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Fresh Biscuits! New CD Reviews

There were a lot of great Blues albums that came out so far this year and unfortunately some that aren’t so great. I’ve been away from reviews for a while and focusing on other things but we’re back and our upcoming reviews will sort through the junk so you don’t have to. Let’s hit it!

JaneLeeHookerNoBJane Lee Hooker
No B!
Released on April 15, 2016

If Sass Jordan formed a blues band called AC/DC it would sound like Jane Lee Hooker and she’d make us all believers. The real Jane Lee Hooker is a no-nonsense, no frills, no-fucking-chance-of-hearing-anything-pretty street fighting New York City bunch of Rock & Rollers high on Blues power and Hell bent on riding on Howlin’ Wolf’s God damned shoulders out into the shadowy alleys of your soul. With their debut album No B! on Ruf Records they bring along tough original songs like “In The Valley” and high octane covers like “Mean Town Blues” and “Shake For Me,” and their version of “Mannish Boy” will have the North Carolina potty police checking their hardware, if you know what I mean.

Guitarists High Top and Tina ‘T Bone’ Gorin played together in Helldorado from 1997-2001 before a host of personnel issues killed that band. In 2013 they reconvened and have been bringing their raucous guitar sparring to the masses ever since with Jane Lee Hooker. Singer Dana “Danger” Athens earns her name on every track on No B! as the band courageously occupies an improbable space where Punk, Blues, and Rock & Roll collide. You can’t fake this music and anyone who tries will probably get run over by a biker with a Jane Lee Hooker tattoo. And it would serve them right.
AlbertCastigliaBigDogAlbert Castiglia
Big Dog
Released on May 20, 2016

Big Dog continues the upward march of Albert Castiglia’s career and reputation as a hard hitting singer and guitarist. Big Dog has all the blazing guitars you come you expect but every song is a keeper which is a high-water mark for any artist. The album blasts off with a solid punch in your slick, pop-blues loving face. “Let The Big Dog Eat” is strutting, grunting, fighting, biting, no-punches-pulled back alley dog fight with the leader of the pack coming to claim what has been rightfully surrendered. Much of Big Dog falls into the realm of funky, gritty, dirty, and stanky. From the grooves to the guitar tones and snarl in his voice Albert infects the music with a nasty South Side Trojan horse virus that will actually cure your Blues.

Harp maestro Johnny Sansone sits in on two tracks, getting mean and evil on “Where The Devil Makes His Deals.” Producer Mike Zito wrote and performs on “Don’t Let Them Fool Ya” and together they tag team that track like a college Lacrosse team on Saturday night. Zito has been a common thread in many of the best blues albums of the last few years including a few of his own. He certainly inspired to Albert to play his best and sing from the soul. Albert is clearly hitting his stride as a well-rounded musician. Albert’s voice sounds great on Big Dog. It is strong, deep, and authoritative. He sings with conviction and his emotions sell the songs regardless of the words. As for the guitar playing, this is is my kind of album. From gutbucket slide to razor sharp Albert King licks and all points in between Big Dog has it. if Albert Castiglia comes near your town, do not hesitate; just “Get Your Ass In The Van” and go.

 

MorelandArbucklePromisedLandOrBustMoreland & Arbuckle
Promised Land Or Bust
Released on May 6, 2016

Promised Land Or Bust is a return to the hard blues by this workhorse band from Kansas. They are ready to rumble and the rumble in these grooves is deep and wide. Once again this trio presents the Blues in a familiar yet fresh fashion which blends everything from Little Walter to Soundgarden into a denim and sweat smoothie that will put boots on your feet and hair on your face. The band eschews cliches of classic and modern blues and even though songs like “Mean And Evil” touch on common themes they are addressed from new perspectives. The lyrics examine loneliness, desperation, atonement, and redemption. Even their brilliant choice of covers like Mike Hosty’s murder ballad “Hannah” and Ryan Taylor’s bleak “Why’d She Have To Go (and Let Me Down)” blend seamlessly with their own meditations on the heart of darkness. Few bands can walk the tightrope between visceral and cerebral and even fewer can capture us in that nexus like Moreland & Arbuckle. Their songs will punch you in the gut, explain to you why it had to be done and by the way, it’s for your own good!

