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Bayfront Blues Festival
Day Two
Saturday, August 15, 1998
(Delta Resonators, Big Walter Smith, Susan Tedeschi, Shawn Pittman, Johnny "Yard Dog" Jones, Magic Slim & The Teardrops, Lonnie Brooks, Tyrone Davis. Click on these links to read a profile of the artist. Below, click on the links for more pictures of musicians.)
Saturday saw the largest crowds of the weekend, more perfect weather and what turned out to be the best day of blues I have seen and heard in a long time. Whether I was watching a performer for the first time or the tenth, all eight acts this day put on a show that was both memorable and the best I have seen them do.

Mark Levitt & Mel Sando
Photo © 1998 by Tom Asp. All rights reserved
There couldn't have been a better opening act to kick off the day than Mel Sando and the Delta Resonators. This Twin Ports blues band led by the "outgoing" Mel Sando quickly grabbed everyone's attention. Mel, who started playing guitar just ten years ago during the first year of this festival, said it has been his dream for ten years to play on stage at the Bayfront Blues Festival. Well today that dream came true in a big way. He not only "just played" on stage, Mel Sando and the Delta Resonators electrified and captured the hearts of the audience. This was house-rocking blues played with a fresh vitality and energy featuring harmonica, bass, drums and Mel's electric resonator guitars. His great slide playing on the various resonator guitars created a unique sound that we don't get to hear too often and was really fun to listen to. They played a rousing "Walking Blues" with Mel saying, "Robert Johnson never did it this way." He had the early Saturday crowd clapping along with him and having a good time. Sando has an engaging "Elvis meets Robert Johnson" quality about him and is very animated on stage -- jumping around, shaking his body and displaying a natural warmth and humor that made it very easy for the audience to like and identify with him.

Big Walter Smith
Photo © 1998 by Tom Asp. All rights reserved
Carrying on his "Ambassadorship to the Blues", bestowed on Smith last year by the Mayor of Duluth, Big Walter Smith and the Groove Merchants brought their show to the Bayfront Blues Festival stage for the 10th consecutive year. They are the ONLY band to have performed at all ten festivals and the fans in the northland just love this guy. Big Walter received a standing ovation when he walked on stage -- before he even sang a note. Smith's sweetly soaring vocals are backed by a brassy, rhythm and blues sound featuring a very tight three-piece horn section. Scotty Graves on lead guitar and Paul Wigen on keyboards always turn in an exceptional performance and you can count on the band to help put a little air under your feet.

Susan Tedeschi
Photo © 1998 by Tom Asp
All rights reserved
Wearing tennis shoes, a dress and her great facial expressions, Susan Tedeschi sang and played her heart out to the near capacity crowd Saturday afternoon. She also handled all the guitar duties, as Sean Costello was not with the band for this show. Minus one guitar also allowed other members of the band to step forward and play more than usual. Susan's guitar playing is raw and earthy but it is her singing that really moves her audiences. One of the newer, female blues singers on the scene today, Tedeschi's powerful vocals belie her age and show a maturity usually only gained after a lifetime of performing. She sang a soulful and moving "Angle From Montgomery" and a dynamic "It Hurts Me Too" that had the crowd hanging on the lyrics and shaking their heads in amazement at the quality of her voice. This is a vibrantly fresh new voice of the blues. It didn't go unnoticed either by the audience as she received a huge standing ovation at the conclusion of her set.

Shawn Pittman
Photo © 1998 by Tom Asp
All rights reserved
Not to be outdone by youth or talent, an even younger 22-year-old Shawn Pittman took the next stage by storm. The three-piece group came on looking like a grunge garage-band but sounding like they have been playing stellar roadhouse blues for years. Ron Levy from Cannonball Records joined the group on keyboards and was extolling, with good reason, this young kid's talent. The initial reaction from the audience was a sitting and waiting, "show me what you got kid" attitude. But it didn't take too long for the crowd to realize that they were seeing something special here. Shawn Pittman is one dynamic blues performer. His understated, confident and natural sounding vocals display a feeling that is only surpassed by his intense guitar playing. What impressed me most about his playing was his versatility. He is not just a one-dimensional player, as is often found in younger guitar slingers. His guitar solos can spit and hiss like grease on a hot skillet, his rhythmic chording has the propulsiveness of a seasoned rhythm section and his slower playing shows a substance and emotion not found in some players twice his age. His entire performance was delivered with intensity, spark and feeling that was totally captivating. He played a great R&B sounding "Trouble Came Around" that had the crowd up and cheering. He did a slow blues number showcasing his Texas roots with some tasteful guitar stylings, he then put on his slide and proceeded to amaze the crowd with his Elmore James like licks and veracity. He played a Jimmy Reed sounding song that was true to the style and sound, and then pulled out an old Guitar Slim classic with a solo similar to "Things That I Used To Do" that was dead on the money. This kid has done his homework and is definitely heading in the right direction. Go to picture of Ron Levy

