An all star lineup was made even
better by a super moon, to close the show!
The talent at this year’s Gloucester Blues Festival was superb –
culminating with a nine-piece band finale headed by guitarist-vocalist Ronnie Baker Brooks, son of the legendary Chicago bluesman Lonnie Brooks. His set included classics by Muddy, Wolf, and Hooker.
And if that wasn’t mind blowing enough, he invited the talented slide guitarist Debbie Davies to the stage, along with the funky Biscuit Miller. The dancing during the rising o’ the supah moon is nearly indescribable, although Sistah tried to take notes as she shook her money maker. It’s hard to read them, though.
The picture-perfect summer day began with Willie J. Laws, a local favorite who belted out his Hendrix-esque licks to an already packed crowd. The gates opened at 9 a.m. Willie was on stage around 11 a.m., wowing the crowd with “Corn Bread Moan” and other fan favorites.
He was followed by Sugar Ray and the Bluetones, another very popular local band , who also put on a great set. The band featured Mike Welch on guitar and Anthony Geraci on keys. After the set, Geraci said he has played at other festivals organized by Paul Benjamin, of North Atlantic Blues Festival fame, but this was his first time in Gloucester. “Even though we went on early, we had a good crowd,” Geraci said. Most of the songs they did were from the band’s new CD, Living Tear to Tear, with 10 originals on the 12 tracks. It was kind of a rare appearance at a local festival, Geraci said, as these days the Bluetones mainly go on the road in Canada and Europe and string together festivals there.
Influenced by Otis Spann and some Jazz pianists, Geraci recounted a fond memory of the time Memphis Slim clapped him on the shoulder and said, “You play while I sing.” “So I played one of Memphis Slim’s songs WITH Memphis Slim who was not playing piano,” he said. (Geraci does not remember the song.
Want to take a guess?)
The Gloucester Festival, in its third year, is eerily similar to the long-standing and well-liked North Atlantic festival, held each July in Rockland, Maine. With one notable exception: While concert goers can look at the boats in the harbor in Maine, at historic Stage Fort Park in Gloucester, they can easily walk a few steps down to a picturesque sandy beach for a swim or a rest right on the sand. The Gloucester show, co-organized by Bob Hastings, drew about 1,200 fans this year, Hastings said – about the same as last year.
Debbie Davies gave her usual great performance, including “No Way Out,” along with some Albert Collins songs. Her career started playing with Collins, no wonder she is such a standout guitarist. Debbie impressed Sistah by paying tribute to guitarist Walter Trout, who is recovering from a liver transplant, by doing Trout’s “Ride Until I’m Satisfied,” accompanied by Mike Welch and Jay Stollman.
Biscuit Miller and the Mix did some really good funk, including some James Brown – with the appropriate dance moves. They also did a good bluesy version of “Hoochie Coochie Man.”
The drummer for Biscuit, a striking figure who goes by the moniker “Dr. Love,” is quite the character! I was wondering who was that guy dressed in bright red, complete with a top hat, and a stethoscope dangling around his neck. I noticed him buying some hand-cut fries (they were gooood) during the show. After his set, he was up and dancing suggestively with several ladies in the audience (Moe of the bunny ears and “head-banger” Mary from New Hampshire – I’m talking to you!)
And there he was dancing again, this time backstage with Debbie Davies and a few other musicians – in a line like at a Greek wedding.
I later learned that Chicago-based Dr. Love (real name Myron Robinson) started playing drums at the age of 10 and formed his first band by the age of 12. Myron saw success with the hit band Magnum Force.
Later teaming up with Biscuit Miller, Robinson added his own groove to the original Biscuit Miller & The Mix. While Stan Skibby was in Poland and Biscuit was playing with the Anthony Gomes Band, “Dr. Love” toured with James Armstrong out of California. He has also opened for
and played with Koko Taylor.
Tinsley Ellis, the Atlanta Blues-rocker with a big following, rocked the crowd with “Cut You Loose” and his own hit, “Devil for a Dime.” Ellis brought Debbie Davies back on stage, and they did Elmore James’ classics “Dust My Broom” and “It hurts me too.”
Memphis-based keyboardist Victor Wainwright, winner of two Blues Music Awards, the “Pinetop Perkins Piano Player award” gave a rollicking set of barrelhouse, honky-tonk boogie. The crowd grooved on it. I heard he sometimes plays in Memphis with our own Gracie Curran, who moved south earlier this year.
Speaking of the audience, EVERYONE was there. Shall I drop names? OK, there were Blues radio stars Holly Harris and Greg Sarni, former BBS prez Heather McKibben and her crew; current BBS president Paul McNeil, and treasurer Bev Dancey and her man, “Washboard Man” Bill DeTellis; Carole Mellor from the BBS, newest board member Jo Neary; the two Joanne’s: Cullen and Silva (Gloucester music babe), and of course my party pal, Nancy Weston. (We are neighbors now!)
Joe Marino spent the day at his post videotaping while Moe was getting her, ah, “checkup” from Dr. Love. I’m amazed Mary “Headbanger” Baker didn’t need a neck brace after all that head noggin’ action.
The big bright orb of a moon rose over the Atlantic as the Ronnie Baker Brooks Band arrived in a big bus (two of them, actually) and about nine musicians jumped out. This was evident during his set – a nice big sound featuring lots of brass and guitars. The Brooks band was absolutely um, AWESOME SAUCE! Ronnie’s guitar style is obviously learned from his father (Lonnie Brooks).
“You fellas know the ladies are in control now” he said before doing a song called “Wham, Bam, thank you SAM” and then a
ballad, “for the ladies.” How can you not adore a guy like that?
With the jam at the end, the show went over its allotted time, to the delight of everyone still standing, dancing, or digesting food and drink from an array of vendors including pizza, seafood, barbecue, fried dough, and micro-brews by the Cape Ann Brewing Company.
All in all, it was one of the best Blues Festivals in recent memory. And such a deal–only $28 In advance, (it was $40 at the gate,
plus $15 parking.)
Plan to check it out next summah!