Second annual Lancaster Roots & Blues Festival offers more blues than any one fan can hear

You know it’s probably a pretty blues-packed program when you’re only able to catch short segments of such talented acts as Albert Castiglia, Nikki Hill, Mac Arnold & Plate Full o’ Blues, Peter Karp and Sue Foley, and Dana Fuchs in order to be able to see other artists like Joe Louis Walker, Corey Harris, Kim Simmonds and Savoy Brown, Blind Boy Paxton, Popa Chubby, and the Mark May Band.

And that’s not even considering the many other blues and non-blues acts we would have liked to see but just didn’t have a chance to, including the likes of Joanne Shaw Taylor, Jason Ricci, Live, Iron Butterfly, Jay Farrar, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band, Amy Hart, Clarence Spady, and Charlie Gracie.

Albert Castiglia

Albert Castiglia

That’s exactly the situation with which we were faced a few weeks back at the second annual Lancaster Roots & Blues Festival in eastern Pennsylvania, where there’s clearly way more going on than any one person can ever expect to take in. Organizers have already announced that they’ll be moving from the current two- to a three-day format for 2016 (Fri.-Sun., Feb. 26-28), but it’s unclear at this point whether they’ll be using that extra day just to spread out a similar number of acts, add even more performers, or a combination of the two.

That said, we can’t imagine anyone ever being bored at this festival; if one act is slow or not quite what you expected, there’s nearly always another one or two that might be of interest taking place.

For us, the highlights of the weekend were probably the sets we heard from former Muddy Waters bassist Mac Arnold and his band Plate Full o’ Blues, rising traditional blues star Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton, electric guitarist Popa Chubby, and British blues rockers Kim Simmonds and Savoy Brown, in addition to the somewhat lesser-known names of the Kelly Bell and Mark May bands.

Visit the BluesPowR Gallery to see more of our photos from the Lancaster Roots & Blues Festival

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Just a few days left to help fund Jonn Del Toro Richardson’s debut solo album

Project Blues 2014

Project Blues 2014

Last summer, we had the chance to catch Texas guitarist and singer Jonn Del Toro Richardson as part of the Project Blues event in Columbus, Ohio. A 2005 International Blues Challenge dual winner, both as a member of Diunna Greenleaf‘s Blue Mercy band and the competition’s best guitarist, Richardson has always served as either a sideman (including a spot on the Blue Shoe Project’s Grammy-winning Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen, where he backed the legendary Pinetop Perkins) or collaborator – as in the case of his Drivin’ Me Wild CD with fellow IBC winner (2007) Sean Carney, as well as a 2011 album Time Slips On By with mandolin player Rich DelGrosso – but is currently in the process of recording his first solo album in Austin, Texas.

The album will be produced by a famous name in Texas blues, Anson Funderburgh, with 20% of revenues from the CD going to Project Blues (of which Richardson is a founding artist) to help provide mammograms and other assistance to women and families in need. Here’s the link to Richardson’s campaign for the album on Indiegogo, which we’re honored to note includes a photo taken by yours truly at last year’s Project Blues event. With nearly 90% of the goal already raised, Jonn’s looking for just a little more help over the coming days to push this project forward, with hopes of some pretty high returns come next awards season!

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Lancaster Roots & Blues Festival 2015 in photos


Joe Louis Walker

We’re still compiling our written recap of this year’s Lancaster Roots & Blues Festival, but, in the meantime, you can now view the photos we captured during those two days in our BluesPowR Gallery, including dedicated albums for Joe Louis Walker, Blind Boy Paxton, Popa Chubby, Mac Arnold & Plate Full o’ Blues, Kim Simmonds and Savoy Brown, and Masters of the Telecaster Tom Principato and Jim Weider, as well as a shared folder showing performances from Corey Harris, Albert Castiglia, Nikki Hill, Dana Fuchs, Peter Karp & Sue Foley, the Mark May Band, Kelly Bell Band, and Johnny Long.

And while you’re visiting our BluesPowR Gallery, feel free to check out some of our photos from past festivals and shows, which we’re guessing probably include at least a few more of your favorite artists!

