The weekend of June 9-11, 2000, Chisholm, MN hosted the Fifth Annual Blues On the Range Festival, easily one of the most enjoyable Blues events of the summer. Music started Friday afternoon with Mel Sando providing a very personal and varied musical set to kick off what would be a terrific weekend of Blues! Mel’s first exposure to music was as a drummer, but that instrument didn’t allow him the opportunity to express himself musically. Having been influenced by the music of Roy Buchanan, Lonnie Mack and Albert Collins, Mel picked up a guitar to allow for a more passionate expression of his own music. Following this set American HiP (not misspelled) provided an energetic "all over the map," fun mix of musical styles. Their enthusiasm was contagious as they thoroughly entertained the crowd which was starting to gather for the days remaining performances.
Shawn Pittman took the early evening stage to a crowd of a couple hundred very receptive fans and I’m bettin’ he made many more with this appearance! Shawn’s approach to guitar playing is from a "less is more" approach and though evident from recordings and performances he can incinerate a guitar solo, he’s more comfortable when fronting this rock-solid trio featuring Jeremy Fuller on bass and Jason Moeller on drums. Shawn is currently in the studio rehearsing and putting together demos for an upcoming project. Recently completing contractual obligations, he is talking with several labels.
Following Pittman’s set was Bob Bingham and Gordon Thorne, again this year contributing their unique blend of acoustic and traditionally influenced blues. Always a crowd pleaser, C.J. Chenier closed out Friday with a zydeco/cajun tour-de-force. The dance floor immediately filled as the Louisiana swampsters infectious beat coaxed an enthusiastic crowd into self expression.
Saturday started out rainy and cool, no…cold…but not without hope that the rest of the days weather would match the heat from Azure du Jour who opened the day. North Shore natives are well aware of their ability to fire up a crowd and with the previous nights rain and sloppy beginnings it was almost what was needed to start the second day of performances. They were followed by the Tom Hunter Band whose recently released (1999) "Big Thunder" should be in any Blues fans collection! One of the most interesting improvisational blues pianists around and deft at changing musical tempo and mood, Tom’s set was a welcome diversion from the cool wet weather. Just as Tom was finishing his set the rain subsided and the skies started to clear. Twin Ports (Duluth, MN-Superior, WI) favorites The Slammers kept the crowd entertained with a notable set of high energy, straight-ahead Blues/Blues Rock standards and originals. Cory Harris and company mesmerized the crowd with a blend of various blues styles, rhythmic extemporization and eclectic instrumental folk-funk. Solidly backed on bass by Victor Brown, Johnny Gilmore on drums and on second lead guitar Jamal Millner. This quartet explored many musical styles including Delta blues/folk/roots/funk/reggae/Caribbean styles to name just a few. Corey effectively used a lap steel for about a third of his 90 minute set to add a potent sting to his slide guitar solos. While wandering a bit off the traditional Blues path, he nonetheless demonstrated his understanding of and commitment to the genre as a means of communicating his musical message.
Returning for another appearance this year was native Iron Ranger Paul Metsa with Bob Wilson. Always a Blues On the Range Festival favorite, with both friends as well as fans in attendance Paul crafted an especially memorable set. Rising star guitarist Sean Costello and his band turned in an unforgettably entertaining performance. With Paul Linden on harp/piano, Matt Wauchope on organ/second keyboard, Melvin Zachary handling bass, and Terrence Prather rock-solid on drums. One of highlights of the performance was Paul and Matt together playing a boogie-woogie piano, trading lead and rhythm roles with both the band in accompaniment and just the 2-men sharing the 88’s! The Kinsey Report closed Saturdays line-up with a red hot blues/soul/funk set. One of the most energetic blues bands currently touring is fronted by Donald Kinsey on lead guitar and brothers Ralph on drums and Kenneth on bass. This brother act is extremely talented as musicians/performers and explored a range of R&B/blues styles that had the dance floor packed. As the final notes of their set echoed through the pine trees, the cool northern Minnesota night yielded yet more rain.
Opening the Sunday performance line-up was Paul Holland (Haaland) and Supafuzz, a high energy, hard rockin’ blues trio from the Twin Cities. Having played the upper midwest for nearly twenty years, Paul and company approach the Blues from the Stevie Ray, Jimi, Kenny Wayne point of view. As the Sunday crowd started to arrive the first music of the day was a wake up call to another day of Blues…Minnesota style! No northern Minnesota Blues Fest would be complete without The Busters, a Duluth, MN blues-rock powerhouse and crowd favorite appearing second on Sundays line-up. Texas, West Coast, Chicago and even folk influences combine in a way that any fan of the Blues would find irresistible. Equally at home interpreting classics and standards or performing originals it’s always fun when these guys take the stage. Another local group on Sunday’s schedule was Easy Money; a Blues/R&B/funk/jazz/rock trio who performed mostly originals, but delivered a unique interpretation to blues standards. Watch for them as they tour the upper midwest! The "Zydeco Sweetheart" Rosie Ledet (she pronounces it: la day) introduced her own unique style of traditional zydeco/cajun/creole and swamp boogie to an enthusiastic crowd. A zydeco circuit regular throughout south Louisiana and Texas she served notice "I'll be back" with her first Minnesota Festival appearance.
Originally from Ohio and now calling Minnesota his home, Big John Dickerson and Blue Chamber put on a stunning display of R&B showmanship that demonstrated mastery of his craft. One of the most dynamic touring Blues performers John’s performances always deliver! Concluding Sundays line-up and a fitting end to the Fifth Annual BOTR was Terrence Simien. Born in Louisiana, but not raised listening to native zydeco music, Terrence gradually became hooked as a teen attending local dances. Picking up an accordion for the first time in the early 80’s and collaborating with brother Greg on writing original songs he went on to become an innovative performer of zydeco/cajun music during the last nearly twenty years. Like a New Orleans gumbo, you can hear traces of reggae, gospel, Louisiana traditional, country, blues, jazz and funk in his powerful and entertaining appearances.
Click on names for more pictures:
Big Jack Johnson
Big John Dickerson
Make plans (and reservations!) for next years Sixth Annual Blues On The Range. As this event continues to grow in popularity it will be a MUST for Blues fans from the upper midwest, Canada and Blues fans everywhere wanting a great weekend of music in a relaxing north country setting. See ya there next year!!
This review is copyright © 2000 by TR Marshall, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.