Grand Blues Fest
Grand Casino Hinckley Amphitheater, Hinckley, MN
June 18, 2000
by Dave "Doc" Piltz
Photography copyright © 2000 by Tom Asp, all rights reserved.
1999 KBA Award Winner|
Achievement for Blues on the Internet
Presented by the Blues Foundation
I have heard a great deal recently about global warming and the doomsday predictions of shrinking polar icecaps, submerged barrier islands, etc. What I can't understand, however, is the fact that global warming, or warmth in general, seems to be missing Minnesota completely so far this summer. Having decided to spend Father's Day 2000 outdoors at the Grand Blues Fest, I was hoping for a warm sunny day; at least I got the sunny part. The warmth was provided, for the most part, by the six great blues acts appearing at the inaugural Grand Blues Fest, held at the Grand Casino Amphitheater in Hinckley, Minnesota. Reports from the Grand Casino entertainment staff indicate that they would like to make this festival an annual event. In the past, the casino has provided the venue for the annual B. B King Blues Festival. This year is no exception and the 2000 B. B. King extravaganza (scheduled for August 27) will include performances by Tommy Castro, Koko Taylor and Buddy Guy, along with the King of the blues, B. B. King.
The lineup for the Grand Blues Fest included Big House, Elvin Bishop, Charlie Musselwhite, Dr. John, Jim Belushi & the Sacred Hearts and Corey Stevens. The festival was very well run with quick set ups and take downs between acts. Everyone working at the festival was courteous and helpful. The audience was enthusiastic, although a bit small given the high quality of the performers. Scheduled to end at 9:00 p.m., the event ended a bit later, but only because of the acts that responded to the clamoring for encores. Every band was excellent, making up for the disappointing late cancellations by Bobby "Blue" Bland and Johnny Winter.
For those unable to attend the Grand Blues Fest, here are "snap shots" of the six performers and performances at this years event:
The Grand Blues Fest turned out to be an excellent event that included six great performances by six great bands. Given the quality of the show and the very professional operation of the venue, I can hardly wait to visit there again. With upcoming offerings ranging from Joe Walsh to the Moody Blues and the B. B. King Blues Festival 2000, finding a reason to return to the Grand Casino Amphitheater in Hinckley, Minnesota shouldn't be too difficult!
Big House opened the festival at 1:00 p.m. The four piece group that works out
of Nashville, Tennessee included, Monty Byron (guitar/vocals); Dave Neuhauser
(keyboard/guitar); Benny Rappa (drums); and Steve Vines (bass). Big House
offered an hour of good blues featuring several songs from their latest CD on
Dead Reckoning Records, "Woodstock Nation." The band's sound adds some
country and/or rock-a-billy to the mix, in part because of the "twang" in Monty
Byron's vocals. However, the guitar and slide work provided by Monty Byron
and Dave Neuhauser was definitely more bluesy. The two men worked very well
together (they have been writing and performing together for 15 years) and at
one time during the show, they stood together and played each other's guitar
simultaneously! It was very cool, indeed!
After a quick re-setting of the stage, the audience was greeted by Elvin Bishop,
guitarist and entertainer extraordinaire, and his band from San Francisco,
California. One of the original guitarists from The Paul Butterfield Blues Band
(along with Mike Bloomfield), Bishop is probably best known for his 1975 hit
single, "Fooled Around And Fell In Love." However, Bishop is an extremely
talented guitarist and his band performed some great blues, with a honky tonk
sound that included some fine trombone and vocals from Ed Hurley; piano by
Steve Willis; and guitar from Ian Lamson. During "Gone Fishin'," Bishop left the
stage to do some "pickin' and grinnin'" out in the audience. The high energy
(and humorous) set concluded with another Bishop classic, "Travelin' Shoes"
and, as an encore, the title track from his latest CD, "The Skin I'm In."
Charlie Musselwhite was the third act of the day. I was very interested in
Musselwhite since it was the first time that had seen him since his serious
automobile accident in Mexico late last year. Happily, Charlie came out on
stage in good spirits, playing and looking quite healthy. He told me later that he
still has a little twinge of pain to remind him of what happened, but otherwise he
is doing fine. Performing with an extremely tight band, Musselwhite remained
very low key and relaxed, except when it came time to start wailing on his harp.
"Mississippi Charlie" was in fine form, as was the band who all performed solos
during the second song of the set, "Movin' and Groovin'." The band also
performed a nice version of ".44 Blues," which Charlie retitled, ".38 Blues"
because, as he put it, "I don't own a .44!" The great set excellent harp work was
an instant reminder of why Charlie Musselwhite is my favorite harp player!
Crossing the halfway point of the Grand Blues Fest, the audience was
introduced to the eclectic sounds of Dr. John (a.k.a., Mac Rennebeck). Having
shed his "zu-zu man," "nite tripper" image (although he autographs items as Dr.
John The Nite Tripper), the Doctor played some excellent piano, conjuring up a
New Orleans mood for the crowd. Dr. John's set included everything from old
favorites like "Iko Iko" and "Right Place, Wrong Time," to several songs from his
current release, "Duke Elegant, " featuring songs written and performed by the
legendary Duke Ellington. The songs from "Duke Elegant" included "Caravan,"
"It Don't Mean A Thing (If You Ain't Got That Swing)" and "Don't Get Around
Much Any More."
His band, called the "Lower Nine Eleven," after a rather
notorious area of New Orleans, was the perfect match for Dr. John's amazing
piano and vocals. The set went far too quickly before Dr. John was up and
gone, making way for the next act.
The early evening hours were filled with the sounds of actor, turned singer,
James Belushi & The Sacred Hearts. Recording on the House of Blues record
label, Belushi's backup band is the official house band for the House of Blues in
Los Angeles, California. From his opening number, "Sweet Home Chicago," to
the end of the set, Belushi and company had the entire audience on its feet and
dancing in the aisles. Performing a steady stream of tight covers, including
Bobby Bland's, "36-22-36" (the title cut from Belushi's first album), Willie Dixon's,
"I'm Ready" and a series of songs one performed by Jim's late brother, John
Belushi, as Jake Blues of the Blues Brothers. One of the highlights of the band's
performance was the guest appearance by Charlie Musselwhite who performed
two songs with the Sacred Hearts including a harmonica trio with Musselwhite,
Belushi and Sacred Hearts' harpist, Ben DeForest during James Cotton's, "Here
I Am." Several times during the set, Belushi pulled female members of the
audience onto the stage to dance, especially on "Land of 1000 Dances" and the
encore, "Money (That's What I Want)." Belushi also went out into the audience
and danced, shook hands and got down with the crowd while band member,
Johnny Rubano did the vocals on Little Milton's, "Grits Ain't Groceries." All in all,
it was one great show and easily the most active of the day.
Corey Stevens, a Minnesota favorite, provided the finale for the evening,
performing some guitar fireworks of his own as the first Grand Blues Fest came
to a close. Steven's four piece band burned through a set that included originals
from all three of his recordings, "Blue Drops Of Rain," "Road To Zen" and
"Getaway," mixed with some great covers including "Willie The Wimp" and
"Riviera Paradise"; two Stevie Ray Vaughan classics where Stevens remained
true to the powerful originals. Steven's added a second guitarist since I last
saw him perform. The additional guitar really filled out the band's sound,
especially in the outdoor amphitheater.
This review is copyright © 2000 by Dave "Doc" Piltz, 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.