BAM Fest III was once again held in their beautiful community park which is completely surrounded by water from the river and the lake. In the past many great names have played there. This year was no different, with Sonny Landreth headlining Friday and Jeremy Spencer playing in the U.S. on this tour for the first time in nearly 36 years.
Locally based nearby band The Crashers was finishing their energetic set as we arrived. Their set list included originals as well as covers by Hendrix and other blues rock luminaries. Before them Queenie and The Blue Cats and Aarron Williams and The Hoodoo warmed up a cool, damp afternoon with some energetic, hard played blues according to the fans in attendance. Next up was another local band, Joel Pingetoret and Livin’ Will, featuring a hot young blues guitar player surrounded by a veteran band on B-3, drums, and bass. Joel played some tasty blues guitar, including covers of Stevie Ray Vaughn and Hendrix. Locals say he has been progressing rapidly in his playing and expect he will only get better as he matures.
In the late afternoon Michigan bluesman Larry McCray hit the stage with his brother Steven on drums, a bass man and B-3 player. Overall his set had more funk and jazz elements than blues, but his original soulful blues song "For the Broken Promises" provided some nice, grinding dance music that got couples up to dance. Uptempo funk songs like "Gotta Get Your Blues On" had people up and out of their lawn chairs to dance.
One of the co-headliners, West Coast bluesman Robben Ford took the stage for a rare Midwest appearance. The former Charlie Musselwhite guitarist has been providing hot, innovative guitar riffs for three decades now. His guitar riffs have always had a jazz edge, and he has played with several legendary jazz men. On this tour Robben promotes and features songs from his new CD, Truth, many of which are tributes to the blues guitarists that came before him. "Riley B. King" incorporates some distinctive B. B. King style riffs in his heartfelt tribute to the King of the Blues. "Cannonball Shuffle" provides hot, stinging Texas blues guitar in his tribute to Freddy King. Only backed by bass and drums, Robben gave the crowd a whole lot of blues from different eras and styles. He ended with a tribute to Paul Butterfield and Mike Bloomfield on his passionate playing and singing on "Lovin' Cup."
In his first appearance in 36 years, Fleetwood Mac co-founder and legendary lead guitarist Jeremy Spencer was back, with 4 Norwegians and a drummer from Chicago in his band. He never quit playing guitar, but had moved to Norway, and had released a couple of religious albums over the years. Finally one of Europe's top promoters convinced him to play one of the continent's largest blues fests, held in Norway. Backed by veteran, solid musicians, some of whom had played together 25 years, it was in immediate success. The album that followed was nominated for a Blues Foundation award last year in Memphis. The same group that played on the CD flew over to do just 4 dates in the U.S. The 6 piece ensemble included rhythm guitar, drums, harmonica / mandolin, bass, and keyboards. Many selections from his comeback CD, Precious Little, were given special treatment.
Opening with "Bitter Lemon Blues," Jeremy showed off his tasteful, controlled slide sound. He gets such sweet sounds on his Norwegian made guitar, Mona, that you feel your going back in time to when Elmore James, Homesick James, and other older masters of slide still ruled this area of blues. Between songs Jeremy educated the crowd by asking blues trivia questions, which increased in difficulty. On “It Hurts Me Too” Jeremy had his sweet, sad slide wailing out over the crowd. “Secret Sorrow had him doing some beautiful singing in addition to his wonderful slide guitar. This is a veteran band that does not need to play over the top or play flashy; they just bring you great blues while playing in the pocket and playing together. Jeremy’s signature slide wowed the crowd all night long and gave the festival a rousing finish.
BAM Fest is a local fundraiser. The intimacy of the shows, top-notch talent, and the ability to interact with all of the performers (everyone was selling and signing) makes for a fun two day festival that is both family and hard-core blues friendly. Promoter Geof Wilborn talked about eventually expanding to two stages and more bands. Thanks to Geof, the community of Belleville, the Chamber of Commerce, and all the local volunteers who make this fun event happen and make strangers friends as Jeremy sang in “No More Strangers Blues.”