Popa Chubby

Popa Chubby

Masters of the Telecaster

Masters of the Telecaster








Peter Karp & Sue Foley

Peter Karp & Sue Foley

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Johnny Winter wins blues Grammy plus a few Lancaster Roots & Blues Fest pics

Johnny Winter

Johnny Winter

Aside from Johnny Winter‘s posthumous award for Best Blues Album for his Step Back – the late guitarslinger’s first Grammy win for his own music, despite three of the albums he produced for Muddy Waters having won Grammys a few decades back – and six-time Grammy winner Buddy Guy being recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Award, there wasn’t nearly as much blues music being celebrated at this weekend’s Grammy Awards as we had hoped there might be. Roseanne Cash bested triple nominee Keb’ Mo’ in two of the categories (Best Americana Album and Best Americana Performance, where she also beat out a joint offering from Gregg Allman and Taj Mahal) in which Keb’ was nominated, while Beck won out in the third category, for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical. Keb’ was of course gracious, posting on social media that his “award” was to be honored by his peers with nominations in three categories and that he was honored to be a nominee in the same categories as Roseanne Cash. Still, it would have been nice to see Keb’ take home at least one award; let’s just hope it doesn’t take quite as long to happen for Keb’ as it did for Johnny Winter…

Above is a picture of Winter we snapped at last year’s inaugural Lancaster Roots & Blues Festival a year ago this month, just a few months before his death.

And below are a few of our favorite photos from this year’s festival in Lancaster that took place over the weekend, with more pictures and notes on the performances to come in the days ahead.

Corey Harris

Corey Harris

Joe Louis Walker

Joe Louis Walker

Kim Simmonds & Savoy Brown

Kim Simmonds & Savoy Brown

Mac Arnold

Mac Arnold

Popa Chubby

Popa Chubby

Blind Boy Paxton

Blind Boy Paxton

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Quadruple Maple Blues Award winner Steve Hill keeps blues to himself with Solo Recordings Vol. 2

Recently, we told you about the debut album from Canadian harmonica player Roly Platt entitled Inside Out. With a late fall release, that one came out just a bit too late to be eligible for this year’s Maple Blues Awards (Canada’s equivalent of the Blues Music Awards) held a few a weeks back in Toronto, but we’d be surprised not to see Platt and his album nominated in a few categories for the next annual awards coming up in early 2016.

Steve Hill - Solo Recordings Volume 2 Cover Art (220x220)The big winner at this year’s Maple Blues Awards, meanwhile, was Canadian guitarist and singer Steve Hill, who took home awards for entertainer, guitarist, electric act, and recording of the year for his Solo Recordings Vol. 2. We never got the chance to hear Hill’s Solo Recordings Vol. 1 (winner of the best self-produced album honor at the 2013 International Blues Challenge) – or, for that matter, the four-track EP that came in between, entitled, fittingly enough, Solo Recordings Vol. 1 1/2 – but you can bet we’ll be checking them both out soon after hearing all that Hill has to offer on Vol. 2, which, like its predecessor, has also been nominated for a Juno Award (the Canadian version of the Grammy Awards).

Despite a sound comparable to that of fellow Canadian trio MonkeyJunk and U.S. acts like Moreland & Arbuckle and Gary Clark, Jr., Hill is – as the titles of his latest recordings indicate – a true one-man show, tearing away on guitar and vocals as well as on drums, cymbals, and even sometimes harmonica. “I’ve got a drum kit at my feet; we’ve modified all of my guitars with an extra pick-up that takes the sound of the two big strings that goes through an octaver and a bass amp so I got a bass sound at the same time that I’m playing the guitar,” notes Hill in his press materials. “I got a drum stick now so that I can play the right cymbal and I started playing harp about a year-and-a-half ago. It’s very challenging, but I love this sound. It’s very basic and very raw.”

And very good too, from the biting chorus and scorching guitar of the gritty opener “Still Got It Bad” and dirty shuffle of Little Walter’s “Hate to See You Go” (minus the harmonica) – one of three covers on the album, along with a hard-driving take on Muddy Waters’ “I Want You to Love Me” and the soft, breezy “Simple Things” (Ray Bonneville) – to the creeping country blues of a Johnny Cash-like “Tough Luck” (that does include harmonica), and everything in between.

