start, then cloudy to cool things down later. How sweet it was !
Owners Ray and Terry Mulvey have put a lot of heart and soul into this annual event. Billed as "The Year's BIGGEST Little Unknown Blues Festival", it certainly lived up to its name. Santiago is a beautiful little community nestled in the country, surrounded by cornfields and the St. Francis River. Only about 12 miles north of Becker and about 18 miles east of St. Cloud, this is not a far drive at all. It reminds me of the festivals we used to see 'in the old days'. It's laid back feeling is wonderful. You really lose that hustle and bustle feel of the city as soon as you enter into the Santiago 'time zone'.
The backyard festival is all fenced in with wooden fencing (no cold steel look) and the grounds are roomy and relaxing. The permanent wooden bandshell is also designed to fit right in. An outside bar, beer trucks and food booths all add to that downhome feel. This year's additions of a huge dance floor and a rock garden off the side of the stage were a couple of very nice additions.
In small communities, you always have to work with your neighbors and keep everyone happy. It's not always easy. But, I've got to believe that if anyone in that area is the least bit opposed to the outdoor festivals, all they have to do is attend just one, and like the rest of us, they'd wish that Ray could have one every single weekend. What a terrific escape.
Local blues veterans, The Everett Smithson Band opened the show at 3:00. Everett always takes the blues down a different road, and it is refreshing. It's kind of a 'Johnny Cash meets Howlin' Wolf' style that you won't soon forget. Alongside Everett is Phil Schmid on guitar, Jeremy Johnson on drums and Billy Black on upright bass. These guys have a lot of tricks up their sleeves. They tore through covers of Fats Domino's "Fat Man" and "Hurricane" by Willie Dixon, as well as some tasty originals. Everett's own composition, "All That I Want", had the crowd hootin' and hollerin'. The crowd was slowly filing in early and everyone who made it a point to come out to catch the whole day were glad that they were there to catch Everett's show. They loved it.
Lisa Wenger hit the stage next at 4:45. Lisa is fairly new to the scene, but has been performing with her band, The Mojo Band, for a couple of years now. Lisa has put together a great new band that includes Dwight Christianson on drums, Ryan Brucker on bass and Mike Michalski on percussion. For this show, she added the services of Lamont Cranston members Ted Larsen on guitar and Dale Peterson on keyboards. Lisa offered up great versions of "I'd Rather Go Blind" by Etta James, "Cut Me Loose" by Angela Strehli and Dorthy LaBostrie's "You Can Have My Husband". With a nice selection of different blues styles, the band weaved back and forth through Chicago and Texas styles with ease. Lisa has a great voice, good stage presence and to top it off, the guys can't take their eyes off of her.
Studebaker John & The Hawks jumped up at 6:30 and opened with "Highway King". This hard working 3 piece from Chicago hit the stage with a flurry. John is known for his stinging slide guitar and killer harmonica style. Rounding out the trio is drummer Earl Howell and bassist Stan Allison Jr. John has created a good following around the Twin Cities area and everywhere he goes. It's rare nowadays that an artist will do only his own material and no covers, but John handles it well. "She's A Rocker" rocked with Earl's drum solo. John really got the crowd pumped up when he asked if they were ready for some harmonica. It was obvious that they were, and that led the way into the catchy "Juke Joint Jump." He got them really jumping with "I Don't Know", switching from guitar to harmonica midstream. The encore of his classic "Fine Cadillac" had the crowd screaming for one more. John featured mostly new material that he is working on for his next CD to be released in the not too distant future. At times, his vocal style reminds me a little bit of John Hiatt.
Next up at 8:00 was Johnny Rawls. If you haven't seen Johnny yet, you're missing out. Based in Milwaukee, this Mississippi Soul-Blues Man has a great following around this area. Rawls was nominated in 2003 for a W.C. Handy Award for 'Best Soul/Blues Male Artist Of The Year'. Although he lost out to none other than the legendary Solomon Burke, it was quite the honor. Personally, Johnny is one of my favorites. Rawls has that Otis Redding-Stax Records-Soul sound that you just can't get enough of. He is a great singer and a fantastic showman. Backed by James Carson on bass, Allan Kirk on drums and Harvey Martin on background vocals, Rawls filled the dance floor from the very first note and kept them dancing all night long. Everyone was rockin' out to the Rock 'n' Roll medley of "The Twist-Johnny B. Goode-Hound Dog-Blue Suede Shoes-Rollin' On The River." Johnny got the crowd clapping and singing along with Clarence Carter's "Strokin." That classic had everybody on their feet. It set the stage perfectly for the upcoming 'rockin' party blues' of Lamont Cranston.
Lamont Cranston kicked off at 10:30 and picked up right where Rawls left off. Hayes ripped through some Cranston favorites like "Blinded", "Hold On", "What A Party" and "Fever." Flanked by Ted Larsen on guitar, Mike Carvale on electric and upright bass, Jeff Rogers on drums, Dale Peterson on piano and Hammond B3 and Jim Greenwell on sax, the band was really cooking on this perfect summer night. The crowd never even seemed to take a breather from dancing all night long. Hayes called up Lisa Wenger, who belted out a nice version of Dorthy LaBostrie's "You Can Have My Husband". Song after song, the intensity increased all night. Finally, the crowd got what they were waiting for. Hayes pulled out the harp and belted out the Cranston classic "Streets Around Here." Time to end the show and what better way to do it, but with the 'theme song' of the night, the band's 80's hit "Upper Mississippi Shakedown". Everyone sang along to this one and they weren't ready to quit when the band did. The crowd kept screaming for more. Pat obliged with the band's signature tune "E Jam".
Since they still had a whole hour, the crowd slowly filtered into the bar. No one was ready to leave. Hayes grabbed his guitar and harps and Studebaker John grabbed his guitar and harps and they both hit the stage inside for some impromptu jams. Even John's drummer Earl took his turn playing guitar and having fun. With Pat and John trading off vocals, guitar and harp, they kept everyone going until closing. Then, once they chased everyone else out, they offered up round two for all of the crew, the workers, the bands and friends and family. Things finally wound down about 4:00 a.m. Whew, what a night.
In more ways than one, UMS was a hit once again. Don't miss next year's Upper Mississippi Shakedown 3, which is already in the planning stages.
Your purchase through this Amazon.com link helps to support this website.
Simply click on the CD cover order this CD NOW!
"This review is copyright © 2003 by Rico Anderson, and Blues On Stage at: www.mnblues.com, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without permission."
Copyright reuse notice: If you would like to reprint or use this review please include the above copyright notice, contained within the quotation marks, PLUS this statement: "Used with permission." Then send an email to Ray at: email@example.com indicating how you are using the review or the website page address it will be appearing on. Thanks!
You can also help support this blues website by making a contribution (click on the banner below for details). Or mail a donation to: Ray Stiles % Blues On Stage, PO Box 582983, Mpls, MN 55458. Thanks!
Web Design SPECIAL, get your own website for just $50.
Web Hosting & Design:
Web Hosting & Design.
Most affordable web hosting and design services available.
Find out how you can host your current site at Blues On Stage, or how I can help you design your own website!
If you would like your CD reviewed, please send TWO (2) copies, along with promotional material to:
Blues On Stage
PO Box 582983
Minneapolis, MN 55458-2983
E-mail Ray Stiles @ firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.