Alright Biscuiteers, it’s a little late but maybe it’s just in time for some Hump Day musical adventure, if you know what I mean. This week’s selections were inadvertently inspired by Briggs Farm Blues Festival. Eddie Shaw played a hot set on the Main Stage but he also appears on a CD I bought from a vendor at the festival. The CD is Living Chicago Blues Volume 1 on Alligator Records. it was still in the long lost long box too! Eddie Shaw & The Wolf Gang have four songs on the disc including “My Baby’s So Ugly” which is mildly risque but makes me laugh too. I don’t usually listen to songs over and over again but this one got a few replays. While I was looking for it on Youtube for Hump Day, I came across another Eddie Shaw tune that again displayed his sly humor. “You’re Wife Is Cheating On Us” isn’t just a fun song for Hump Day, it’s scorching performance too and clocks in around nine minutes. See if you can go all the way with this Wolf Gang jam.
One doesn’t need a Master’s Degree in Music to safely state that Thorbjorn Risager and The Black Tornado is one of Denmark’s most successful music exports today. The band was formed by now 42-year old Risager back in 2003. Known for his distinctive powerful and gravelly voice he was first introduced to the blues by a neighbor and friend of his parents, a middle-aged gentleman who played him records by the likes of B. B. King and Ray Charles. Risager started playing the saxophone at the age of 12 and then moved on to guitar while the singing was more of a coincidence at first. By the time he went to high school he was already playing paid gigs.
Thorbjorn Risager studied to be a school teacher and even worked as such for several years. Later on he graduated from the Rhythmic Conservatory in Copenhagen, all the while composing songs, singing and playing with various local musicians. He started his own seven piece band in 2003, composing most of the band’s music himself. Mixing styles from blues, soul, gospel, rock and R&B to funk was his deliberate choice as was the distinctive sound of the band with its horns, individual solos and rolling, almost big-band like grooves.
The Thorbjorn Risager Band released its first album back in 2005 and toured extensively throughout Europe. As of 2013 the band has performed in no less than 17 countries and has released seven successful albums. In 2013 the band, with its name changed to Thorbjorn Risager and The Black Tornado, signed a record deal with Ruf Records, a Germany based label founded by Luther Allison’s manager, Thomas Ruf, placing Risager and company among the rows of other famous artists such as Royal Southern Brotherhood, Ana Popovic and Canned Heat.
The new album from Thorbjorn Risager and The Black Tornado, Too Many Roads, was released in March 2014. The album was recorded by Thorbjorn Risager – guitar and vocals, Peter Kehl – trumpet and background vocals, Kasper Wagner – saxophones, Martin Seidelin – drums and background vocals, Peter Skjerning – guitar and background vocals, Emil Blasgaard – keyboards and Soren Boigaard – bass. This time the band chose to self-produce the album.
So far Risager and his band mates have been famous mainly in Europe and the new album is their first attempt to bring their music to a non-European audience. The album comprises twelve songs melting together blues, rock, soul and more than a pinch of New Orleans sound. The general feeling is that of well controlled energy and tight interplay, all the arrangements being the result of teamwork. All in all, the listener gets the typical “Risager sound.”
The album opens with “If You Wanna Leave,” a dynamic rocker about being left by the one you love but being able to cope with this sad situation. As far as influences go, look no further than Bob Seger and his Silver Bullet Band. Another notable song is “Drowning,” which describes the devastating feeling after a break-up, where there’s simply nothing left but sorrow. The distinctive New Orleans vibe helps convey the general feeling of the song.
“Long Forgotten Track” is a ghost story, while the music is in the vein of the late great and sadly missed J. J. Cale. “Through The Years” is a song about a man looking back to a long lost love. It brings together B. B. King’s style of guitar playing and tone, paying tribute to one of Risager’s blues heroes as well as the soul music of the 60’s. “Rich Man” is a socially charged ode to the financial crisis and all those who are profiting from it. The song is characterized by a rich big-band sound. “Play On” closes the album by paying tribute to classic Jerry Lee Lewis style rockabilly. All in all, Too Many Roads is an album that will appeal not only to blues aficionados, but also to the general music-loving public with its varied moods and styles and brilliant musicianship. Could the next blues sensation come from Denmark? We will live and see.
Meanwhile, you can preview, buy and download the album at Amazon and iTunes.
