The recently renovated Strand Theater in Marietta, GA proved to be a good starting ground for the Atlanta Blues Society Blues Festival held on October 17th. The Atlanta Blues Society has not held blues festivals in the last few years. So it was time they tested the waters.
Because there was no publicity campaign or serious promotional backing, the quaint small theater was sparsely attended. Only four acts were on the bill. But the entertainment was solid enough that you felt you got your money's worth.
Kicking off things was Atlanta's Soul Shakers who have been getting a lot of work playing around the local club circuit in Atlanta. Their style of Stax and soul sounds mixed with elements of Chicago blues was a nice way of getting the crowd warmed up.
Local area favorite Lola Gulley came up next. Worthy of being signed to Alligator Records, the young lady with her keyboard playing packs enough soul in emotionally charged vocals that you might as well have Aretha Franklin preaching to the congregation. From tear-jerking ballads to blues shoutouts, Gulley has enough stage presence to hold an audience and never let go.
The late John Belushi patterned himself after singer Curtis Salgado. It's easy to see why. Curtis might have been the sole act which stole it all. In dapper dress and Blues Brothers shades, Salgado epitomized the true essence of Windy City Blues. Blues Traveler's John Popper might have cringed in fear because the times Curtis played harmonica, he can hold his own when the band got down and jammed.
Finally The Bobby Rush Revue finished things off.
To call Bobby a blues-man is stretching things too far. With his notorious big butt women gracing the stage and frequently changing into risque costumes, it's a vaudeville act with Rush being a comedian singer. His section in the festival was more like James Brown theater. There's no denying in ways it was entertaining with Bobby's dirty humor and sexual innuendo. His Michael Jackson moonwalks across the stage were lots of fun. In some respects, you can see where today's rappers and wannabees take their ques from Rush. It's just hard to see where he fits in the context of a blues festival.
For this journalist, spending a 50th birthday among great friends at this kind of gathering was pleasurable. It should serve as a reference point that for future blues shows that the blues society puts on, that serious advertising goes a long way to attracting the masses.