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I started a quest to find terrific blues music and incredible musicianship when I was just a little kid. I also have a tremendous appreciation of fine musical instruments and equipment. One of my greatest joys all of my life was sharing my finds with my friends. I'm now publishing my journey. I hope that you come along!

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Friday, May 22, 2015

13th Almost Annual Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival - Concert Review - Stilladog - Guest writer

This year’s festival started off under partly cloudy skies with Patty Reese rendering an acapella version of the Star Spangled Banner.  As she sang you could gaze out over the Chesapeake Bay and imagine, as I did, the British warships heading back out to sea after failing to capture Fort McHenry.  Then a moment of silence was observed for the passing of BB King.

The festival kicked off with the Marcus King Band followed by a female band of local DC musicians put together specifically for this performance called the Sisterhood of Soul.  Then a last minute substitute band, The Record Company, replacing the previously booked Davy Knowles.  The highlight of these opening acts, in fact one of the true high points of the whole festival, was the performance turned in by Little Margie Clark of Sisterhood of Soul. The little old lady (formerly of the 60s group The Jewels) packed a powerful voice. And when she ad libbed some serious scat she blew the lid off that place!  Man, I can’t even tell you what language she was signing in!!  The most outstanding version of an improvised scat vocal I’ve ever heard on a record or in person… and that’s counting Ella Fitzgerald!  The horn section for Sisterhood of Soul was outstanding.  I really wish they’d have turned those horns loose on their set finale Turn On Your Lovelight.

The meat of the lineup started when Tommy Castro and The Painkillers took the stage at mid-afternoon.  The set they played was clearly the best I’ve ever heard Tommy play.  I’ve seen him at least 7 or 8 times and have not come away impressed.  This time I came away singing his praises.  He dropped his horn section a couple years back and his new lineup has taken some time to come together.  But they are a tight outfit now!  The highlight of his set was his cover of the Wet Willie standard, Keep On Smilin’.

The Painkillers were followed by Bobby Rush making his second appearance at the festival.  His was the usual standard entertaining Bobby Rush set full of good music and a few laughs. 

Next up was Beth Hart who has the most amazing voice.  Extremely powerful.  She was holding the mic at her waist and it was picking up her voice like other singers who are damn near swallowing it!  I did not know what to expect from her as my only exposure was on some duet performances she recorded with Joe Bonamassa.  But she wowed me and pretty much everyone within earshot, which probably included some fishermen way out under the Bay Bridge!

Immediately after Beth Hart concluded her set the thunder and lightning rolled in bringing some heavy rain with it.  This delayed the start of the Gregg Allman set by more than an hour and 15 minutes.  Finally, with lightning still off in the distance and the crew squeegeeing water off the stage,I left for the evening.  By all accounts those who stayed were thoroughly impressed with Gregg’s band and his set.  Everyone mentioned his tribute to Dickie Betts and the quality of musicianship the whole band displayed.

Day two started off the way day one ended with cloudy skies and spitting rain.  But by the time the Chesapeake Bay Blues Band took the stage it had cleared.  They are another “festival specific” band featuring Mark Wenner on harp and vocals and Tommy Lepson on keys. It essentially consisted of what amounted to the “Old Nighthawks,” guys who once played in the Nighthawks of the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s.  They ripped through a very hot set of blues standards in which everyone got a vocal or two and they set the bar higher for the remainder of the day.

Next up was Jarekus Singleton.  I was looking forward to hearing him as I had heard mixed reviews on his first album and wanted to make my own decision. Some folks said he was great and the new savior of the blues.  Others said he was a highly overrated product of the music industry hype machine.  I found neither to be true.  A lot of folks really enjoyed his set.  I found it to be excessive and self-indulgent.  He has talent and a big upside.  But he is far from being the future of the blues.

Mingo Fishtrap wrapped up the afternoon with a mixed bag set that was well received.  Their set included everything from a New Orleans second line to country blues to straight ahead gut-bucket. And then the rain came.

As Shemekia Copeland took the stage she announced “Here I Come!  And Here Come The rain!”  Shemekia is the absolute Queen of the Chesapeake Blues Fest and has appeared more times than any other artist.  The fans love her and she loves playing this festival.  It was the usual high energy, superb performance we’ve come to expect from Shemekia.  As always she paid tribute to her father Johnny “Clyde” Copeland, but this weekend she also paid tribute to the late B.B. King who had passed just two days day before.

The artist I most wanted to see was Charlie Musselwhite.  I had never seen him perform and I was not disappointed.  In fact, I liked seeing him live more than I liked him from listening to his albums.  He had an outstanding playlist of his older stuff, newer stuff, blues classics.  A thoroughly enjoyable set.

Jonny Lang came on.  Pleased many people with his guitar antics.  He was largely popular.  I have however grown weary of his faux ”pain with every note” stage act.  He is another hugely talented guitarist who can’t decide whether he wants to play rock, blues, prog, or Christian music.  All I can say is constant thrashing may entertain some, but it becomes tiresome to me.

And finally the incomparable Buddy Guy closed out the show.  His was a rip snortin’, hell raisin’, string stetchin’ masterful performance.  It was his usual act complete with a walk through the audience during an extended version of “Slippin’ Out,”  The entire set was done with precision, and on this night, extreme passion.  I think Buddy felt the need to set the record straight about who the premiere guitarist at that festival was and was also feeling a pain in his heart about the loss of his friend, BB King.  Those elements combined to yield the best performance I’ve ever seen of Buddy Guy.  Ironically the first time I saw him perform was as part of BB King’s Blues Revue (with Koko Taylor) back in the early 90s and thought his performance that night could never be matched (he absolutely cut Eric Johnson’s head off that night!).  When Buddy brought out his young protégé Quinn Sullivan to help close out the festival I believe we came closer to seeing the future of the blues then than ever.

As I’ve probably said in previous reviews, this festival has probably one of the most beautiful settings as any in the country.  It’s right on the Chesapeake Bay with the Bay Bridge as a backdrop.  The festival is non-profit and all proceeds go to charities that actually get the money!  It’s a good time, it’s a good place and it’s a good cause.  If you ever get the chance to come on down to my place, the largest estuary in the United States, please check out this festival.

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