Mill City Music (Blues) Festival
Downtown Minneapolis, Monday, September 2, 1996

Monday was "blues" day at the first annual (of many I hope) Mill City Music Festival. And boy what a "blues" line-up they had: Famous Dave's Blues Allstars, Johnny Lang, R.J. Mischo, John Mayhall, Etta James, Otis Day, Kenny Wayne Shepard and B.B. King!

I have to confess though, that the first show I saw Monday at noon was The Lovin' Spoonful sans John Sebastian but with three of the original members. They sounded real good, just like they did 30 years ago (has it really been that long?). After that show things were getting ready to start at the main blues tent with The Blues Allstars (who were running late in setting up). But the wait was well worth it with their outstanding set. Local teen phenomenon Jonny Lang & the Big Bang followed, but I slipped out to go catch a few songs by John Mayhall. (No slight intended to Jonny. I've seen him perform at least a dozen times and wanted to catch some acts I haven't seen before). From there I then hurried over to see Otis Day (and the Knights) for a rip roaring, jumping and "shout"ing show. It's a shame most people only know of Otis Day from the movie Animal House. He is still in top form and with his niece sharing lead vocals they had the audience in the palm of their hands.

After a short stop at the van for a snack I returned to the main "blues" tent in time to catch Kenny Wayne Shepard's scintillating 40 minute set. I was prepared for some guitar pyrotechnics based on listening to his debut CD Leadbetter Heights, but boy, seeing someone this good live is the only way to experience the blues.
Delbert McClinton followed, singing some of his recent hits and keeping the audience at fever pitch. By the way, the tent was packed by now with standing room only. I had my lawn chair over by the side but had to stand whenever I wanted to see. The Nevilles followed with their usual outstanding New Orleans R&B/Soul/Blues/Pop performance but it was the one and only B.B. King for the finale.

B.B., at 70 years young, put on nearly the same show as he did last year at the State Fair. That is to say, he put on one of the best blues shows you could ask for. The first half of his set had the horn section with the rest of his band. You can really tell they have fun playing with B.B. King. But it was the second half of his set that I just loved. He sat down on a chair, not because he was tired (as he plops his head on his shoulder pretending to sleep) but to help him reminisce about the nearly 50 years he has been playing the blues. No one has the same tremolo as B.B. King does. Another highlight of the day came when he called Kenny Wayne Shepard back out to finish off his set with him.

Let's hope this festival was a financial success so we can have this as an annual event. What a great way too see so many different types of music over a three day period. I only wish I had the stamina to attend all three days (oh well, maybe next year).

Copyright 1997 by Ray M. Stiles. All rights reserved. All reviews are copyright protected. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, or any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.