Drummer Kendall Newby is the unsung and un-named secret weapon of Moreland & Arbuckle. His powerful yet nuanced drumming makes him the John Bonham of Roots and Blues. He drives “Mean & Evil” to the precipice of Hell, lays down a full court press on “I’m A King Bee” and underscores the melancholic majesty of “Mount Comfort.” Since joining the band about five years ago he has put his stamp on their whole catalog but his contributions to the new music cannot be overlooked. Elsewhere, Promised Land Or Bust offers delicate beauty on “Waco Avenue,” and the raucous shuffle they have perfected is represented by “Woman Down In Arkansas” and the marauding “Long Way Home.”

Moreland & Arbuckle have been together under their own moniker for over ten years and they continue to move from strength to strength. For me, their last album 7 Cities was perfect in every way but it stepped away from the blues farther than any of their previous efforts. Promised Land Or Bust returns the band to the Blues. It is a crowd-funded effort through a Kickstarter campaign and their persistence and dedication to the music and the dedication of their fans paid off when Alligator Records picked them up. Their ten years of toils have landed them on the premier Blues label in the world. The Promised Land is on the horizon and closing fast. You owe it to yourself to join them for the journey.

 

JimSuhlerLiveAtTheKesslerJim Suhler & Monkey Beat
Live At The Kessler
Released On June 17, 2016

I love a good live album and Live At The Kessler doesn’t let me down. Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat are red hot, tight, and rocking. They blend Rock & Roll, Zydeco, Blues, Boogie Woogie, and more into a concert experience full of highlights and plenty of music that will make you dance. From the opening classic Texas Shuffle of “I Declare” to the new song “Doin’ The Best I Can” the tone is set to good times, big grooves, and deep rhythm pockets. About midway, they take it down for a bit to let you catch your breath. “Texassippi” is a sweet tea sipping back porch hymn, “Reverie” offer elegiac repose before the swirling storm of “Sunday Drunk.” The set is closed by a slide guitar tour de force called “Restless Soul” which interpolates “Bullfrog Blues” wherein Suhler name-drops Rory Gallagher and lets it rip for a Rory style rave up.

Suhler is a tasteful and skilled guitar player. He plays things that fit the songs but he unleashes the big guns at all the right times too. His licks can bring you in close and tight or knock the Stetson right off your head and pin it to the roadhouse rafters. The band is locked in like a fine Swiss watch. Each piece fits and elements like accordion blend to make a deceptively spicy gumbo. Altogether Live At The Kessler is rip roaring fun and an excellent overview of Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat’s catalog of tunes and styles. It’s a brilliant primer for those unfamiliar with their work. Be sure to check out Jim Suhler’s website where he is offering fans two special digital downloads: “Lipstick Pickup,” co-written by Jim with Ray Wylie Hubbard and performed by Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat and “Chasin’ Down the Devil,” written and recorded by Jim with the Tejas Brothers. For more live action from Jim Suhler, you can catch him and the band live in person or see Jim as a member of George Thorogood & The Destroyers.

 

AnniPiperMoreGuitarsThanFriendsAnni Piper
More Guitars Than Friends
Released on February 17, 2016

Anni Piper is a lovely woman and based on her album covers, she know it. All too often, if an artist is showing T&A on an album cover it’s to distract you from the music contained therein. Sadly that is again the case with More Guitars Than Friends. Truly, her songs are not bad but they are just too blah for the Blues. They take a rocket ship to the lowest common denominator and for music lovers looking for that elusive X-factor, it won’t be found here. We’ve heard all this before. After hearing this album for the first time I was surprised to learn Anni Piper won the Best New Talent award at the 2005 Australian Blues Music Awards. Australia gave us the Blues of Dave Hole and Fiona Boyes. The music on More Guitars Than Friends is far, far removed from what I imagine, at my peril apparently, all Australians worth their salt would like. I imagine rough and tumble rabblerousers with booming amps and wicked riffs but then again I probably listen to too much AC/DC.