This week we have several below the radar artists releasing new music, meaning mainstream outlets probably won’t be carrying them and you may or may not hear them on Satellite radio. It’s almost definite you won’t hear them on terrestrial radio – not if Clear Channel has anything to say about it. There’s lots of good music out there Biscuiteers and we’re here to help you find it.
It’s a big week for Omar Dykes fans. There are three Omar related reissues out this week from the Big Guitar Music label. Wounded Bird is reissuing Paul Butterfield’s Betters Days Live At Winterland Ballroom and for the first time on CD Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival 1972.
Trudy Lynn featuring Steve Krase Royal Oaks Blues Cafe
Paul Butterfield and Better Days Live At Winterland Ballroom
Various Artists Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival 1972
This double CD reissue of this live album appears here on CD for the very first time. This album was originally released as a two record set on Atlantic Records in 1972. The album features such Blues luminaries as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Freddie King, Luther Allison, Otis Rush, Bonnie Raitt, Hound Dog Taylor, Dr. John, Koko Taylor, Lucille Spann and many others.
Omar Dykes Blues Bag
Blues Bag was originally released in 1991 as an acoustic session of tracks featuring Omar Dykes on vocals and acoustic guitar and his good friend, Fingers Taylor, on harp. Several tracks are just Omar and Fingers playing classic blues. Omar decided to bring in the Howlers on a few tracks to give the album additional depth. Gene Brandon, an original Howler drummer, has since passed away. Bruce Jones on bass still plays with Omar today. Omar himself plays harp on Big Chief Pontiac. Many of the songs are some of Omar’s favorite tracks from his entire career. This CD is released as a tribute to Gene Brandon.
Omar and the Howlers’ first release from 1980 is being revived as the initial big band sound of the group. Featuring a horn section with Hugh Garroway, Bill Averbach, and Craig Simecheck, this album includes the five original Howlers: Omar Dykes, Gerry ”Phareaux” Felton, Bruce Jones, Richard Price, and Wes Starr. Recorded in Dallas and originally on Amazing Records, this release contains four original songs written by Omar Dykes.
Nalle, Omar and Magic Slim Chapel Hill
This album features an extraordinary combination of three very special performers. Nalle started out in 1957 and in the 60s became Denmark’s most famous rock and soul singer. Texas blues man Omar Dykes and his deep southern three-chord rough and tumble blues and trademark raw vocals has been a mainstay on the blues scene since the 1980s. Magic Slim was known and respected as the last real Chicago blues man. The tracks are set in an acoustic setting without drums and electric guitars.
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I’ve been in an Albert King mood recently and even went so far as to re-string a guitar upside down, tune it to E minor and attempt to play it. Yeah, attempt. It’s not as easy as it sounds. So when I was looking through old stuff to post for Throwback Thursday I came across this CD review from 2010 for The Doors Live In Vancouver with the man himself, Mr. Albert King.
Let’s fire up the Wayback (WABAC) machine and revisit those heady days of 2010 and 1970 when King Albert held court with Messrs Densmore, Krieger, Manzarek, and Mojo Risin’…
…This year fans of The Doors and blues fans alike will have something extra for which to be thankful. On Tuesday, November 23, 2010 Rhino Records in conjunction with Bright Midnight Archives will be releasing an oft-bootlegged performance from June 6, 1970 in Vancouver, British Columbia. The Doors Live In Vancouver 1970 presents a full recording of the band’s show from that evening which includes a four song jam with blues legend Albert King.
Although Albert was probably completely unfamiliar with their music, The Doors were no strangers to the blues. Keyboardist Ray Manzarek and singer Jim Morrison were avowed blues enthusiasts and many of their songs featured call & response style arrangements. The Doors music was an amalgamation of original American musical styles. Manzarek, drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger were all fans of jazz music, particularly Miles Davis’ and John Coltrane’s bands. Ray grew up on the South Side of Chicago and was intimately familiar with the city’s greatest export: Muddy Waters. The Doors combined the improvisational aspects of jazz with tight arrangements of Chess recordings of the 50’s, added some California psychedelia and lyrics by the Poet Laureate of the Apocalypse to create their own inimitable sound.
