Twin Cities Blues Festival
@ Midway Stadium, June 28, 1997
The goal was to have the world's largest blues band on stage at one time. Well, the stage was large enough, but did they break the record? What was the record anyway? Did anyone really care? The "official" count was 73 blues musicians performing on stage at one time. All that "really" matters was that this was one "fun" experience for both the musicians and the audience. If you are a musician imagine what it would be like to be playing on the same stage with a Cornbread Harris, or Jimmy Smith or Big Walter or John Dickerson or Mojo Buford.

All photo's on this page copyright 1997 by Tom Asp, all rights reserved.
We got to see many of our favorite blues performers trading licks and verses to what had to be one of the longest versions of "Sweet Home Chicago" ever performed. This musical assault was some sight to behold. The sound may have been loud and a little mushy but the spirit and vibrancy of the event is what was important. Some of the Twin Cities' "big" boys were there including Big Walter Smith, Big John Dickerson and Big George Jackson. I counted at least 6 harmonica players including the Legendary Mojo Buford (who played in Muddy's last band), Curtis Blake, Big George and Jean Verstraete. There was a big horn section and too many guitars, keyboards, basses and drums to count. I am probably leaving out some instruments too. This was a very good idea and an excellent way to kick off the afternoon's music.
Big George Jackson
After this musical extravaganza, local blues man Big George Jackson and his band, the first of the scheduled seven performers, took the stage. Big George plays a well phrased, deep-toned harmonica and sings in a very deep-throated voice. He was joined by the excellent guitar playing of Phil Schmid, that is always a treat to listen to, and the solid rhythm section of John Schroder on bass and Dwight Dario on drums. It was interesting to see and hear the occasional train rumbling by behind the stage, providing an authentic rural "feel" to the blues music.

The Butanes followed and were a real treat. They back so many of the touring national acts that play in town that it is refreshing to hear them perform by themselves. Curtis Obeda is one of the best guitar players in the area and delivers some nice soulful vocals. His singing, along with the band's superb support, on the song "The Night Time Is The Right Time," was outstanding.

We could all see it coming, but were hoping the rain would either pass over or not last long. The dark clouds rolled in and dumped huge amounts of rain. The delay lasted for 1 and hours and caused the cancellation of the Marsha Ball set which was quite disappointing. Tab Benoit went on as scheduled however. When he started playing there were just a few die-hard fans still in the stadium - the rest having run for cover. After his first song however, the fans came streaming back in. Garnering one of the biggest cheers up to that point he said "I want to know where you all were during the rain. There were 4 when I started now there are 400. You must like the blues." He then ignited the crowd with his enthusiastically received song (and fitting considering the weather), "Nice and Warm."
Tab Benoit

Little Milton
Little Milton was up next. The drizzling rain continued for the remainder of the day so Milton said, "I'm not even going to ask you to put your hands together cause then you'd have to put your umbrella's down." Little Milton is always a treat to watch. His guitar playing was tasteful and full of feeling, he doesn't play a lot of notes, but sure makes the ones he does play count. Born in Leland, Mississippi in 1934, Milton Campbell started playing juke-joints in the late 40's and has been on the road ever since. Although he plays exceptionally tasteful guitar he is most well known for his soulful vocals. He finished his set in St. Paul with his rousing international blues anthem "The Blues Is Alright."
Little Milton
Dressed in his country boy image with bib overalls and his unruly Gene Wilder hair style, Elvin Bishop was one of the highlights of the day's music for me.
Elvin Bishop
Bishop played in the ground-breaking 1960's Paul Butterfield Blues Band with fellow guitarist Michael Bloomfield. He had a great trumpet player, Ed Early, who also had one of those "fine" soul sounding voices that he put to good use as he sang the classic R&B song "So Fine." Elvin had his old beat up but great sounding Gibson 335 guitar and when he and Ed did a duet, it was oh so fine. At one point, as he was tuning his guitar, Bishop said in his good natured way, "I have to be careful with this, if I get it all the way in tune, no one will recognize my stuff." He played some "in the alley blues," did a "very nice" slide instrumental and sang a bitter-sweet song about getting old called "Slow Down." Saying he can't do what he used to do, he added, "if you want to keep on having birthdays, you can't keep living that way." After seeing what was to follow he could have been describing Johnny Winter instead of himself.
Elvin Bishop

Johnny Winter
We had to wait at least 45 minutes before Johnny Winter, looking like death warmed over, came on stage. He really looked sick (so fragile and emaciated) and we all felt pretty bad for him. I learned later, however, that he ordered a pizza and downed a bottle of vodka right before he was scheduled to perform. We almost didn't get to see him at all, not because he was in poor health, but because he was totally soused. He opened with "Hide Away" which was pretty good but didn't have the fire and spark of the Johnny Winter we knew. He then did a rocked up version of "Got My Mojo Working." The wind was picking up by this time and he had a heater brought on stage. At one point he had to stop and get help as he put on a jacket. At another point the wind blew his hat off and almost took him with it. Such a shame, the anticipation of seeing Johnny Winter perform was so high. We were all a little disappointed when he finished, after only 35 minutes of playing, with "Johnny Guitar" and no encore.
Johnny Winter
In spite of the rain and lackluster Winter showing this was still an entertaining day of blues performed by some of the best around.

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.