Jul 14, 2009 Russ Tarby Uncategorized
Performances outshine soggy Saturday, sunny Sunday at 18th annual Blues Fest:
Jagged bolts of lightning sparkled in the night sky like a surreal fireworks show as Savoy Brown plugged in on the Budweiser Main Stage at the New York State Blues Fest Saturday night in Clinton Square.
Electricity also surged from the stage ignited by Kim Simmonds’ fiery Flying V guitar.
After an enthusiastic introduction by blues impresario and actor Dan Aykroyd, Savoy Brown tore into Saturday’s climactic set with “Long as I Got You” which Simmonds capped off by alternating low-string riffs with screaming high-note runs.
As Aykroyd bounced to the tunes backstage, Simmonds was ably backed by bassist Gerry Sorrentino and drummer Mario Staiano.
The 61-year-old Welsh-born guitarist displayed complete mastery of the instrument on “Goin’ to Louisiana” which he deftly textured with toggle-switch manipulations.
Though he’s been playing blues-rock for four decades, Simmonds only recently took over vocal chores, but his performance here Saturday showed him in strong voice well-suited to his decidedly declarative music. Still, it’s his guitar work that gave the background lightning a run for its money.
He replaced the V with a red Les Paul for “I Feel All Right” and picked up an acoustic six-string for “Out of the Blue” (the title tune of his recent solo Blue Wave disc). In between, he played a traditional blues on an old hollow-body Gibson that he called, “My blues guitar. Why? Because it’s held together with tape and strings.”
After incendiary versions of Savoy Brown’s Seventies’ hits “Hellbound Train” and “Needle and Spoon,” thunder gave way to torrents of rain, negating an encore as the 6,000 or so in the crowd rushed for cover.
It had rained mid-day as well while Popa Chubby chugged out his Big Apple blues. The big man from the Bronx jawed with hundreds of fans who braved the heavy showers with panchos and umbrellas. “You don’t care, do you?” He asked about the weather. “All you want to do is have a good time.”
As though to second that emotion, the sun emerged from behind dark clouds as Chubby coaxed a particularly imaginative solo from his pastel blue Stratocaster on “Little Wing,” from his 2006 Jimi Hendrix tribute set, Electric Chubbyland.
Though he stood for most of his set, when he sat, Popa Chubby, 49, looked — and sounded –like a self-satisfied Buddha of the Blues.
Although an acoustic performer herself, guitarist Rory Block complimented Chubby and the three band-mates for their electric blues expertise. Block, 59, followed Chubby on the smaller Dinosaur Bar-B-Que Stage by giving a scintillating seminar on the history of the Delta blues, focusing specifically on the music of Son House and Robert Johnson.
She opened playing slide on Johnson’s “Cross Road Blues,” which he waxed in 1936.
Another of Saturday’s high points came at the opposite end of Clinton Square when Aykroyd whipped out his harmonica to jam with vocalist Alexis Suter. The co-founder of the Blues Brothers dubbed Suter “the No. 1 contender for next Queen of the Blues.”
Sunday lived up to its name as blues skies abounded. Tas Cru was cutely supported by a trio of winsome women singers, followed by Brooklyn guitarist Chris Bergson whose vocals recalled A.J. Croce and whose performance was buoyed by master keyboardist Bruce Katz.
Katz had a busy afternoon. He also fronted his own combo mostly playing organ but climaxing with a barrelhouse boogie-woogie piano tune. Later Katz turned up in headliner John Hammond’s quartet.
Rochester-raised and New Orleans-based guitar man John Mooney recalled playing at Syracuse’s legendary Firebarn in the late 1970s. He opened his set with “Baby, Please Don’t Go,” then he played wicked slide on titles ranging from “Dirty Rat” to “Sacred Ground.”
A heartfelt tribute to late Syracuse bluesman Roosevelt Dean featured no less than 19 area musicians, including leader Jim Pavente on bass, vocalist Carolyn “Dessie” Kelly, fiddler Pete Daniels, harmonica blowers Pete McMahon and Tom Townsley and guitarists Todd Fitzsimmons, Terry Mulhauser and Mark Hoffmann.
The Dean set opened with Rosey’s anthem to downtown Syracuse, “Blues Heaven,” and concluded with a rousing version of “Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand,” with all hands on board.
It’s too bad the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que stage, which hosted the regional acts as well as Rory Block, projected less than half the sound as the main stage. If you stood close to the Dino Stage, no problem. But if you were standing at the square’s 50-yard line, you couldn’t hear the words nor appreciate the guitar work (both of which you could easily do with main-stage performances). This “second stage” lacked presence and power, which is a disservice both to its musicians and its audiences.
Hammond capped off the two-day festival from the main stage with a blend of acoustic and electric blues that started with the passionate proclamation, “I’m Ready for Love.” While previous Blues Fests drew 10,000 or more on its closing night, it’s doubtful that half that many were on hand for Hammond, who is nevertheless one of the best white bluesmen in the world.
Leave it to the Roman Catholic Trappist monks to create heavenly brews.
For more than 900 years, the contemplative monks have been brewing delicious beers in Europe and a handful of those brews were available for tasting in the Belgian Tent Friday, July 10, at the seventh annual Empire State Brewing and Music Festival.
Only a fraction of the 2,800 who turned out for Friday’s Brew Fest wandered into the Belgian Tent, but those who didn’t really missed a rare treat.
The Trappist brands sampling there included Orval, Westmalle, Rochefort and Chimay.
Now brewed at seven monasteries (six in Belgium and one in Holland), the amber-colored beers are unlike any others. Nothing like Bohemian pilsners, they’re also far more complex than hearty British ales. Like the world’s best wines, the Trappist brews are hard to describe but easy to enjoy.
One reviewer from Louisiana described an Orval Trappist Ale this way:
“Taste hits right off with strong notes of citrus, mostly lemon with a little bit of orange. A floral burst of hop flavor lies underneath with a lot of spice present. Some faint notes of yeast can also be detected. Starts and finishes very dry.”
No wonder they’re so expensive. A 750 ml bottle of Chimay goes for about $10.