Anni Piper sings in a sultry style and she is a capable singer. She would probably have a great career if she moved to Nashville. She has the look and voice that could make her a huge star of Pop Country. I don’t like writing reviews like this. I know artists put a lot of work into their music and they are rightfully proud of their success. I’ve never put out an album and I truly respect everyone who has taken the gamble and made it to that point. But this is Blues. This is the music of Son House, Charley Patton, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Bessie Smith, and Koko Taylor. I get countless discs from Blues musicians, some established and some weekend warriors hoping to quit the day jobs. Recently there have been too many albums with formulaic blues, slick production, vapid lyrics, and guitar soloists hitting me over the head with Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Albert King licks. Sometimes I have to wonder if they ever even heard Albert. I suppose I decided to take a stand on this one because of the cover. Anni flaunts her curves on other album covers and her promotional materials. When so much skin is uncovered you have to wonder what is being covered up, like bad music.

Eye catching covers are important but the music has to live up to the promise of a great album cover. When your cover is the singer in a sensual pose showing off her curves it seems you’re counting on sexual arousal for album sales. And if you look like a 10 your album better not be a 2. Sure, Blues has a glorious history of sexuality but it’s also about passion. Outer beauty invokes a response but inner beauty builds passion. There is no inner beauty here. If this slick pabulum fuels your passion then you may be a soulless, hollow cyborg ready-programmed for Clear Channel’s homogenized corporate radio. But you’re a Blues fan right? You deserve better than this.

 

Thanks for checking out our reviews. Here is a sampler of the music covered in this post. Let us know what you think on Facebook and Twitter!

Hump Day! Risque Tunes For Your Midweek Blues 2/18/15

Ah, Hump Day. Hump Day this week falls on Ash Wednesday, the official beginning of Lent for Christians. Of course, that means giving up something near and dear to your heart for 40 days or so. Some things are easier to give up than others. Usually on Hump Day we focus on the sexual nature of the blues but other vices have played a large role in the Blues as well. So this week we are expanding our illicit horizons to a few things you might not want to give up until Good Friday.

Since Fat Tuesday was yesterday and we’re celebrating excess this Ash Wednesday Hump Day, we have six tunes for your enjoyment. Billy Boy Arnold will start us off with a song about a woman hopelessly in love with “Whiskey, Beer And Reefer.” She was probably a fun girl for a while. It sounds like he’s not ready to give her up yet. We know Otis Rush isn’t ready to give up his woman yet. Otis is hooked! He works through his struggle with “I Can’t Quit You, Baby.” Jimmy Rogers has a liquid solution for the broken heart; any heart, really. He’d rather be “Sloppy Drunk” and I don’t see him giving it up for forty minutes let a lone forty days. 

George Thorogood relates a tale of woe regarding his woman and a bit of cocaine. If only he’d fasted on the cocaine and stuck to bourbon, scotch, and beer he would have avoided prison and his lady friend might still be alive – especially if she gave up nagging for Lent. Sometimes you just have to step away from the situation and get tall. Moreland & Arbuckle are getting taller by the hour. Cruisin’ the back roads and getting high have a history as old as the automobile itself. Drive carefully boys and girls, Moreland & Arbuckle could be out there driving Tall just when you least expect it.

Last but definitely not least, we have Albert Collins and his crowd pleasing exercise in denial “I Ain’t Drunk.” Since we’re celebrating sins of all kinds this week, I feel I should mention the sin committed in this video: excessive synthesizer. I’m pretty sure I see the keyboard player stroking the wheel (that sounds dirty) to bend the keyboard notes. He’s one drink away from whipping out the keytar and there would be no forgiveness, from God or anyone else, for that indiscretion! And shame on Debbie Davies who appears to be enjoying this extravagant synth shower of notes. I blame the 80’s and the drinkin’.

Alright, Biscuiteers, enjoy Hump Day and leave that cocaine be.

 

SPECIAL NOTE: If you enjoy Moreland & Arbuckle, please consider supporting their Kickstarter campaign. The band has produced a brand new record and are looking for supporters to help them get it distributed. Please click HERE to support the band.

