If you were to cross the song and book titles of "Band on the Run" and "The Man Without a Country", you might come up with something that would closely describe the ongoing struggle that has faced the promoters of this event. Since the city of Ft. Lauderdale abandoned what was then called "The Ft. Lauderdale Blues Festival", the event has not been held at the same time - in the same place - for four years running.
Locations have gone from spacious parks to tight little streets along a river to an indoor theater adjacent to a large, outdoor, courtyard stage on a very small closed street. Times of the year have gone from November to canceled to February to March. Foes have ranged from the City of Ft. Lauderdale to vicious hurricanes to 33* temperatures to condo commandos complaining about noise levels. Enough to make any promoter want to pull his or her hair out and say "enough of this crap", right? Well yes, but DON COHEN is not just any promoter. Don's motto must be very similar to that of the U. S. Postal Service....."Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, nor hurricanes, nor condo commandos stays this promoter from putting on his festival".
Staring uncertainty and doom in the eye, DON COHEN once again - from a purely musical standpoint - put together an astounding festival. On this years bill were: MARK HUMMEL'S HARP BLOW OUT featuring CHARLIE MUSSELWHITE & KIM WILSON; CHUBBY CARIER & THE BAYOU SWAMP BAND; TINSLEY ELLIS; WALTER TROUT; THE DETROIT WOMEN; PAPA GROWS FUNK; ANA POPOVICH; RUDY; ERIC LINDELL; JANIVA MAGNESS; ANDERS OSBORNE; THE LEE BOYS; THE SPAM ALLSTARS; CHRIS BEARD; DUFFY JACKSON BLUES BAND; HEP CAT BOO DADDIES; E G KIGHT; ALVIN JET & THE PHAT NOIZ BLUES BAND; ALBERT CASTIGLIA; JOEY GILMORE; THE DAVID SHELLY BAND; BLUE HOUSE; THE NUCKLEBUSTERS; THE SPOON BENDERS; THE BOBBY NATHN BAND WITH MARY WASHINGTON; IKO IKO; TERI CATLIN; MARCEL ANTON; BETTY PADGETT; DAVIS COHEN; DAVID GOGO; MICHAEL PICKETT.
Being unable to attend Friday combined with having to leave early Sunday evening and taking into consideration that most of the time three stages were operating simultaneously, it was quite hard to catch all the acts I had hoped to. In spite of that, I certainly got my earful of some good blues.
Saturday we arrived just in time to see the newest addition to Delta Groove Records amazing stable of artists - ANA POPOVIC. ANA put on one of her typical shows in which she stuns the audience with her looks and stings them with her music. In spite of the fact that I sometimes find her music just a bit over the edge for my taste, I find her live shows to be totally outstanding. The young lady has the confidence, the talent and the stage persona of a seasoned veteran. Along with RONALD JONKER on bass and backup vocals and ANDREW THOMAS on drums, this is one power house trio that will rock any house.
Following ANA was another young, good looking and hard driving guitarist - local favorite ALBERT CASTIGLIA. And when I say local, I only mean that in the geographical sense of the word, as a result of ALBERT choosing South Florida to call home. He's certainly no secret to national audiences. His band regularly tours the eastern portion of the country, he was recently featured in an article in BLUES REVUE MAGAZINE, and many of you may remember him from the days when he toured the country as the late great JUNIOR WELLS' guitarist.
The loyalty ALBERT commands from the South Florida blues community and the support he receives from the members of the South Florida Blues Society is stunning. The sizes of the crowds that turn out for his performances rival any of the headliners, and they're never disappointed. This particular evening was no different. ALBERT and the band - STEVE GASKELL on bass, BOB AMSEL on drums, and newest member SUSAN LUSHER on keyboards - filled their hour set with several of his boss' old songs and several originals while filling the very appreciative crowd with a dose of hot blues.
Since moving 120 miles north, a few years back, it's not that often that I can get to see some of my old favorite South Florida area bands. Therefore, I had to make the big sacrifice of missing TINSLEY ELLIS in order to catch THE DAVID SHELLY BAND and THE JOEY GILMORE BAND. Like ALBERT, neither of these names should be secrets.
THE DAVID SHELLY BAND, which recently represented the SOUTH FLORIDA BLUES SOCIETY at the 2007 INTERNATIONAL BLUES CHALLENGE, consists of some of the areas best talent. DAVID on guitar is joined by CARL "KILMO" PACILLO on bass, J P SOARS on guitar, and JOHN YARLING on drums. The band played a mix of some of the originals they wrote specifically for the IBC and a few of the Swamp Boogie Native American style songs they've become known for.
As for THE JOEY GILMORE BAND, there shouldn't be a blues fan out there that doesn't know this name. After winning the 2005 IBC and having the decision reversed, he came right back and won it again in 2006. This particular night, JOEY showed the Ft. Lauderdale crowd some of what he showed those Memphis crowds and no matter how many times this audience has seen him, he always tear em up.
In order to see this next act, for my very first time, I actually had to miss most of the MARK HUMMEL, KIM WILSON, CHARLIE MUSSELWHITE harp blowout. However, the show that I saw was, for this viewer, the highlight of the festival. Ladies and gentlemen, I'm talking about THE DETROIT WOMEN. And, since that night I have not stopped talking about THE DETROIT WOMEN. If you have yet to catch this act, place it on top of your things to do in 2007 list.
