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Bayfront Blues Festival
Day Three
Sunday, August 16, 1998
(Minneapolis Gospel Sound, The Persuasions, Lavelle White, Mick Sterling, The Butanes backing Tommy Ridgley and Robert Ward, Tommy Castro, Jimmie Vaughan.)
A torrential downpour threatened the festival Sunday morning but ended up only delaying the start time by about 40 minutes. It had stopped raining by about 11AM and the grounds were soaked but the blues spirits were high.

Future MGS singers
Photo © 1998 by Ray Stiles. All rights reserved
Loyal blues fans arrived with umbrellas and rain gear ready to brave any kind of weather.

Minneapolis Gospel Sound has been the traditional Sunday morning opening act for the past few years at Bayfront and they definitely know how to get things cooking. They are a group of lively, spirited, gifted musicians who deliver the gospel message with rockin' rhythm and blues music. With their funk, gospel and energized R&B, they know just what it takes to help get the blood flowing again in the weary third-day festival fans. At one point one of the singers said, "ain't no seat belts on your chairs," as he encouraged the early crowd to get up and dance, which to my surprise, many did.

Joe Russell & The Persuasions
Photo © 1998 by Tom Asp. All rights reserved
The Persuasions were definitely one of the surprise highlights of the weekend. Formed over 35 years ago on the street corners of New York, four of the original five members are still together delivering wonderful a cappella singing like no one else. They started off with an amazing version of Sam Cooke's "Chain Gang" (remember there are no instruments here just 5 powerful voices). Referring to the early morning rain and cloudy skies, one of them said, "don't worry about the rain. We bring sunshine wherever we go," as they started a stirring version of " Peace in the Valley". During the song the sun began to peek through the clouds and guess what? It DID clear up and we had another great weather day for the blues. They sang a wide variety of songs covering gospel, soul, R&B, blues, popular music and country, prefacing each non blues song saying, "this is a cappella blues." Songs like Elvis' "Return To Sender", the country "Elvira" and the R&B classic "Precious Love" were all done in stunning 5 part harmony. These guys sang their hearts out. Joe Russell then jumped down off the five foot stage, climbed over the railing and wandered out into the audience as he sang "Under The Boardwalk" to the total delight of the excited fans. Joe kept switching parts during the song even hitting those eye-popping high notes. This was a show stopping moment that I'm sure will be recalled by those who were there many years to come.

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The Persuasions

Lavelle White
Photo © 1998 by Tom Asp. All rights reserved
Miss Lavelle White was in very good form today. Her voice was sounding the best I have heard from her and she was in a playful mood talking to the audience between songs as if they were old friends. The wind blew off her colorful hat and as her performance heated up her jacket soon followed. She was moving around the stage in a frisky, perky and playful mood, shaking her booty and teasing the audience. Singing back-alley blues to uptown soul her voice was alternating between shouts and growls, to hitting those smooth, soulful high-notes. Lavelle began performing in the 1950's and was writing hit songs for other R&B singers even before that. Her slower songs have an Irma Thomas quality about them that is as smooth as a lake on a calm day and pure pleasure to listen to. I had an amusing encounter with her earlier in the day at the hotel. I ran into her down by the front desk where they had donuts and coffee. I was waiting as a new box of donuts was being brought out to see if there were any chocolate ones. She looked with me, and seeing none said, "nope, no integrated donuts up here in Duluth."

Mick Sterling
Photo © 1998 by Tom Asp. All rights reserved
Exciting, soulful and always high energy are a few of the words that come to mind when describing a Mick Sterling and the Stud Brothers show. This afternoon's performance was no different. Mitch Woods joined the band on keyboards and the Stud Brothers' honking horn section provided the background for Mick's exuberant singing. But when he quiets things down there are few better at singing an emotional, heart-rending ballad -- "I'm Afraid" for example, was poignantly moving. In addition to singing many of the songs from his most recent album "Nothing Less Than Everything" Mick sang an inspired Van Morrison's "Into The Mystic" receiving a standing ovation at the end. Mick did have to settle, however, for a shorter climb this year, as the speaker stacks were not as high as last year.

Tommy Ridgley
Photo © 1998 by Tom Asp. All rights reserved
Twin Cities' stalwarts The Butanes opened the next set before bringing on New Orleans R&B legend Tommy Ridgley. Ridgley has been recording the blues since the late 1940's and it was a treat to see him healthy and still out there entertaining his fans. He said, "this is the blues ya' all" as he launched into a slow, soulful "Keys to the Highway". With very little preparation and no rehearsal prior to the show Curtis Obeda was busy on stage getting last minute instructions and set list changes from Tommy. He would then pass on the song, key, and tempo to the rest of the band on the fly and they were able to pull off an "almost" seamless performance which is a testament to just how good these guys are. Tommy sang songs from his last album "Since The Blues Began" and other southern soul and rhythm and blues. These were ballads sung directly from his New Orleans heart. Ridgley also joined Robert Ward and The Butanes for the racy finale, "Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On".

Robert Ward
Photo © 1998 by Tom Asp
All rights reserved
Robert Ward then took Tommy's place on stage and proceeded to blow everyone away with his guitar style that is intense, exciting and strikingly original. He has an unbelievable vibrato-soaked guitar sound with a tone just dripping with emotion and oozing with feeling. A friendly man of few words, Robert let his guitar do the talking for him, actually making vocal sounds on the guitar. He said mimicking the voice on his guitar was how he learned to play. Robert's wife Roberta joined in on a stirring rendition of the song "Strictly Reserved For You" from his sensational 1990 album "Fear No Evil". They also sang a moving "Stand By Me" that featured Roberta's southern soul vocals and Robert's inventive and fluidly rhythmic guitar chords. Simply put, Robert Ward's guitar playing tore the place up!

Tommy Castro
Photo © 1998 by Tom Asp. All rights reserved
Tommy Castro took the next stage by storm performing songs from his recent release "Can't Keep A Good Man Down." His set slowly built up steam as he just rolled along playing blues, soul, and rock and roll with a charming intensity and ease that belied his outstanding musicianship. He played a dead-on Buddy Guy's "My Time After Awhile" and easily switched gears as he sang "I'm Just A Man" in the classic Memphis-Stax soul tradition. Castro's soulful vocals combined with his energy and charisma literally leap right out at his audience. His stinging, clean guitar tones can reach a scorching crescendo or be delivered with simple restraint and taste and today he was smoking.

Jimmie Vaughan
Photo © 1998 by Tom Asp
All rights reserved
Texas guitar master Jimmie Vaughan brought the Bayfront Blues Festival to a fitting conclusion. After spending many years with the Fabulous Thunderbirds (which he helped found with Kim Wilson) and often playing in the shadow of his younger brother Stevie Ray, Jimmie has embarked on a solo career that is finally bringing him some long overdue recognition and acclaim. Touring on the release of his new album "Out There", Vaughan and his band put on a solid performance Sunday night. His laid back approach is deceptive as he fires off volley after volley of precise, knife sharp guitar licks. He was on fire this night with his impeccable guitar work played in a savagely lean and clean fashion that was awe-inspiring. I was sitting back quite away from the stage, relaxing after a long weekend of blues, just enjoying his decisive, no-wasted-note guitar sounds floating over the Bayfront Park.

Return to day two of the Bayfront Blues Festival!

Return to day one of the Bayfront Blues Festival!

Return to the introduction of the Bayfront Blues Festival!

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