Live in Vancouver 1970 finds these influences profusely swirling around the band as they created the music on stage, cradled comfortably in the eye of the storm. The discs capture the entire show, including five minutes of pre-show stage noise and tuning. The musical portion opens just like their previous album, Morrison Hotel, with one of the most recognizable stuttering blues riffs of all-time in “Roadhouse Blues.” The riff continues on for a several extra bars as Morrison escalates the crowd’s anticipation by delaying the opening lines. Is he out of it tonight? Is he going to sing it at all? This tour was on the heels of the infamous Miami incident and the band, particularly its mercurial lead singer, was considered dangerous and unpredictable. Morrison eases his grip on the audience ever so slightly as he sings the first line; from there it’s a wild ride through the doors of perception.
The fitting “Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)” segues into a blues staple in The Doors’ repertoire: “Back Door Man.” As Jim Morrison channels the immortal Howlin’ Wolf there is no doubt whatsoever that the little girls understand. This abbreviated yet blistering version stops almost imperceptibly before Robby Krieger starts churning out the riff of “Five To One.” The two songs meld perfectly like two Vulcans in an orgasmatron.
“When The Music’s Over” continues the all-out attack on the senses with lulls and crescendos of its hard-rock psychedelic soundscape. Manzarek and Krieger create sheets of sound so disquieting they would stupefy John Coltrane. When Morrison unleashes the banshee wail of “NOW!” the pair seems to create in unison its demonic musical equivalent. Jim Morrison may have been the mouth and face of The Doors but Ray, Robby and John Densmore provided the relentless soundtrack keeping it fresh and interesting even as Jim’s antics grew tiresome. Here, these musicians are at the top of their game, and thankfully Jim is also on his best behavior. Maybe it was the presence of the King.
Albert King joins the band on stage after “Love Me Two Times” and a short American music history lesson from Jim to the audience while the crew sets up Albert’s rig. The jam starts with “Little Red Rooster.” Robby Krieger plays slide while Albert sends flurries of notes into the ether. Albert and Robby are in the same channel because of the recording set-up; it was recorded by then tour manager Vince Treanor using two AKG-D1000E stage microphones and a Sony T630 reel-to-reel tape machine. Their tones are similar and Robby uses the slide to great effect as he imitates Albert’s deep bends and they go toe to toe for several bars of rousing head-cutting action.
At the beginning of “Rock Me”, Ray can be heard calling out chord changes. Even without rehearsals, the band and King play like they did this every weekend and twice on Tuesdays. Ray Manzarek recalls in the notes “What a funky night. Jim singing his ass off with a prod in the butt by a legendary old blues man.” Albert King brought out the best in all the musicians of The Doors. They closed the jam with an exhilarating rendition of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love.” Robby again adorns his finger with the slide and slithers through the verses like a desert sidewinder. Even with King sitting in, The Doors sound and style permeates this seminal rhythm and blues tune transforming it into cascading prismatic majesty. In the midst of it all, Albert King is there not merely riding on the storm but actively contributing to its power. The band and fans are duly impressed. A voice from the audience calls out “all right Albert!” and the disc ends with Jim acknowledging their guest.
Disc two has only two songs but at nearly 18 minutes each, “Light My Fire” and “The End” finish an already dynamic show in a grand manner. Jim’s spoken word piece “Petition The Lord With Prayer” starts off “Light My Fire” and so begins a dazzling display of The Doors improvisational abilities. Ray and Robby build their solos to fever pitch; Robby even throws in Coltrane quotes like “My Favorite Things.” Morrison takes a turn, improvising lyrics based around “St. James Infirmary” and fever. John Densmore’s agile percussion pulls everything together and pushes it to the edge of the precipice. His connection to the music is mesmerizing. It is intuitive and telepathic. He builds the dam and then crashes through it like the cresting Mississippi. Set the night on fire indeed.
With its minor key Eastern melodies and rolling tabla-style drums “The End” gives the crowd a few moments to rest and catch their breath before it too furiously builds to a glorious climax. It’s the end of disc two and the end of the show, but hopefully it is not the end of these archival recordings that have been released almost yearly for the past decade.
Although there are sonic limitations from the original tapes, the sound is clear and robust. The mics on stage capture banter between songs and calls from the audience, all adding richness to the atmosphere of the show. The recordings have been cleaned up and balanced by long-time Doors engineer and producer Bruce Botnik and this set is far superior to the bootlegs in circulation. It makes an excellent addition to any Doors fan’s collection and appeals to curious blues fan as well.
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Friday and Saturday, July 11 &12, 2014 we’ll be on site at Briggs Farm for this year’s “best weekend of the summer.” Follow us on Twitter @BluesBiscuits and if you don’t have Twitter but you’re on Facebook, LikeBlues Biscuits there and you’ll get the Tweets in our Facebook feed.