KATE HART, LADY T, RHONDA BANTSIMBA, STACIA PETRIE, CHERYL LESCOM, KAREN VESPRINI and VALERIE BARRYMORE are by far, the best vocal harmony and backup singers these ears have ever had the pleasure of hearing. Backed up by a very solid band consisting of DENNIS BURR on guitar, SUSIE WOODMAN on piano, RICK ZELDES on bass and STEVE HOHN on drums, the ladies stand seven across the stage all in front of their own mics. One by one, and often as duets, they navigate to center mics and take turns singing lead while the rest of the gals sing harmony and backup. Asking me to pick a favorite would be like asking me to pick my favorite food. It's impossible! Anyone who has ever seen me knows I like it all. I will, however say this. Over the years, I have heard many versions of one of my favorite blues songs - "I'D RATHER GO BLIND" - and in spite of all the people that have done it, I've yet to hear a version I did not like. On the other hand, this night, CHERYL LESCOM sang the best version of this song that I think I ever will hear. Standing eight feet in front of her I was in awe over the emotion and the energy she put into this song.
On a totally different topic, unable to not take notice of the frills, flare and flamboyant styles of dress, trinkets and jewelry that these ladies donned, it occurred to me that I may be seeing every color in the world all on the stage at one time. After researching the matter, I found out that there are literally more than 16 million colors. Sorry ladies, you missed by just a few.
The act of being mesmerized by a bunch of blues women was not quite ready to end - up next....... JANIVA MAGNESS. Currently, JANIVA is the hottest women on the blues scene. And by saying that, I mean it in both contexts of the statement. She's as stunning to the eyes as she it to the ears. JANIVA never takes the stage looking anything less than gorgeous and she never leaves it with her audience feeling anything less than awed.
Having gone through several guitar players in recent years, it seems that JANIVA has stumbled onto a keeper with MATHEW STUBBS. Leaving his own band to team with JANIVA seems to have been a good decision - for both of them. Also performing with her this day was TOM FILLMON, GARY DAVENPORT on bass and the always exciting BENNY YEE on keyboards.
This evenings performance showed this Ft. Lauderdale crowd exactly why JANIVA MAGNESS was last year's recipient, and this year's repeat nominee, of the Blues Music Award for "Best Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year". Look for her to repeat.
It's now Sunday morning and knowing that THE DETROIT WOMEN were opening the show at Noon with a Gospel Music set and having seen what I had just seen the night before, it's very safe to assume where I was headed after breakfast. Once again, the very act that blew me away just 12 hrs earlier was doing it again. The ladies put on one heck of a set full of many Gospel and spiritual favorites. I cannot wait until I get another chance to catch this act. Ladies, please hurry back.
Having to be one of the toughest acts to follow, I was a bit concerned for E G KIGHT. Performing as a solo act, she had to take the stage that just a few minutes ago was vacated by seven totally unrestrained women who had left a crowd of several hundreds hooting and howling for more. This apparently ended up not being a problem for the Georgia Songbird. With her southern charm, her perpetual pretty smile and her making you feel like she's sitting in your living room playing for you and a few close friends style of stage presence, E G soon had the crowd in the palm of her own pretty little hands.
Taking the stage naked - without her band, that is - E G performed many of the songs from her "NAKED" CD intertwined with several interesting and humorous anecdotes. Miss Kight displayed some of that famous southern hospitality by inviting South Florida Blues Society President BLUES BOBBY to join in for a song. From this days performance, backed up by the excellent reviews that disc has received, MISS KIGHT is now a force to be reckoned with not only in full dress - with her band, but as a solid solo act, or as she likes to call it - naked, as well.
Next on my days blues itinerary was a band from St. Louis that is rapidly working on becoming a household name to the blues community - ALVIN JET & THE PHAT NOIZ BLUES BAND. Having just placed high in the International Blues Challenge, the band is aggressively touring the country promoting the newest disc, "MILK & COOKIES". Joining ALVIN JETT on lead vocals and guitar are FRANK BAUER on sax, MATT DAVIS on bass and JEREMY WEST on drums. The band put on a strong performance of a real nice mix of blues, jazz and funk with ALVIN and FRANK constantly switching leads. They literally blew away the crowd with a song that I felt should have been last year's Best Blues Song of the Year - "ANGELS SING THE BLUES". This is a band you should all keep your eyes and ears out for.
The final act I had circled on my program as must sees were another South Florida band called BLUE HOUSE. This power blues trio consists of ROBBIE ALTER on vocals and lead guitar, BOBBY "BBG" GOLDMAN on drums and RICHIE GOLDMAN (no relation) on electric and stand up bass. This is a group of three individually successful business people who aren't looking to tour the world and win any BMA's, but from their play, you'd never know that. Although content with their lives and their day jobs, they take their music very seriously. As a matter of fact, most of their sets feature many original songs. BLUE HOUSE is one of the areas most crowd pleasing bands with each of the members having their own cheering section as they do their thing. ROBBIE loves the roars he receives as he plays strolling through the crowd, BBG happily leads the crowd in a chant of "BBG...BBG...BBG...BBG" as he goes wild on a drum solo and RICHIE, with his sinister look, beats up on the big bass harder and harder as the crowd edges him on. BLUE HOUSE is one highly skillful, very entertaining and wonderfully fun band to see. Unfortunately, ya gotta come to Ft. Lauderdale to see them.
Having to face the 2 hr drive and the reality of getting up at 5:00 AM on Monday, the Blewzzlady and myself were dealt a dose of the blues by having to miss CHRIS BEARD and WALTER TROUT. Oh well, there's always next year.......or is there? As soon DON COHEN gives me the answer to that question, I'll be happy to pass it along.
Visit the Riverwalk Blues Festival on the Web at: www.riverwalkbluesfestival.com