Johnny "Yard Dog" Jones
Photo © 1998 by Tom Asp. All rights reserved
Johnny "Yard Dog" Jones opened his set blowing a traditional sounding harp and also had Ron Levy joining him on keyboards. Ron was doing double duty today rushing from one stage to the next to get behind the ivories in time for the show. Jones, who adopted the nickname "Yard Dog" about 17 years ago, compares himself to a fenced in dog he once knew who finally jumped the fence and broke out of the circumstances he found himself in. Forging a new path in the blues has paid off with some well-deserved recognition for Jones who won the prestigious W.C. Handy award in 1998 for best new blues artist. Jones plays and sings a gritty, down-in-the-alley style of blues that features both his harmonica and solid blues guitar. He has a raw, emotional style reminiscent of the Butler Twins, also from Detroit, who played at Bayfront last year. See the Johnny "Yard Dog" Jones Interview.

Magic Slim & Michael Dotson
Photo © 1998 by Tom Asp. All rights reserved
I have never been disappointed by a Magic Slim performance. There have been times I wished he would have played more but he has consistently delivered entertaining, top-notch shows. Maybe the music, or the style, or the show wasn't perfect but it was always "real" sounding, in-your-face blues. This show was no different. Magic Slim and the Teardrops is the quintessential Chicago bar room blues band. Slim's gutbucket guitar playing and gruff vocals have an inspired, rough and ready, shoot from the hip quality that is both appealing and rattling. Magic "Morris Holt" Slim, along with his brother Nick Holt on bass, tower over the band and are always ready to play and party (both before and after a show). The first thing Slim said when he arrived backstage prior to his set and was asked what he wanted to drink was, "give me a whiskey or gin." He seemed genuinely disappointed when he found out there was only beer. Michael Dotson, the second guitar player in the Teardrops, said with a grin he was surprised Slim didn't have it put in his contract like he has been know to do in the past (have whiskey available for him). Later you could see Nick Holt out dancing in front of the Lonnie Brooks stage just like one of fans. These guys are simply the best at what they do -- playing unrefined and unadulterated electric Chicago bar room blues.

Ronnie, Lonnie, Wayne, Biscuit
Photo © 1998 by Tom Asp. All rights reserved
Lonnie Brooks just about stole the show on Saturday with his extremely engaging and entertaining stage presence. His two sons, Wayne and Ronnie and the two Minnesota boys accompanied him (Biscuit on bass and Toby Marshall on keyboards, along with "Howdy" Doody on drums). At one point he joked about a book his son Wayne was writing called "Blues for Dummies". That should be interesting. The inevitable photo opportunity time came near the end of their set when all three Brooks' and Biscuit were hamming it up and playing each other's guitars. Lonnie has been a mainstay on the Chicago and Texas blues scenes for more than 45 years and you can always count on him to deliver a real crowd-pleasing performance. He couldn't do his traditional walk-about the audience like he does in a club setting but he was out on the mini runway at the side of the stage having as much fun as the audience.

Tyrone Davis
Photo © 1998 by Ray Stiles. All rights reserved
The final act for Saturday night was Chicago soul legend Tyrone Davis. I like the fact that the Bayfront people are bringing in a variety of blues, soul, and R&B performers. Davis is one of those soul entertainers who has spent the past 30 years on what was called the "chitlin'" circuit and therefore not widely known among white blues audiences. You may remember hearing some of his hits on the radio but most people have not had the opportunity to see him perform and listen to his polished soul and R&B stylings. He has always had a huge female following, singing about love and relationships and this night he WAS the definition of "cool" -- he even had a few swooning ladies up front. Backed by his smooth, elegant eight-piece band Davis sang many of his hits including "Turn Back The Hands Of Time", "Turning Point" and "Turn It Loose". He sang several of these hits early on setting the "mood" for this huge Saturday night crowd. This was sweet soul music sung by one of the premier stylists of the genre. He sang a very soulful "For The Good Times" and as the sun was setting in the west his sonorous soul sounds were washing over the audience and floating across the night air. This was a delightfully calming and relaxing way to end a remarkable day of blues.

Go to day three 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.