GEORGE HINES of GEORGE'S MUSIC - www.georgesmusic.com;
The great festival he sponsors - www.springingtheblues.com;
The City of Jacksonville Beach, FL - www.jacksonvillebeach.org/;
Promoter Sam Veal - Jacksonville.com: First Coast Community: Beaches: Story: Blues festival gets 3-year extension, will be 20 years old 04/04/07;
For putting on an absolutely wonderful, crowd pleasing, free, blues festival in extremely comfortable and people friendly surroundings (in spite of it feeling - weather wise - like I was in North Dakota instead of North Florida).
The stellar lineup consisted of - in order of appearance or thereabouts - EDDIE KIRKLAND & WILLIE GREEN, ROGER "HURRICANE" WILSON, DADDY MACK BLUES BAND, JOHN MILLER BLUES, MICHAEL BURKS, VUDUBLU, CELINDA PINK, SUE FOLEY, CEPHAS & WIGGINS, GREG BARIL, ERIC STECKEL, LITTLE CHARLIE & THE NIGHTCATS, SHANE DWIGHT, TAB BENOIT, TEAGUE STEFAN, JIM MCKABA & THE AFTER HOURS BAND, BILLY GIBSON BAND, THE ROUNDERS, EDDIE SHAW & THE WOLF GANG, DR. HECTOR MEMORIAL BLUES JAM and WILLIE BIG EYS SMITH with BOB MARGOLIN & BOB STROGER.
Although I didn't catch them all - one never can at these events - the acts that I had the pleasure of seeing certainly made this festival an enjoyable event. On Saturday, I arrived in time to catch ROGER "HURRICANE" WILSON blow away a very good sized crowd for a 1:00 PM performance. With Roger, there's no beating around the bush. He walks on stage, picks up his guitar, and until the time he leaves, you get nothing but good ole, straight up, gut wrenching blues. With the steps to this stage being in the front, one had to know they'd be tempting to Roger. Sure enough, he came right down and strolled through the very ecstatic audience while performing a blazing rendition of his classic "HURRICANE BLUES". This was a typical ROGER "HURRICANE" WILSON ass kickin' show - he doesn't put on any other kind. Between him and his monster rhythm section, led by BILLY JEANSONNE absolutely beating the hell out of a set of drums, you'd be hard pressed to find a harder working blues trio.
Next on my agenda was a musician that, although I had never seen, I had heard was "The best unsigned guitar player in America" (Playboy Magazine) and one who several friends of mine - who knew I was attending this festival - had actually got in touch with me to emphatically tell me to not miss - GREG BARIL. Having caught the act, I thank my friends and understand what Playboy was saying. His masterful guitar playing, and the intensity with which he played, totally mystified the crowd. This may sound strange to say about someone who has been playing, singing and songwriting for nearly thirty years now, but GREG BARIL is someone to keep your eyes - and especially your ears on.
Having to follow ROGER "HURRICANE" WILSON and SUE FOLEY, I was somewhat apprehensive as to the kind of reception that CEPHAS & WIGGINS would receive from this very wound up and boisterous bunch of blues lovers. Putting an acoustic duo on the same stage that was just torn up by two consecutive flame throwing guitarists had me questioning the schedule maker. However, JOHN & PHIL were more than up to the task. I believe they may not have heard of the "tough act to follow" moniker. If they have, they certainly don't believe in it. Sitting down and doing what they do best, they soon had this crowd right in their hands. More than once, JOHN CEPHAS was so overwhelmed with the applause they were receiving that he actually said to the crowd "Hey, y'all seem to like this acoustic blues". Each time he said it the statement drew a thunderous ovation. Witnessing the smile this brought to his face was classic. It's moments like this that when you think back to, ya just gotta shake your head and smile.
Next up were the always entertaining LITTLE CHARLIE & THE NIGHTCATS. Led by RICK ESTRIN on harmonica and antics and "LITTLE" CHARLIE BATY on guitar, you can always count on a good time being had by all when this act takes the stage. In spite of their slapstick routine, some very serious musicianship is to be witnessed as well. RICK is constantly mentioned on "favorite harp player" lists and CHARLIE is a blues guitar maestro.