This will be our very first live tweet event so we hope you will join us and provide feedback. Let us know what you think, discuss the artists, complain about the crappy cellphone pictures, or tell us we’re eating too many BBQ sandwiches.
Here’s a quick rundown of the lineup and schedule:
So, this morning I was up bright and early putting brake rotors on my wife’s car and it struck me how many blues tunes use cars, auto mechanics, parts and repair at double-entendres. Even “working the rotors” sounds dirty, as do “checking out my toolkit” and “tight fit.” Later on my way to work I heard Johnny Adams doing “Body And Fender Man.” After all that, the Hump Day theme has to be car songs that are probably about sex. Probably?
I thought about where it all started and the car-as-sex-metaphor songs seem to originate with Robert Johnson’s “Terraplane Blues.” The Terraplane was a popular, affordable automobile with one of the first, if not the first closed cabin. Guess what a closed cabin is good for? I’m paraphrasing Bill Bill Broonzy here, but he once spoke about song writing saying you think of a thing and everything you can do with that thing and you’ll get a song. Apply that principles to cars and you get a long tradition of risque car songs.
I really enjoy Eli Cook’s versions of old blues tunes so I chose his version of “Terraplane Blues” to share with you. Eli manages to add some menace to the song and is definitely not happy that someone’s been driving his Terraplane for you since he’s been gone.
One of my favorite tunes from Johnny Winter’sSerious Business LP is “Master Mechanic.” It stuck in my teenage mind to this very day! He’s going to align your front end and pump some air in your spare. Don’t you panic. He’s a master mechanic. He gets the jargon right too and it doesn’t see as forced as our next entry (that too sounds dirty!).
“Check My Baby’s Oil” is a fun tune from Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials‘ Full Tilt album. The words are a bit hokey and cheesy but Ed has so much fun with it, we can forgive him. I’ve just never been sure what he hoped to learn by checking the oil. Mileage, sure. Tire wear, definitely. But the oil? He’s no master mechanic like Johnny. Anyway, how can you not like a song about dipsticks and oil pans?
One more before we go and maybe I’ll get some angry comments about this one but at this point I’ll take angry comments over no comments so here goes… Led Zeppelin’s “Trampled Under Foot.” If not for Led Zeppelin I may have never heard the Blues. I will defend their lyrical indiscretions vehemently to anyone who wants to argue. Robert Johnson got about the same percentage of his lyrics from Skip James as Led Zep got from Willie Dixon. People can pretend all they want that Zep stole songs but the tradition started about five minutes after the first song was written. 20th Century recording capabilities created records of songs and in doing so made ownership of hand-me-down songs possible. Blues musicians continued the tradition any way and just about any post-war blues tune can be traced to an earlier recording. Anyway, Trampled Under Foot is Led Zeppelin’s tune in the style of “Terraplane Blues.” Just lay back and enjoy it. That sound dirty.
Eli Cook – Terraplane Blues
Johnny Winter – Master Mechanic
Lil’ Ed and The Blues Imperials – Check My Baby’s Oil
Led Zeppelin – Trampled Underfoot
Jimmy Thackery & The Drivers Wide Open Jamthack (CD Baby)
Jimmy Thackery & The Drivers are back again, this time with a full CD of all original music. Work began on Wide Open in 2012 at Tony’s Treasures in Cadiz, OH but apparently the band wasn’t happy with the results and only two songs were held over from those sessions. As much as I’d love to hear what they kept in the vault, Wide Open clearly demonstrates the care the band puts into the music. Jimmy Thackery & The Drivers have delivered a stellar, boundless record that captures the spirit of cross country road trip into the big unknown.
The disc starts off with a drum roll and a clean toned guitar, settling into a laid back groove perfectly suited to Thackery’s conversational vocals. “Change Your Tune” is an exercise in restraint, from the tempo to the guitar tones and slowly bent notes of the guitar fills and solos. Jimmy Thackery shows off his mastery of the instrument without showing off and keeps you hanging on each note, especially in the outro solo. The mid tempo blues continue with “Minor Step” which finds the master of the Stratocaster playing a Gibson arch top. The instrumental piece has elements from the jazz greats like Wes Montgomery and Grant Green, 50’s rock tunes like “Sleepwalk”, and Latin blues in its rhythms.
