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Bayfront Blues Festival
Day One
Friday, August 14, 1998
(Azure Du Jour, Port Authority, Mitch Woods, Lamont Cranston, Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater, Anson Funderburgh w/Sam Myers, Charlie Musselwhite, Robben Ford. Click on these links to read a profile of the artist. PAGE DOWN to read the review.)

Creative chair marker
Photo © 1998 by Tom Asp. All rights reserved
Friday got off to a noteworthy start with one of the largest first day crowds in the festival's history. Blues fans arrived early to stake out their spots in front of the two stages and you could tell by the large number of people they were definitely there for the weekend and didn't want to miss one performance. It was sunny with a clear sky and a refreshing breeze off Lake Superior after a good rain the previous night. People were also gearing up for the "unofficial" lawn chair marker contest. As the crowds begin to swell throughout the weekend it becomes pretty hard to locate your spot in the sea of people and chairs, so many fans have made an art form out of marking their spot with chair markers. Usually attached to the tops of long fishing poles, old sticks and even wooden posts, are markers and flags of every variety -- from the simple to the silly, and the curious to the creative. There were various flags (including one from the 9th green), toys, pictures, a foxtail, assorted windsocks, Gumby, and one of my favorites, the perennial plunger. The Duluth News-Tribune even conducted an "unofficial" contest giving out an award on Sunday to the "best" chair marker.

Randy Anderson
Photo © 1998 by Ray Stiles
All rights reserved
The winner went to "Taconite Man", a taconite pellet figure on a stick complete with hard hat and pick. Not everyone had a spot in front of the stages either. There were even people listening to the music sitting in their boats out on the water.

Tradition has it that a local Twin Ports band kicks off the festival and Azure du Jour was up to the task offering up a diverse mixture of blues from the traditional to contemporary. Randy Anderson's powerful guitar playing, firmly rooted in the blues, helped shake the cobwebs out of the late morning crowd and get them into the mood for a weekend of blues.

Photo © 1998 by Tom Asp. All rights reserved
Port Authority was up next on the bayside Michelob stage. They are an eight-piece horn driven band who started off their set with some slow, smoky blues featuring the dynamic and gritty vocals of lead singer J.T. They played some blues, funk, R&B and classic rock (Janice Joplin and "Different Strokes").

Mitch Woods
Photo © 1998 by Tom Asp
All rights reserved
I had seen all but 4 of the national acts before so was wondering just how good a festival this was really going to be. By the time the third set rolled around that thought never entered my mind again. After the lively and crowd-pleasing opening sets by Azure du Jour and Port Authority we saw one of the highlights of the first day with Mitch Woods and His Rocket 88's. Woods, a Brooklyn born, California residing piano player, did all but set the downtown side Famous Dave's stage on fire with his boogie-woogie, jump, and second-line keyboard pounding. It was simply amazing! They covered a variety of styles from west coast swing, to New Orleans second-line, to classic Chicago blues and some very hot boogie-woogie piano. The highly "visual" five-piece band really rocked the joint. These guys were on fire. The saxophone and guitar players had their own little rhythm thing going on and Mitch Woods' piano playing was versatile, playful, skillful and entertaining. Highlights of the set included the band's namesake song "Rocket 88" and "House of Blue Lights". See Interview with Mitch Woods.

Ted Larsen, Pat Hayes
Photo © 1998 by Tom Asp. All rights reserved
Former saxophone player Larry McDonald and exceptional keyboard player of Tom Hunter joined Pat Hayes and the Lamont Cranston Blues Band for this show. The band, which now has 5 of its original members on board again, will celebrate their 30th anniversary next year. Today they were already gearing up for that milestone by playing a high energy set of rocking blues that has defined them as one of the top blues bands in the region for the past three decades. Highlights of the set included the fat sound of the triple tenor saxophone attack of Jim Greenwell, Rick O'Dell & McDonald, the guitar duo between Hayes and Ted Larsen and the "bouncing" harp playing of Pat Hayes.

Eddy Clearwater
Photo © 1998 by Tom Asp. All rights reserved
"Who loves ya (baby)?" Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater can be heard asking that question several times during any performance and it's not just a throwaway, banal statement, he really means it. His van's license plate even reads "WHO LUV 1". "The Chief" strided on stage wearing his trademark American Indian headdress but the breeze was blowing too strong and he had to keep adjusting it. He only wears it for one song anyway but it's always fun to see the colorful pageantry. The tall, lanky southpaw Clearwater plays his guitar upside down like one of his heroes Otis Rush (he also did Rush's "All Your Love"). Eddy started playing guitar as a youth in the south (playing with the Five Bind Boys of Alabama) before moving to Chicago in 1950 when he was 15. He played rock and roll early on after hearing Little Richard, Fats Domino and Chuck Berry (even patterning some of his guitar licks and stage performance after Berry). After meeting Magic Sam, Otis Rush and the other west side players however, Clearwater fell in love with the blues and has been performing worldwide ever since. Eddy's guitar playing featured a little country, gospel, rock and roll and a whole lot of blues, from the rapid-fire attack of Freddie King to the down home Chicago blues of Muddy Waters. Recovering from triple heart by-pass surgery a year and a half ago Clearwater may not be able to do everything he used to do on stage (he was only able to do a modified "duck-walk" on the Chuck Berry classic "Maybellene") but he does come close. He always puts 100% into his performance, playing directly from his heart. And the crowd definitely returned his love. See Interview with Eddy Clearwater.

Anson Funderburgh
Photo © 1998 by Tom Asp. All rights reserved
Anson's wife Renee' joined Anson Funderburgh and Sam Myers on stage as they began their set. She sang briefly prior to Sam coming out. The enigmatic Myers, decked out in a brilliant purple suit, was in excellent form. His voice was strong, his harp playing was powerful and he was in very good humor. Anson's guitar playing is always rock-solid and exciting to watch and this dynamic duo from Texas put on one of the better shows I have seen them do. Go to Sam Myers picture

Charlie Musselwhite
Photo © 1998 by Tom Asp. All rights reserved
What can you say about Charlie Musselwhite? He has such a rich musical background. Growing up on the streets of Memphis he learned from the blues masters of Beale Street and played an important role in Chicago during the 1960's bringing the blues to a new generation of young white audiences. He opened his set solo at Bayfront sitting down playing some deep delta and Memphis blues on guitar and harmonica. Always laid back and casual, Charlie has a sharp sense of humor and a natural rapport with his audiences. Prior to his set someone commented on his snappy looking shoes. He said "Yeah, I paid $7 for them. Guess it's just habit from my days of having to buy clothes at thrift stores." Musselwhite put on one of the better performances of the day with the highlight being his faultless and complex virtuoso harmonica solos.

Robben Ford
Photo © 1998 by Tom Asp. All rights reserved
Robben Ford closed out the first day at Bayfront with one of his "jaw-dropping" performances. The cool breeze had picked up and was blowing in off the lake whipping his long hair back from his boyish face like his was driving 90 miles an hour in an open convertible. Ford's guitar playing can be summed up in one word -- remarkable! His solos were mesmerizing as he easily captured the attention and imagination of the huge Friday night audience. Ford's guitar playing subtleties and improvisational approach lean toward his strong jazz influences and his natural, good natured stage presence creates a direct link with his audience. The real magic of music is a communication with your audience said Ford and we could certainly feel that vibration Friday night. There couldn't have been a better ending to this first day of blues.

Go to day two of the Bayfront Blues Festival!

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Copyright © 1998 by Ray M. Stiles
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, or any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.