As blues music fans or fans of any musical genre know, the Twin Cities is blessed to have many excellent local musicians and a number of great live music clubs, such as Whiskey Junction, where they can perform for their fans. On this Monday night the piano players held sway, with many other musicians there to perform and support them, as well as a good crowd of loyal fans. The result was a great night of music that had some blues, yes, but also some jazz, rock, rockabilly, and country. This night the blues piano players played provided solid entertainment and reminded everyone in attendance how fortunate we are to have such talented musicians.
Glen Manske and The Other Brothers kicked things off in style with a mix of blues-rock, rock, and boogie woogie piano. Glen's up-tempo boogie woogie was fast, stylish, and expressive. Yet his slow, soulful playing on "Let Me Into the Light" showed his ability to play softly and subtle. "Rolling on Home" was a country tinged ballad about drinking and life that let Glen showcase his strong, expressive vocals and rich piano playing.
Next up was Virgil Nelson of the Butanes, playing with a group called the Virgil Nelson Experience. Virgil is a solid B-3 player, yet he masters the electronic keyboard also. His sweet, subtle playing on "Let the Good Times Roll" provided some funky piano blues. Virgil served up some great New Orleans piano blues before finishing up with his rocking, rollicking boogie woogie piano on "Rock and Roll Lifestyle." This was a strong finish to a tight set by Virgil.
Cornbread Harris was easily the best-dressed and classiest pianist of the night. Wearing a sharp suit and a bright, engaging smile, he plays a mean jazz piano with some slow rolling blues thrown in for good measure. "Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone" featured some great piano trills and rippling, flowing notes from his keyboard. Cornbread's strong, husky, warm vocals, twinkling eyes, and smile all added to his performance. He wowed the crowd with some slow blues, featuring high end tinkling notes that rang out with power and style. He made the keyboard sing with great tone both fast and slow on "Kansas City." Cornbread proved he can still rock it out with his driving piano on "Can You Dance." Cornbread may be 76, yet the dean of Twin Cities piano players looked and sounded sharp.
Taking the stage next was pianist / songwriter John McAndrew, a part-time resident who splits his home between the Twin Cities and Nashville. John kicked it off with strong, expressive playing on the slow rolling blues of the appropriately titled "Steam Roller Blues." John showed good rhythm and style on piano, with strong, expressive vocals. In a classy move, John dedicated a song to Cornbread, playing the beautiful blues classic, "Bring It on Home to Me." His great, slow, soulful playing with nice tone made for an affectionate tribute. John featured "Give Me New Eyes," to close things out his set. He mentioned he is shopping this around to various national artists, including Bonnie Raitt. This beautiful, soulful ballad proves that John's greatest talent may be as a songwriter. Yet his solid keyboard work and haunting vocals made for a strong finish.
Tim Belden and his band the Alphalfa Males then took stage for a mix of music that would have covered everything if he had thrown in a little classical. Tim's fast, high-end piano on the country swing of "Missing the Missus Again" provided energy and solid keyboard sound. Tim also played some solid, mid-tempo blues, boogie woogie, and country rock. But his polka, where he strapped on his accordion for some great driving playing on "Rock and Rolly" was the most unique song of the night for a blues piano show. Tim showed off fast, furious piano blues on his set closer, the catchy double-shuffle "Do the Mess Around."
Tim Wick of the Reneé Austin Band then brought the Show Dogs up for some solid piano blues. Tim has good tone, solid rhythm and a strong, expressive style on the keyboard that makes for a good blues sound. His husky, growling vocals are also just right for the blues. He showed off his boogie woogie piano skills and his vocals on "Boogie Woogie Woman." Tim's hip inflection and solid piano rhythms made for great up-tempo blues.
Dave Hupp then held stage with an assist from harmonica / vocalist Joe T. Cook. While his piano often seemed to be more in support than leading, Dave played solid piano that was subtle yet rich and expressive. On the blues classic "Red Rooster" he played solid, strong, and expressively while singing with an understated, clear style. Dave's nice, fast, low range playing was crisp and clear on "Feel Like Crying." He sounds like a solid ensemble player, his piano blending well with Joe's solid harp and vocals on several numbers.
John Beach closed out the night with authentic, gut-bucket piano blues and vocals with his solo set. John brought his shouting vocals and strong, energetic hammering of the keyboard to "Midnight Blues." His dark, atmospheric playing and singing transported you to a wet, dark deserted street in the big city. This was powerful, simple blues at its most basic and raw emotional level. Appearances can be deceiving, as John's thin, worn physique contains a whole lot of fire, energy, and great music. His strong, forceful playing on "We Reap Just What We Sow" provided great old blues. This master of the keyboard knows and feels the blues and can connect with his audience on a gut and heart level.
Whiskey does a great job on these show case nights, keeping things moving. The talent, cooperation, and humor of the musicians help immensely. Be sure to look for the next blues extravaganza on a Monday night. You might lose some sleep, but it's well worth it to be able to see and hear so many talented local musicians.
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