While the first two tracks have you thinking this is going to be a mellow trip on I-80 west of Cheyenne with the top down and Big Sky over head, “Coffee And Chicken” finds the band getting greasy and low down, on a dusty road outside of town, on the trail of something resembling a fresh cup of Joe and the Colonel’s greatest achievement. Jimmy turns up the gain, gets gritty with the tones, and he affects a Howlin’ Wolf rasp as he professes his chicken affliction and caffeine addiction.
Thackery’s lyrics are his secret weapon. He sings about common subjects, but his wordplay provides twists and turns of phrase that might leave you shaking your head, smiling, cringing, and laughing; maybe all at the same time. “Coffee And Chicken” might have him praying to the Colonel for a yardbird and cup of mud, but “King Of Livin’ On My Own” further shows off his deft wordplay and storytelling. The song is performed Jug Band style, with a jaunty gait, and almost Vaudevillian lyrics about a man who’s not unhappy to be recently thrust into living on his own. With a sly smile, Thackery delivers lines like “I threw the dishes in the tub, instead of all that rub a dub dub, I sprayed ‘em down with a high pressure garden hose.” Who hasn’t wanted to that once in a while? The king of living alone does it whenever damn well pleases. Altogether it’s a lyrical and musical treat, with Jimmy Thackery playing some engaging acoustic guitar licks under his tale of bachelorhood supremacy.
Jimmy Thackery pulls out the acoustic guitar again in “Run Like The Wind” and in “Shame, Shame, Shame” where it is accented by weeping slide licks that return us to the laid back road trip feel of Wide Open after the sharp, rough and rockin’ “Hard Luck Man” which put us in the passing lane for 5:47 with the pedal to the metal power chords and combustible fretwork. “Keep My Heart From Breakin’” is another tough blues rocker and Thackery unleashes some his most caustic soloing on Wide Open, with whammy bar dives and bent notes flying fast and furious.
“You Brush Me Off” is another low key instrumental, full of nuance and nimble fingered mood making guitar licks. Jimmy Thackery is obviously known for his guitar playing and on Wide Open he displays less histrionics and more subtlety. He expertly sets the moods, makes all the notes count and gives them plenty of room to breathe in the Wide Open. It’s a side of his playing that can be overlooked when discussing his talents. Jimmy Thackery plays fast, he plays wild, he plays loud; but he plays for the song and this record seems to be all about giving the notes space. After a few listens, you’ll pick up on the impact this approach has on the music and it will hopefully enhance your own enjoyment.
The disc closes with a shimmering instrumental that reminds us the heat coming off the highway on the horizon and that our trip through the Wide Open continues into the distance. The track was inspired by and named for the new Thackery home, called “Pondok” by the builders/previous owners. The translation from the South African/Indonesian is “shack or house with a tin roof” and it seems the previous owner and the Thackerys alike realize it’s not the materials that make a home.
Wide Open explores landscapes, soundscapes, homes, tones, and chicken bones. It takes us on the road, shows us the open spaces, and urges us to leave them alone. The Drivers display their knack for understated brilliance. Together, Jimmy Thackery and the band deliver an excellent new album that is not to be missed.
Find Jimmy Thackery And The Drivers on tour. You’ll be sorry you didn’t.
July 10, 2014
Sellersville Theatre – Sellersville, PA
July 11, 2014
Chan’s – Woonsocket, RI
July 12, 2014
Bull Run – Shirley, MA
July 13, 2014 North Atlantic Blues Festival – Rockland, ME
July 15, 2014
Dinosaur BBQ – Syracuse, NY
July 16, 2014
Dinosaur BBQ – Rochester, NY
July 17. 2014
Dinosaur BBQ – Buffalo, NY
July 18, 2014
Turning Point – Piermont, NY
July 19, 2014
Stanhope House – Stanhope, NJ
July 21, 2014
Iridium – New York, NY
July 23, 2014
St Georges Country Store – St Georges, DE
July 25, 2014
Birchmere – Alexandria, VA w/ Sonny Landreth!
