As the use of the word in the title may suggest, going to the Blues Music Awards is an "Experience". Take it from someone with experience. Having just returned from my tenth consecutive BMA event, I can honestly say that it is the paramount event for everyone involved with the genre. For the enthusiasts like myself, the artists, the performers, the writers, the industry, the Blues Foundation, the nominees, and of course the winners, there is no other event like it.
The actual event takes place on a Thursday and in addition to being a gala in itself, it kicks off an incredible weekend of seemingly endless blues entertainment. It's like going to heaven and finding out God is a blues fan.
This year was the 30th annual event and it may very well have been one of the best ever. First of all, for those of us in attendance from the South Florida area - and there were many - the event was extra special in many ways. It made us all proud to see our very own Dar as co-host of the event. As the host of "Sunday Blues With Dar" on WKPX Radio in Sunrise, FL and as one of the areas most enthusiastic people I know when it comes to promoting and keeping the blues alive, Dar is rapidly making her name a household word in blues communities around the country. To know her is to love her.
Additionally, two of South Florida's favorite blues musicians were nominated for Blues Music Awards - Albert Castiglia for "Song of the Year" and Terry Hanck for "Instrumentalist - Horn". Unfortunately, neither of them won, but both were first time nominees and I have a feeling their names will be popping up on future ballots.
Albert and Terry did get to perform at the event and they both rocked the joint. Terry was part of an ensemble that included Kenny Smith on Drums, his dad - Willie "Big Eyes" Smith on Harmonica, Bob Stroger on Bass, Lurrie Bell on Guitar, David Maxwell on piano, and co-nominees Keith Crossman & Deanna Bogart, also on saxophones. Ultimately, Deanna won her second consecutive award in the category.
Albert's set consisted of him playing with his complete band, which of course features him on Guitar and Vocals, Susan Lusher on Keyboards, Bob Amsel on Drums and Steve Gaskell on Bass. Being a late performance, the audience was not at full strength, but one would have never known, given the robust applause the band received. With everyone knowing that all performances are strictly timed, they were still calling out for more at sets end. Unbelievable!
Another feather was placed in the hat of the South Florida entourage by Billy Gibson. During his acceptance speech for winning the Blues Music Award for "Instrumentalist - Harmonica", Billy specifically thanked the South Florida Blues Society for all of it's support.. That organization, which I'm proud to say I belong to - is on one hell of a roll. Last year it won a "Keeping the Blues Alive" Award, their entry into this years "International Blues Challenge" - J P Soars - won the event and now all the hoopla involved with the Blues Music Awards. Good going, Bluesbobby, et al.
The awards ceremony itself was absolutely amazing. The performances by the way-too-many artists to mention were outstanding. Some of the evenings many highlights included Pinetop Perkins presenting the "Pinetop Perkins Piano Player of the Year" Award to Marcia Ball, and B. B. King presenting the "B. B. King Entertainer of the Year" Award to Janiva Magness. These awards were named after the performers as a way of giving others a shot at winning them. Pinetop and B. B. were perennial winners, so as a tribute, the Blues Foundation just named the award after them, therefore eliminating them from the competition.
B. B. performed as well. He and Curtis Salgado did a duet in which Curtis did a remarkable rendition of B.B.’s signature “3 O'clock Blues” while the King and Lucille did their thing. This set brought the entire room to it's feet.
The King was not alone - the Queen was in the house as well. Another of the evenings high points was watching Koko Taylor, the BMA Winner in the "Traditional Blues Female Artist" category, put on an enthusiastic performance of "Wang-Dang-Doodle". In spite of her recent health and financial problems, she looked like she could have wang-dang-doodled.....aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaal night loooooooooooooooong..... aaaaaaaaaaaaaaal night looooooooooooooooong. God bless you Koko!
Each and every year, there seems to be the evenings emotional moment. Who can ever forget the year that Bettye LaVette single handedly caused the place to run out of all absorbent materials? This year's "Bettye LaVette Moment" - as I will forever call it - happened as Christie Healey accepted the award for "Rock Blues Album of the Year", which was awarded to her late husband, Jeff Healey for his "Mess of Blues" CD. Christie's speech about bringing home a present for her son, that was given to his father by his fans, was equally heartwarming and uplifting. Although she did an admirable job in fighting back the tears, I didn't see many others sharing her success. Well said Christie, and I'm sure your son was proud of his daddy's present.
The weekends happenings - and I do mean happenings - started very early on Friday. At 12 Noon, Marcia Ball performed to a standing room only crowd at Alfred's On Beale. On my way to Sun Studios, I stopped in to catch the beginning of the show. Nearly three hours later I was still there amongst the huge crowd that was now giving Marcia a well deserved standing ovation. At different points of her show, Marcia invited Janiva Magness, Eden Brent and Candye Kane up as guests, turning the show into one of those being in the right place at the right time events.....in other words - a happening! By the way, both Janiva and Eden took home two BMA each. Congrats ladies!
Another event that is becoming tradition during the BMA weekend is the annual Delta Groove Bash. It's a monster show put on by the record company the night following the BMA. This was the forth annual "All Star Blues Revue", as it's billed, and it featured the likes of The Mannish Boys, The Hollywood Blue Flames, Jason Ricci & New Blood, Jackie Payne, Steve Edmonson, Kid Ramos, Junior Watson, J T Lauritsen, Candye Kane, and many other of the labels stable. This is always a hot ticket and a real butt kickin' show.
The other nights hot ticket was BMA winner Billy Gibson putting on a smoker of his own at The Rum Boogie Cafe. The prince of Beale Street was still high from his previous nights victory. As a matter of fact, there are some that think he was still up from his previous nights victory. You never can tell with Billy....the guy gives 150% anytime he takes the stage. With the lack of a Bob Margolin jam happening anywhere, the musicians who were out made it by the Rum Boogie, therefore eventually making it to the stage. Wild Bill had his own jam goin' on.
With these two events going on at opposite ends of Beale Street, my doctor will be happy knowing that as I bounced back and forth, I easily logged in a mile of walking. OK, so it was more like a mile of staggering.
By Saturday afternoon, some relaxing was in order. That was done at a victory celebration BBQ that Billy Gibson held at his house. The food was great as J T Lauritsen showed the guests that he can smoke a BBQ just as good as he smokes the blues. The company was even better, with such notables as Dave Fields and his band, Betsie Brown of Blind Raccoon, renowned blues writer Art Tipaldi, BMA host Dar, about a dozen of us from the SFBS and many others in attendance. Thanks & congrats, Billy!
There is a place about 45 minutes south of Memphis where you can almost always count on getting a large dose of the blues. That's where I decided to spend Saturday night and that's exactly what happened. Now I'm not talking about Clarksdale and the Ground Zero Blues Club. The place I'm talking about is called Tunica and as if I hadn't had enough of it yet, Harrah's Casino was more than happy to dump a heap of blues on me. But, that's a whole other story....who knows, maybe even a future blues song.
If you've never been to the Blues Music Awards, add it to the top of your bucket list. And when you go, let me know and we'll meet for a drink. I know I'll be there. I can be reached at Blewzzman@aol.com and you can see lots more pictures of this and many other events at www.Mary4Music.com.