 

Billy Boy Arnold Whiskey, Beer And Reefer

Otis Rush I Can’t Quit You Baby

Jimmy Rogers Sloppy Drunk

George Thorogood & The Destroyers Cocaine Blues

Moreland & Arbuckle Tall Boogie

Albert Collins I Ain’t Drunk

 

Hump Day! Risque Tunes For Your Midweek Blues 1/21/15

BluesBiscuitsHumpdayYou know, sometimes Hump Day doesn’t go as planned. Not everyone gets to enjoy the Hump Day activities. Every blues musician knows you don’t always get what you want. Unrequited desire has been the basis of many songs, in all genres, ever since the first note was sung. However, there’s something about the way a blues singer puts it into words that separates them from the rest of the pack. Sometimes those words work out so well, they’ve got extra humps lined up for the following week.

This week we’re dedicating Hump Day to those who want the attention of their lover but they just aren’t getting any. For Harpdog Brown, his woman is too busy with her online friends. He’d love to poke his “Facebook Woman” but he can’t get his login, if you know what I mean…

Poor Lil’ Ed Williams is having similar issues with his “Computer Girl.” Her idea of digital input doesn’t quite match Lil’ Ed’s. No Nybbles and Bytes for Ed tonight, looks like his dongle will be left dangling even though none of the female ports are in use. Maybe he should look into some hot swappable plug and play action.

Finally, we have a more traditional dilemma. Booze and Blues go hand in hand and Moreland & Arbuckle know it well. Dustin Arbuckle is getting wound up by his “Teasin’ Doney” whose favorite licker comes in a bottle. That sounds dirty. It probably is. It’s Hump Day after all!

P.S. Anyone who knows what in the name of Sam Hill a teasin’ “doney” is gets a shiny new dime. We’ll FAX it to you. We’ll FAX you real good.

Harpdog Brown Facebook Woman

http://youtu.be/lMuKnwtjefw

Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials Computer Girl

Moreland & Arbuckle Teasin’ Doney

Throwback Thursday – We Survived Bluestock!

Buddy Guy at BluestockI was looking for some pictures to commemorate Buddy’s Guy’s birthday and for Throwback Thursday on our Facebook page. I was led to a nice set of shots taken at Bluestock, the ill-fated festival in the Catskills that literally and figuratively took a bath thanks to Hurricane Irene striking far inland three years ago. The post led to a conversation on Facebook with ChefJimi Patricola and Chris Lyon, our ticket winner for Pennsylvania Blues Festival, and it got me thinking about that fateful weekend at Hunter Mountain in New York state.

So let’s get in the WABAC machine once again and revisit the one, and so far only, Bluestock…

BluestockPosterSkies were blue and spirits were high on Friday afternoon as the first annual Bluestock festival kicked off with two time IBC winner Lionel Young and his band, but a sense of foreboding was palpable as attendees wondered what Sunday would bring as Irene left a wake of destruction in her path up the east coast.

No, Bluestock did not exactly happen as planned. Gregg Allman, Saturday’s scheduled headliner, had to cancel due to illness. Mysteriously, or perhaps enigmatically, Steven Seagal and his band Thunderbox (yes! this is a real thing) were no where to be found. Shemekia Copeland was a late addition to the lineup and Robert Cray was added as a headliner. Then the unexpected, unwanted guest arrived: Hurricane Irene. Producer Steve Simon probably never had an inkling that hurricane season could disrupt his monumental undertaking of combining the Blues Cruise with Woodstock. A hurricane? In the Catskills? Never. Well, think again.

By the end of Friday night, Sunday’s schedule had been scrapped and the festival, originally intended to take place outdoors, with two side-by-side stages for continuous music, was to be moved indoors on Saturday. Thankfully, Hunter Mountain Ski Resort had several halls to accommodate the indoor festival allowing them to keep the original plan of adjacent stages and continuous entertainment. To everyone’s surprise, the headliners Robert Cray and Buddy Guy were to play outdoors on Saturday afternoon and all the other acts that could make it would be playing indoors for a marathon thirteen hour show.