July 26, 2014 Acoustic Stage – Hickory, NC
July 30, 2014
Midway Tavern – Mishawaka, IN
July 31, 2014
Callahan’s – Auburn Hills, MI
Aug 01, 2014
Reggie’s Music Joint – Chicago, IL
August 02, 2014
Famous Dave’s – Minneapolis, MN
Aug 06, 2014
Uncle Bo’s – Topeka, KS
August 08, 2014
George’s – Fayetteville, AR
Aug 09, 2014
Knucklehead’s – Kansas City, MO
Aug 14, 2014
Saint Andrew’s Market Place – Dothan, AL
August 16, 2014
Great American Blues Fest – Panama City Beach, FL
October 11, 2014
Daytona Blues Festival – Daytona, FL
Dec 06, 2014
Bradenton Blues Festival – Bradenton, FL
This week is pretty decent for new Blues releases with three live albums, a pair of reissues, and a deal going down. With a full house, a deal, and a guy named Lucky, I’m not sure if this is a new music list or card game in some juke joint last Friday night.
Next Friday, July 11, 2014, the Briggs Farm Blues Festival will kick off its 17th annual event with a stellar lineup of national and local acts, great food, and an eclectic array of vendors. In 2012 I had the opportunity to chat with festival organizer Richard Briggs on the occasion of the festival’s 15th Anniversary.
Let’s fire up the Wayback machine for a short trip in time to 2012 and Richard Briggs…
Briggs Farm is a 350 acre family-run farm nestled in the small, rural Pennsylvania town of Nescopeck and one weekend every July since 1998 it has been home to blues musicians and fans from around the world as they gather for the Briggs Farm Blues Festival. 2012 marks the 15th anniversary of the Briggs Farm Blues Festival which has hosted dozens of artists from legends like David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Big Jack Johnson, Eddie Shaw, Louisiana Red and Johnny Rawls to local favorites Clarence Spady and upstarts like Vandelay Industries. The festival features acts on the Main Stage and the Porch stage which is literally a back porch set up under a tent and the spot where Honeyboy Edwards sat telling stories about his time with Robert Johnson, Harper instructed the crowd on the finer points of didgeridoo playing, and festival favorite and BBQ Pit Master Lonnie Shields perennially lights up the night with his electrifying performances. For the 15th anniversary, the folks at Briggs Farm have put together another all-star lineup including Sam Lay on the Back Porch, Friday headliner Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater, Saturday headliner Bernard Allison, plus Moreland & Arbuckle, Rory Block, The Butterfield Blues Band, Linsey Alexander, Alexis P. Suter Band, and many others. The festival takes place on July 6 and 7, 2012 and is sure to be a hot weekend of blues.
The Briggs Farm Blues Festival is the brainchild of Richard Briggs, blues and roots music fan and former TV producer. We caught up with Richard recently to take a look back at 15 years of Blues and family fun down on the farm. Richard Briggs’ experience as a producer gave him a different perspective when he attended festivals as a fan, “I like to go to other festivals, not just to see musicians but to see how it’s produced. I produced TV shows for PBS station WVIA and I was there for 22 years. I started this project here on the family farm while I was still doing TV, so I come from that background and I really enjoy putting on a show.” The idea for the festival came to him at the Philadelphia Folk Festival, “I always thought I could do better. I was at the Philly Folk Festival thinking ‘I could do this.’ Everything was ready and I just had to put it together. It took a few years to get it together and convince people that it wasn’t outrageous. It took a lot of convincing at first. The township was concerned and wanted to make sure it wouldn’t be a bad situation for the community and neighbors. We’ve had a gradual growth in attendance over the 15 years so it wasn’t like a horde of crazy people coming in to town. Traffic problems never occurred, parking wasn’t an issue. It’s really become a good thing for the community. In addition to the local business people who are involved, there are families who come to visit relatives and go to the blues festival. People come from Texas, Canada, California, all over. ”
Richard was confident he and the festival could succeed but he’s not afraid to admit he over-reached a bit that first year. “I had planned to do three festivals,” he said with a laugh. “But I learned my lesson. People still say to me ‘why don’t you do a jam band or a country festival?’ – but they’re crazy! It’s a lot to put together, but that first year I had a folk festival also and there was another one I cancelled. But the blues people were just really nice. They were comfortable and it was well enough attended that I really didn’t lose any money. Now, we get a lot of people coming back and they bring more people and whole families and groups of friends. It’s a comfortable place for people.” Comfort isn’t usually something you often expect at a festival, but the laid back atmosphere and farm fresh food at Briggs Farm is a big part of the comfort factor. Their willingness to allow coolers and outside food and drinks also helps, and you can’t beat camping at Briggs Farm, especially if it rains. “It was initially a one day event and the next year we had really bad weather. In fact the second year attendance was less because of the weather so we decided to do two days. We already had everything set up so we thought if one day is rainy and one day isn’t then it’s not a loss if people only come one day. Then we had some people who wanted to camp so we started letting them stay overnight. So camping turned out to be the best idea because people camping don’t care if it rains and it makes it very easy for people to come a long way. They don’t have to find a hotel and don’t have to drive if they’ve had a few drinks. It’s a lot of fun to have people stay overnight.”
