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Battle of the Blues Bands
@ Fort Lauderdale, FL, July 25 & 26, 1998
by Gloria Pierce
The sounds came across the streets and sidewalks onto Powerline Road. The sounds of Blues and the passion of this music spread through the neighborhood off of Commercial Boulevard from the Mars Parking lot on Saturday and Sunday, July 25 & 26. This was the Battle of the Blues Bands - a competition for slots on the local stages of the November 6-7-8 Sound Advice Fort Lauderdale Blues Festival. People started gathering for the free party around the two stages on two sides of the Mars Music Store Parking lot. Mars provided all the equipment for no charge and this of course enabled the 53 bands scheduled to play for 20 minutes each - for the music to go non-stop for 2 days with hardly a hitch. I don't think I have ever seen any music event of this scope run so smoothly. The Gods were with them too, not a drop of rain.

The judges were totally bi-partisan - members of the Tampa Blues Society, the owner of Skippers Smokehouse in Tampa, and members of the Orlando Blues Society. All people who love the blues and who were in no way connected to the local bands here.

I saw and heard at least 50 of the 53 bands that played on Saturday and Sunday. Where did I ever get the notion that there was a lack of talented blues musicians and bands in South Florida? This event pulled together bands, got some re-ignited and gave us all an opportunity to see what is really out there. And what a wonderful surprise we had. The quality far surpassed my best expectations.

Something became very clear by Sunday - many of the bands I was seeing for the first time had so much stage presence, showmanship, and above all enthusiasm and excitement. They were thrilled to be there - on the stage - and that emotion is contagious to the audience. Those of us at this Battle of the Blues Bands have discovered a new breed of blues players and fans. And we have linked with the blues societies and blues lovers from other parts of Florida. What a wonderful time and what a wonderful shared experience. I for one am thrilled to have been there, been involved, and thrilled with all my new blues friends.

I have picked a few of my favorites from the 2 days. I need to apologize to some others because the 20-minute changes were swift and often I couldn't fully catch a set while I was talking to a band that had just finished. But I truly did my best to see and hear them all.

Agnes (Lady "A" Arra on harp and vocals fronts the Lady "A" Blues Band from Islamorada. On Saturday afternoon, this band brought the entire crowd to the stage. Lady "A" and husband Ric on guitar, transplanted from New York City, started with Rock and Roll bands in High School together. Now some 20 years later, this Puerto Rican beauty and her Italian husband bring their soul to the blues. Lady "A" also DJ's a local radio show which showcases local blues bands.

Quickly following Lady "A" was Theresa Lindstrom & T.C. Blue - a 6-piece band from West Palm Beach. They drew excitement from the crowd with all-original material, slide guitar, and great twangy vocals from Ms. Lindstrom.

Pleasantly surprised by Fleet Starbuck's opening number - a cappella style as if singing gospel out from a Cotton-field. This 3-piece incarnation was highly accomplished, full of soul and Fleet as usual - albeit in his new toned down look - still full of stage presence and style. His voice was strong, guitar with slide inventive. And as expected from Fleet - superior musicians in the band.

Boatyard Blues Band - How did I ever miss these guys in Fort Lauderdale? They can really entertain - so much energy and excitement on the stage. Mike "Torch" Tortora, an Australian here in South Florida, can blow that harp with the best of them. Lots of original sounds here.

The Allnighters featuring Steve Weinstein's talented, strong vocals and strong stage personality, along with the swinging, upbeat style of this Fort Lauderdale band, gave me chills they were so good. None of the usual covers, all original material, started out the set all acoustic and then jumped the pace. They had tons of enthusiasm, so much fun on the stage that the audience felt it too. Tim Vickers on harp - wonderful, Richie Tardanico on guitar and Rick Naistadt on bass along with Steve interacted all over the stage and with the audience. Add the drummer and what a band - these guys need to hit the road along with Lady "A".

There was one 2-piece duo reminiscent of Brownie McGee and Sonny Terry - Ala Moana from Port St. Lucie. They took us back in time to the old-style acoustic blues of the south. Quite enjoyable.

Sunday night ended with a series of top bands. By this time, I was too pooped to take anymore notes, but I will mention them and comment that they were superb. Clifford Hawkins with the "Wild Boar" Moore Band. The HepCat Boo Daddies featuring Joel DaSilva. Joel has made quite a name for himself locally as a very serious, soulful blues guitar player. His emotions are so strong when he plays, that sometimes tears come out of his eyes. Then there was the soul-full pro in Bobby Stringer and the Special Touch-5 Band out of Miami. Bobby has been playing the Chitlin circuit for years and I was thrilled to see him here.

There were so many other bands that played their hearts out and were a part of what made this event so special. I can hardly wait for the Blues Festival in November and for the next "Battle of the Blues Bands" next year.

Gloria Pierce
Miami, FL

Copyright © 1998 by Gloria Pierce, all rights reserved.

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