Of course, many were displeased by the turn of events and several angry customers shared their opinions on social media sites like Facebook. Some were angry about cancellations and many felt the festival should have been cancelled altogether. However, the majority of people gathered on the mountain thought the show must go on. And go on it did. Crammed into two days of music were nineteen acts featuring a veritable who’s-who of modern blues. Performers ranged from longtime favorites like Elvin Bishop, Tommy Castro & The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue, Tab Benoit, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Shemekia Copeland to relatively newcomers Moreland & Arbuckle, Alexis P. Suter Band, Trampled Under Foot, and Port City Prophets to local favorites Bruce Katz Band and Chris O’Leary, who made a surprise appearance with Bob Margolin & Matt Hill (Matt now plays full time in his wife Nikki Hill‘s band).

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While Saturday had illustrious acts seemingly every hour on the hour, Friday’s lineup was stellar in itself. The Lionel Young Band got the early birds moving with their leader’s guitar pickin’, fiddle pluckin’ boogies and a rollicking version of “Got My Mojo Working.” Literally moments after the closing notes of their set, Bob Margolin & Matt Hill continued the show on the adjacent stage allowing the crowd nary a second to catch its breath. Bob Margolin is a proven crowd pleaser but 2011 BMA Best New Artist winner Matt Hill stole the show with possibly the best AC/DC cover ever in “Hellz Bellz” – done Jerry Lee Lewis style, it was a nearly unrecognizable revved up rock n’ roller that would have left Malcolm and Angus Young drop-jawed and stupefied. Matt Hill then upped the ante with a song presumably called “Lemon Squeezer.” He sang about squeezing your lemons, woman, showed you his technique, bounded around the stage and removed his belt to whip you into submission. His infectious energy spread through the crowd and band. When Chris O’Leary came out to blow some harp it seemed the hurricane may have come early. They laid waste to preconceived notions of legendary jams when Lionel Young came out with his fiddle and joined the fray. This supergroup tore into another version of “Got My Mojo Working” that had the Catskill evergreens shimmying on the slopes.

The Bluestock crew kept the music going, operating like a well-oiled machine, getting BMA nominees Trampled Under Foot on stage just as the jam with Bob Margolin ended. The band appeared on many “best” lists in the last few years and it is immediately apparent why. This trio of siblings plays almost telepathically, locked in the groove and playing hard. Once their fiery set ended, the festival modeled after the Blues Cruise found ports of call in Louisiana with sets from Tab Benoit and Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue. Benoit’s laid back delivery and sinewy grooves took us deep in the heart Cajun Country. Exuberant fans threw plush alligator hats to the band and Tab obliged by donning the cap while playing. His searing solos were hot as a raging skillet in a blackened shrimp contest, and were twice as tasty.

Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue took us from Benoit’s rural bayou to the Crescent City with an effervescent set full of New Orleans funk and jazz. Many concert goers later commented that the band seemed out place at a blues festival, but enjoyed them nonetheless. Blues and jazz are inextricably linked, born of similar circumstances and using the same musical language. It was a master stroke to remind the fans of this oft forgotten musical relationship and the powerful music of Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue certainly had the crowd in the palm of its hand by the end of the set. Shorty’s passion and connection to his instruments was nearly tangible as he breathed life from the trombone and trumpet into the air around Hunter Mountain. The band was one of only a few selling their CDs for less than twenty dollars – theirs were merely ten – and I hope everyone who enjoyed the set took one home. A better value for ten bucks could not be found at the festival.

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Friday’s closer Elvin Bishop took the stage and played a set roughly based on his recent CD “Raisin’ Hell Revue” recorded on one of the Blues Cruises. Unfortunately he told some of the same stories from the CD but his good humor helps overcome the familiarity. His guitar playing helps a little too. Well, it helps a lot. The jamming kicked up a notch when Tab Benoit joined Elvin Bishop and the band for a few songs to close out the set. They didn’t play “Got My Mojo Working” and I’m glad for that. After the first two acts of the day did it I was getting worried.

Due to a bizarre twist of weather-related fate, Saturday noon found Robert Cray on stage while the crew set up the opposite stage for Buddy Guy. Robert Cray and Buddy Guy, back to back, on a Saturday afternoon. It almost made you glad to be in the path of a hurricane. Cray’s smooth, soulful blues eased the bleary-eyed revelers into the day. Cray joked a few times about the bright sunlight and time of day but there was no detrimental effect on the music.