Camping tickets are a hot commodity and have greatly helped the Briggs Farm maintain its reasonable prices, which is important to Richard and the folks at Briggs Farm. They view their festival as a family event and want as many people to enjoy the music as possible. “If we have to increase the price we agonize over it. We’d rather have more people come than raise the prices and have less people. We have the space so we want people to come have a good time. We don’t want it to be an expensive event. I think our prices are good and we’re going to keep them there. We’re making it at this price. We didn’t start out to make a bucket of money and be done. We want a yearly event that we all love to do and have it be financially stable, which it is. We like the bands we’re able to afford at this point. We’ve been able to grow our audience and we can pull from a larger pool of artists now because we can pay more. Now our second stage is becoming as well booked as our big stage.”
Another integral part of this successful festival is the food, which is overseen by none other than Lonnie Shields who is not only a blues maestro but also a barbecue master who offered his services to a frustrated Richard Briggs. “One of the early years, Lonnie headlined on a Friday night and that’s when I met him. He’s one of those guys that’s always talking barbecue and we continued to talk over the years and we’ve had him back a few times. Eventually he offered it to me. Originally we were making the food ourselves, and then we had vendors in and I was not happy. Then again we had vendors the next year and I still wasn’t happy. Lonnie was there and he wanted to help out. We made the smokers and cookers to Lonnie’s specifications. We buy 500 to 600 pounds of pork and he comes up and starts cooking on Wednesday night.” Richard continues, “Making the food is something we always wanted to do ourselves and with Lonnie’s help it’s going well. We’re adding some new things in the style of home cooked Delta-style food. We definitely want something home cooked instead of from a cart or a truck and Lonnie loves doing it. Now he brings his sister Pearly Mae up from Helena, Arkansas to help him out. They have a little family reunion. He has other family within reach and they all come to the festival and stay over.
Lonnie also knows all the musicians coming in and he often goes and plays with them on the main stage after his set on the Porch Stage. He entertains all the volunteers too. He has plenty of stories! I was concerned that at some point he might not be able to do it so I asked him about it and he said I’d have to tell him not to come, and that’s not going to happen.”
Over the course of 15 years there have been some great memories made for fans and musicians a like but a few stick out in Richard Briggs’ memory, “We always try to get some older guys for the Porch Stage so that can be really close to the audience and relate some of the history. This year we have Sam Lay and in 2010 we had Louisiana Red – a lot of those guys are leaving us, but Red was here. We had a lot of rain that Saturday night and I remember him sitting in the green room tent backstage waiting to go on and water is coming in under the tent – it was raining pretty hard – but he wanted to go on. He’s saying ‘If there’s any way we can go on, we want to play.’ So I told him as soon as the sound guy gives me the go ahead we’ll get you out there. It was real late and the rain stopped so Red went on and then it started to rain again but he kept going! He played until around two in the morning. His wife wanted him off stage because it was really late but he wasn’t pausing between songs long enough for us to comfortably get in there to get him off stage. It was quite an experience.” He continues, “One year, Eddie Kirkland, who was about 80 years old, drove up in the beat-up old 80’s station wagon, popped the hood and started working on it. I looked in and it was held together by wire and duct tape! (laughs) It’s just been great to meet all those guys.”
Luckily, everyone attending Briggs Farm Blues Festival also gets the chance to meet the performers, usually at the merchandise table after their sets but many stick around for some of Lonnie’s pulled pork or some fresh sweet corn cooked to perfection, and can be found chatting with fans and fellow musicians all day long. The interaction between musicians and fans, the relaxed atmosphere, the volunteers, the fresh food, and great music makes Briggs Farm Blues Festival a true family destination that is affordable and enjoyable. There is a tangible sense of community that permeates the festival, putting smiles on faces even before the music starts and Richard Briggs is particularly proud of it, “I want people to get that as soon as they drive in and I want them to be wowed by it and get that excitement.”