Due to the vast amount of talent at these festivals and the vast size of the blues talent pool that the promoters have to choose from, there are generally several acts from other parts of the country that some of us may not have been exposed to as of yet. Without fail, there is always one of these bands that impresses me so much I that I end up considering them as my "surprise hit of the festival". "SPRINGING THE BLUES" was no different and, for my eyes and my ears, this festivals' "surprise hit band" was SHANE DWIGHT. Having never heard of this young man, I am now his newest fan. Saying I was blown away is not nearly a good enough description of how I felt about this act. Having visited his website, as a source for more information, it's very apparent that on the left coast he's a household name within the blues community. However, this young man needs to pack that van and start playing some clubs on my side of the Mississippi. Doing so could certainly gain him the recognition that would make the SHANE DWIGHT BAND a force to be reckoned with in the blues world. Shane, if you're reading this get in touch with me and lets work on a Southeast Tour.
Having just recently completed a review of his DVD, "VOICE OF THE WETLANDS" - recorded live at the North Atlantic Blues Festival by Juke Joint Video - http://www.mary4music.com/CD35.html#DVDTabBenoit -I was looking very forward to seeing the festivals headliner - TAB BENOIT. TAB'S another one of those guys who likes to travel light. His ensemble is generally the basic three and what you see is what you get - lots of straight up, glamour free, in your face, relentless blues. On this Saturday night before Easter Sunday, with the temperature barely above 40*, the wind blowing off of the ocean - a mere 100 yards to the right, and it being more likely that a snowman would show up before the Easter Bunny would, you'd have thought that just a hand full of diehard fans would be left in the audience. Not quite. One of the highlights of the evening was when TAB, responding to a nice ovation after a song, wondered aloud about the size of the audience. Taking the cue, the light crew lit up the massive crowd, causing a huge roar and a very surprising response from TAB. Needless to say, with the enthusiasm being passed back and forth between performer and audience, the rest of the show was awesome.
With a several hour drive ahead of me and having to deal with getting up at 5:00 AM on Monday, I chose to just catch a few of Sunday's early acts. Let me tell you this - I found something better than a pot of strong coffee to wake you up after a late night......it's the TEAGUE STEFAN BAND. Most of those who wandered to the stage for this 12 NOON gig, still trying to wipe the sleep from their eyes, quickly became bright eyed and bushy tailed - a perfect way to be on an Easter morning. When this kid's guitar gets smokin', its a sure three alarm fire. Watching TEAUGE made me think of names like BONOMASSA, SHEPPARD, et al. This is a heap of raw, untapped talent just waiting to erupt.
As enjoyable as TEAGUE STEFAN's show was, the following act, JIM MCKABA and the AFTER HOURS BAND provided a welcomed dose of the kind of music that Sunday afternoons were made for - big band swing and soft jazzy blues. JIM on keyboards and BEN CHAMPION - a South Florida icon - on sax, packed a heck of a one-two punch and the rest of the band made this act a real knockout. Be it the vocals, the instrumental solos or the whole group in a tight groove, every minute of this set was absolutely enjoyable.
The next act was my main reason for attending on Sunday. Unfortunately, an organization that I used to book blues bands for, right here in my home town, decided just eight weeks before their festival that they were pulling the plug. This act was one of the acts I had to cancel and my mission was to personally apologize to him. I'm talking about MR. BILLY GIBSON. Being the down to earth and understanding person that he is, BILLY assured me that the situation surely was bothering me more than him and that it was nothing to be upset about. Then, he took the stage and tore the place apart. BILLY'S one of those guys that loves to banter with the audience. He's forever prodding them - especially the ladies - to get up and shake it up......undoubtedly for his own viewing pleasure. His energetic and comedic act had him running all over the stage to the other musicians simulating playing the instrument they were. He was a total wild man and the crowd was eating it up. I guess, after all those years being crammed in and confined to that very tiny RUM BOOGIE CAFE stage in Memphis, he feels like an un-caged lion. He sure made that harp roar.
Having mentioned the "AFTER HOURS BAND" a minute ago, there was also an "after hours event" that was another of the weekends many highlights - BOB MARGOLIN hosting the after hours jam at the MOJO KITCHEN BBQ PIT & BLUES BAR. If I didn't live over 200 miles away, I'd be in this place every night. The food is absolutely delicious, the portions are very generous, the prices are reasonable and the service is outstanding. And, with BOB hosting a jam that featured some of the festivals performers stopping by each night, the entertainment was top notch. That however, is a whole other story.
This festival did have one more surprise in store for me and what a wonderful surprise it was. After several years, countless numbers of phone conversations, lots of negotiating - all of it always pleasant - dozens of band bookings and several attempts at getting together, I finally had the pleasure to meet MISS TINA TERRY of PIEDMONT TALENT. How it happened was a sheer accident, a pure meeting of chance and just being in the right place at the right time.......I'm glad we were Tina.
For more information on any of these bands and to possibly book them in your area, most of them have websites, so please check them out.
You can also check out pictures of the event at http://www.mary4music.com/Page15.html