While Robert Cray’s set was somewhat laid back, Buddy Guy came out all guns blazing. If the hair of the dog didn’t cure your ills, trouble was coming your way at maximum volume and speed. Buddy’s amps must have been bought from Spinal Tap because he was definitely one louder than everyone else. He sang “74 Years Young” from his Living Proof album but played like the owner of 34 years young fingers. His passion, humor, stage antics and propensity to say “fuck” a lot certainly woke everyone up.

About halfway into his set, Buddy brought out 12 year old Quinn Sullivan who has been appearing with the Buddy Guy Band for a few years. Quinn has enormous talent and his technique is flawless, but unfortunately he’s at a stage of his musical life marked mostly by imitation, and Buddy let him dominate the rest of the set. Sullivan sang a few songs, but his pre-pubescent voice is too high and was washed out in the mix. Still, he is only twelve and will hopefully evolve into a powerful musical force in the next ten years or so. Buddy Guy believes in him and even quipped that he would certainly come back next year, but only if Quinn gets an invitation too. I say Quinn Sullivan should be invited, but give him his own set so we can get a full ninety minutes of Buddy Guy next time.

After Buddy Guy’s set, the festival moved indoors, just moments ahead of the rain. Recent concert tragedies from stages falling at the Indiana State Fair and the Ottawa Blues Fest surely had the promoters and crew concerned and they made short work of taking down the outdoor staging. Accommodations were also made to allow the campers to stay in the lodge on Saturday night. Steve Simon and crew put safety first making sure all attendees were protected.

There was a bridge there on Friday. I'm sure of it!
There was a bridge there on Friday. I’m sure of it!

Meanwhile, two stages were ready to go inside. One in a large auditorium style hall and the other in place for the late night jams with Mitch Woods, dubbed Club 88. Mitch hosts Club 88 on the Blues Cruises and usually persuades lingering musicians to join in the fun. Tucked in the corner of the lodge, the stage was like an eight ounce brisket sandwich with sixteen ounces of brisket on it; messy, over flowing, and finger licking good. The sky was crying but the blues lovers were smiling as the two stages provided continual music for the next eleven hours as the rain pounded the mountain outside.

Saturday’s indoor lineup was Shemekia Copeland, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Curtis Salgado, Bruce Katz Band, Shakura S’Aida, Moreland & Arbuckle, Tommy Castro & The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue, Albert Cummings, Alexis P. Suter Band, and Port City Prophets. Every one who made it to the mountain played a set and then the music continued once more when Mitch Woods’ Club 88 re-opened for business with the Prince of Beale St. Billy Gibson at the microphone.

I must confess I’ve seen Shemekia Copeland three times this year. She played basically the same set each time and told the same stories. I suspect I’m spoiled by bands that vary their sets. Her band is tight and plays perfectly each time, which makes once a year enough for me. Ms. Copeland has a powerful voice and uses it well, but there are no surprises for repeat customers. If you haven’t heard her sing live though, I highly recommend it. No studio wizardry, and sometimes no microphone, is used but her tiny frame holds inside an immense musical force.

 

Guitargasm. Add it to your lexicon.
Guitargasm. Add it to your lexicon.

Ronnie Baker Brooks gave the guitar fans one long guitargasm after another and even soloed his way through the crowd to the bar for a drink and a bottle to play some slide. It’s not a new addition to the traditional trick bag, but it gets the crowds going every time. Curtis Salgado’s blue-eyed soul had the faithful swaying to the beat; Bruce Katz Band whipped up some Hammond B-3 blues with Alexis P. Suter’s guitarist Jimmy Bennett pulling double duty, playing and singing with Bruce. Shakura S’Aida’s vigorous vocalizing drew cheers and Moreland & Arbuckle literally and figuratively kicked everything up a notch with their guitar and harmonica led trio. They were asked to play a bit longer while Tommy Castro was setting up next door and the enthusiastic crowd response drove them to greater manic intensity. They even had the audacity to release their new album on vinyl, which was quite popular at the merchandise table.

