Bayfront Blues Festival
Duluth, MN, August 8-10, 1997

Performers on day one: Azure Du Jour, Lamont Cranston, Johnnie Bassett, Kelley Hunt, The Butler Twins, Bobby Rush, Corey Stevens, The Blind Boys of Alabama

The whole city of Duluth gets behind the annual Bayfront Blues festival. In its ninth year it has grown from one day and about 6 thousand people to a three day event with an estimated attendance this year of 55,000 to 60,000 blues fans. Three days of blues with 23 bands on the picturesque shores of Lake Superior - what more could you ask for? After the festival the music continued in the twin ports of Duluth and Superior with most of the clubs featuring blues bands each night. This allowed the fans to celebrate into the wee hours of the morning. The Bayfront Festival Park was expanded this year opening up more space for vendors and fans. The weather, except for some rain in Saturday was perfect.

The festival has two large stages set up at an angle from each other at opposite ends of the festival grounds right on the shoreline. The event is set up so the music alternates between the two stages with about 10 minutes between each set. This allows the fans time to get to the next show and not miss any of the great blues performances. Unlike some other festivals that have multiple shows going on at the same time, at Duluth the fans are a captive audience. They gain exposure to some great blues, soul, gospel and R&B from some of the best in local and national talent that they might not normally have listened to. Obviously there is always room for improvement but this was a relaxed paced, well run event.

Young blues fan w/homemade guitar!
8/8/97 - Bayfront Blues Festival
Photo © 1997 by Tom Asp
All rights reserved
The blues fans who come to Duluth for this annual event are some of the nicest people around -- a great, receptive audiences of loyal blues fans who make each artist feel right at home in northern Minnesota. Many of the fans have made an art-form out of attending the festival. Some set up their lawn chairs half way between the two stages and just get up and turn their chairs around after each set, content to listen to the great music as it floats overhead while the large ships float by in the harbor. Some fans just pick their chairs up and make the walk between stages every hour and a half. Other fans bring two sets of chairs and set them up at each stage staking out their territory before hand. With the sea of chairs to get lost in many fans have devised some creative ways of locating their chairs. Long sticks, fishing poles and tree branches are attached to the backs of many of the chairs with an interesting assortment of flags and markers on top. Some of the best markers: a skull from some animal, an old hockey stick, gumby, the Canadian flag, a plunger, a windsock, various toys and dolls (some kids must have been missing some toys) and "taconite" man. It was fun watching new markets sprout up each day.

Friday - Day One

Azure Du Jour
Tradition at Bayfront is to open the event with a local blues band to show the growing international crowd that Duluth is home to some great blues talent. Azure Du Jour, a new group of seasoned and accomplished musicians opened this years festival. This trio, featuring Jim Hall on Bass, Randy Anderson on guitar and Joe Lindzius on drums offered up some classic blues from Robert Johnson to Willie Dixon.

Pat "Lamont" Hayes - August 8, 1997
Bayfront Blues Festival
Photo © 1997 by Tom Asp
All rights reserved
Lamont Cranston
Pat Hayes and The Lamont Cranston Blues Band have been performing raucous, bar-room blues since the late 1960's, recording a dozen albums during that time and thrilling a generation of blues fans. Perennial favorites at the Bayfront Blues Festival, they have always held down this early afternoon spot on the first day to attract a large early audience and get them in "the mood." Chuck Solberg opened the show with some of the best barrel house piano played on stage today. Pat Hayes came out during the second song with his trade mark shades, energetic bounce and bowling league shirt, blowing harp on some classic Muddy Waters blues. Pat's aggressive harmonica playing displays energy and spunk as he blows a freshness into the music with a definite up beat flavor. The horn section added a big band sound and more versatility to the music. When Pat picks up his guitar, watch out! He attacks his pink guitar with a vengeance and intensity unequaled by anyone. Always a guarantee to get any crowd up and dancing, Lamont Cranston delivered the goods and really heated things up for the rest of the day.

Johnnie Bassett - August 8, 1997
Bayfront Blues Festival
Photo © 1997 by Tom Asp
All rights reserved
Johnnie Bassett
A Detroit blues legend who plays smooth, jazzy guitar in the tradition of T. Bone Walker delivered some laid back blues on the next set. Bassett's expressive guitar playing and gritty, world-weary vocals was a nice change of pace after coming from the intense heat of the high octane performance of Lamont Cranston. The crowed was settling in and letting Bassett's silky guitar stylings sink in while they enjoyed the cool breeze blowing in from the lake. Several songs into his set he had captured our hearts.

Kelley Hunt
Piano pounder extraordinaire. Kelley Hunt is a very expressive performer who knows how to entertain and get an audience riled up. She exhibited some great, strong vocals on some of her slower songs and had the crowd on their feet for most of her show. She performed a medley at the end of her set that was totally captivating and was rewarded with a rousing standing ovation from the appreciative, swelling mid-afternoon crowd. (See interview in the September issue of the TCBN's).