The delay from getting Tommy Castro set up caused a schedule crunch and bands had to play simultaneously, dividing the attention of the Bluestock survivors but Tommy Castro & The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue held most of the focus once under way. They played an incendiary rendition of “Gotta Serve Somebody” before being joined by Rick Estrin, Deanna Bogart and others for a recreation of the legendary blues cruise’s favorite jams.

Albert Cummings took the stage with the rhythm section from Shakura S’Aida’s band – two guys he met a mere thirty minutes before going on – and they wowed the small crowd in front of the tiny Club 88 stage. The trio played seamlessly with Cummings’ molten licks flowing freely over the bedrock of bass and drums. Alexis P. Suter’s powerful, booming voice filled the auditorium and the band’s gospel infused blues surely added weight to those prayers for shelter from the storm pounding the Catskills. Port City Prophets, an upcoming band from South Carolina, played last on the Club 88 stage, mixing amusing originals with clever covers. They played a dynamic version of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Couldn’t Stand The Weather” in honor of the looming devastation that would be unleashed by morning.

I'm not sure what used to be here but it's probably on Oneonta by now.
I’m not sure what used to be here but it’s probably on Oneonta by now.

And so, we had Bluestock 2011: One of the headliners cancelled, an MC was AWOL, minor acts hoping for major exposure were crammed into a ski lodge playing for hundreds instead of thousands, headliners opened the show, openers closed; all the signs of the Apocalypse were there. But the Apocalypse never came. The crowd was well behaved in the cramped space, everyone was happy to be there enjoying a seemingly endless variety of blues, and the producers, promoters, managers and musicians all pulled together to provide those who braved the weather the best possible experience. They came through with class and grace, deftly handling one dilemma after another making Bluestock 2011 an unforgettable weekend of music, friends and adventure. Although I’m already looking forward to the next Bluestock, strangely enough, the Simon brothers and the Bluestock crew will have a hard time topping it next year.

Briggs Farm Blues – Highway 239 Revisited

Briggs Farm Blues Festival starts next week and here’s a look back at the last few years. Please like our Facebook page while you’re there.

 

Throwback Thursday – Richard Briggs Interview 2012

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.

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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.

Alexis P. Suter makes sure Jimmy plays it right for you.
Alexis P. Suter makes sure Jimmy plays it right for you.

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. ”

Terry "Harmonica" Bean brings Hill Country Blues to Briggs Farm
Terry “Harmonica” Bean brings Hill Country Blues to Briggs Farm

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.”

Briggs Farm crowd 2011

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.”

Lonnie Shields makes sure you get the good stuff.
Lonnie Shields makes sure you get the good stuff.

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.

EliCookOnTheBackPorch
Eli Cook channels Son House on the Back Porch Stage

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.”

A Bluesman's work is never done.
A Bluesman’s work is never done.

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.”

Friday The 13th Hoodoo Moon Playlist Re-cap

This past Friday the 13th, with the Honey Moon about to loom large in the night sky, we hosted a Facebook Blues Jam. We jammed your news feed with thirteen songs of superstition, bad luck, and trouble. 

What blues songs had you moaning in the moonlight? 

Here’s a quick recap of ours:

1. Albert King – Born Under A Bad Sign

2. Albert Collins – The Moon is Full 

3. Beck, Bogert & Appice – Black Cat Moan

4. R.L Burnside – Bad Luck and Trouble

5. Samantha Fish – I Put A Spell On You

6. Jimi Hendrix – Voodoo Child

7. Willie Dixon – Seventh Son. I just realized “Seventh Son” was the seventh song.

8. Matt Hill – Hellz Bellz. Matt now plays in his wife Nikki Hill‘s band.

9. Moreland & Arbuckle – The Devil And Me

http://vimeo.com/68025058

10. Robert Johnson – Me And The Devil Blues (Take 1)

11. Gov’t Mule with Derek Trucks & Oteil Burbridge – Superstition

12. Muddy Waters & Junior Wells – My Mojo Working 

13. Howlin’ Wolf – Evil