The Butler Twins
With a sound right out of 1950's Chicago, Detroit's Butler Twins brought everyone back to the basics. Their music seems untouched by time as they delivered down-home, gut-bucket blues with strong Delta and early electric Chicago influences. Clarence and Curtis Butler have been playing the blues all their life and the deep toned harmonica blowing of Clarence brings up comparisons to the sounds of Big Walter Horton and Sony Boy Williamson. Kenny Parker, on lead guitar, plays in that Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers, Robert Lockwood style that is as close to the authentic Chicago blues as you can get without taking a time machine back to 1954 Chicago. One of the songs they performed, "Might As Well", from their new Cannonball album, was almost like hearing an early unreleased recording of Jimmy Rogers and Little Walter.

Bobby Rush - August 8, 1997
Bayfront Blues Festival
Photo © 1997 by Tom Asp
All rights reserved
Bobby Rush
Bobby Rush was one of the surprises of the festival. This veteran 62 year old road warrior has been playing the blues since the 1950's. His first band was called Bobby Rush and the Four Jivers. He said all they were interested in at the time was getting girls. A young Freddie King happened to be his guitar player (along with Robert Plunket and Willie James). Later, a 17 year old Luther Allison got his start in Bobby Rush's band. Bobby used to play bass and hoist Luther up on his shoulders while Luther played guitar. During this time one of Rush's best friends was Little Walter. He related an amusing story about a trip the two of them took after Little Walter was shot in the leg by his wife and recovering with a bad limp. Bobby drove Little Walter's car and Walter said he didn't have any money because of the problems he was having at home. Bobby, who only had a few bucks of his own, felt bad for his friend and bought the gas with the last of his money. Later, when they stopped at a club and wanted to buy some drinks Bobby said they were out of luck. Walter said he was just putting Bobby on and took him out to the car and told him to open the trunk. The trunk was filled with cash! Mostly one dollar bills, but to Bobby it seemed like a fortune.

His custom touring bus has "King of the Road" painted on the side. Bobby Rush has to be one of the hardest working performers on tour today. He said that in the past 41 years of playing he has only had 7 weeks off. His long time friend and drummer has had only 2 weeks off in 18 years of playing with Rush. Now that's dedication, loyalty and commitment.

The Bobby Rush performance at Bayfront was flamboyant, soulful and definitely entertaining. His revue consists of two female and one male dancer plus his band who accompany his singing and harmonica playing. Constant costume changes, bump and grind dancing, and lots of hip shaking kept most of the crowd's attention. Some in the crowd didn't know what to make of his show though. This was some funky soul/blues normally played on the "chitlin" circuit to all black audiences. So there were some there who just loved his performance and others who packed up and left for the other stage early.

Rush draws the crowd to him with his high energy, rich vocals and bawdy tales of life. He sings to the audience, not at them, working hard to get the crowd involved in his storytelling songs. His performed a variety of music including some funk, soul, R&B and straight ahead blues. When he brought out his harmonica it was all 1950's Chicago blues - really great stuff. Bobby Rush is a first class showman and versatile performer who has my vote for one of the surprise acts of the weekend.

Corey Stevens - August 8, 1997
Bayfront Blues Festival
Photo © 1997 by Tom Asp
All rights reserved
Corey Stevens
You could tell the Friday night crowd was here to see Corey Stevens. No one was sitting during his show. This former school teacher burst on the music scene a few years ago with the release of his first album "Blue Drops Of Rain" and has been touring ever since to sold out shows all over the country. Stevens combines the best of rock and blues and delivers his searing guitar solos with a deep felt passion. He can play hard rock to slow-burning blues and knows how to bring just the right combination to the stage that lights the fire under any crowd. One of his instrumentals was so mesmerizing that he had the sea of bodies in the audience swaying back and forth to his melodious blues/rock guitar while the waves of Lake Superior were keeping time in the background.

The Blind Boys of Alabama
The revival meeting started Friday night at this year's festival - they didn't wait until the usual Sunday morning gospel spot. What a way to end the first day of blues and kick off a weekend of stellar performances. This was the first time for the Blind Boys in Duluth and they were determined to leave a lasting impression on the fans. As Clarence Fountain said, "when we leave you'll know we been here." Well that was an understatement. Vocalists Clarence Fountain, Jimmy Carter, and drummer Eric McKiny are the 3 remaining blinds boys and were joined by Joey Williams, whose guitar playing really accentuated the music, Bobby Butler on bass, Donald Dillon and road manager Lamont Blunt. Blunt was on stage to make sure Jimmy didn't get too close to the edge of the stage and fall off. It looked like he was going to a few times.

The Blind Boys began with the spiritual "Lord Remember Me" and set the stage for some remarkable deep harmony gospel singing. These guys have been pilgrims on the gospel highway for nearly sixty years and their song "Deep River" started a cappella and featured fantastic harmony -- so rich, deep and full. And when I say "deep" I mean these guys were waaaaaaaay down in the basement.

Clarence Fountain, the leader of the group, said, "we don't mind getting ugly for the Lord," as they launched into a gritty "If I had A Hammer" that had the crowd up jumping, clapping and dancing. At times they were like puppet masters pulling the strings on the marionette making the audience move in unison with them. Clarence Fountain's rich vocals were astounding but Jimmy Carter was the show stopper this night. Near the end of their set Jimmy was lowered from the stage out into the audience to do some "witnessing" and "oh-so-fine" singing that just about blew the top off the place (if there was a top to blow off).

For additional photos by Patrice Bartling go to: Bayfront Photos Day 1

Go to: Bayfront Blues Festival - Day Two

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Copyright © 1997 by Ray M. Stiles
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