A few of songs, like the catchy “Slim Chance” and the swaying ballad “Better”, sound like something that easily could have been included on the soundtrack of an ’80s John Hughes film, while other cuts like “Never is Such a Long Time” and “Go On” are more apt to remind listeners of current blues artists like Gary Clark, Jr. and Johnny Sansone, respectively, with some forceful harp combining with Hill’s mostly gruff vocals on lyrics like “push me round, and call me weak/ slap me in the face, I’ll turn the other cheek/ I don’t wanna’ give up on you, no matter what you do/ but with the way you make me feel, how can i go on? Go on…” on the latter, giving way to a smooth, soulful chorus and falsetto notes.

The hard-edged “The Collector” offers more of our favorite lines from Hill in “But I don’t want your Steve Austin Six Million Dollar Man figurine/ and you can keep your Mickey Mantle rookie baseball card…just give some truth, gimme’ somethin’ real, give me somethin’ I can truly feel”, with the album closing on the mellow grooves of “Long Road”.

As great as it is to hear Hill doing his thing on Solo Recordings Vol. 2 (already his eighth full-length studio album), you really need to see him in action to appreciate all of which Hill is capable. Here’s a video of Hill at this year’s Maple Blues Awards doing “Still Got It Bad/Hate to See You Go” to give you a taste of what we mean:

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Plenty of blues at the roots of second annual Lancaster music festival

If you’re looking for a modern-day example of the famous Willie Dixon adage “The blues are the roots and the other musics are the fruits” in action, then think of the Lancaster Roots & Blues Festival as the equivalent of a farmer’s market for your senses, with as extensive and diverse an offering of roots and fruits as you’ll find in any one place.

Last winter, we had the pleasure of reporting to you on the inaugural edition of the festival, which featured performances from blues men and women like Johnny Winter and James Cotton, Sugar Ray and the Bluetones, the Heritage Blues Quintet, Chris Thomas King, Samantha Fish, Lonnie Shields, and others, in addition to an impressive range of local and national rock, soul, zydeco, country, folk, jazz, reggae, indie, and swing acts, including such names as Edgar Winter, Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers, and Loudon Wainwright III.

Lancaster_roots_logo (166x250)Taking place next Friday and Saturday (February 6 & 7) across ten stages throughout downtown Lancaster (all within an easy walk of one another), this year’s festival line-up is just as impressive, including mostly new acts as well as a few return visitors in the likes of Clarence Spady, the Gas House Gorillas, Sweet Leda, and Tom Principato (this year, as part of a “Masters of the Telecaster” pairing with fellow guitar slinger Jim Weider that will also include one-time members of The Band and Levon Helm Band), to name just a few. Among the bluesier names on the bill this time around are veterans such as Joe Louis Walker, Corey Harris, Kim Simmonds and Savoy Brown, and Mac Arnold and Plate Full o’ Blues; other top names including the “he said, she said” act of Peter Karp and Sue Foley, harmonica man Jason Ricci, and the powerful vocals and guitar of Popa Chubby; and rising stars like Joanne Shaw Taylor, Albert Castiglia, Dana Fuchs, and acoustic performer Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton, who you may recall Living Blues magazine having named the Artist Deserving More Attention in the publication’s 2013 Living Blues Awards.

In between, we’ll also be trying to check out a few more of the blues-based and headlining acts, including the up-and-coming Nikki Hill, the after-midnight stylings of the Trudy Lynn Blues Review, the acclaimed Kelly Bell Band, former Dickey Betts band guitarist and singer Mark May, Homesick James protégé Johnny Long, zydeco performers Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band, Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt founding member Jay Farrar, old time rock n’ roller Charlie Gracie (whose song “Butterfly” hit number one back in 1957), ’90s alternative rockers Live, Grammy Award-winning bluegrass outfit The Steep Canyon Rangers, the powerful horn-driven funk of Big Sam’s Funky Nation, folk/country/gospel singer Iris DeMent, and classic rock band Iron Butterfly, which will be launching both a new album and tour in 2015.

Indeed, with 75 acts spread across only two nights, the big challenge again this year will be getting to see all of the musicians we’d like to, a bit of a Herculean task when you have artists like Blind Boy Paxton, Albert Castiglia, Jay Farrar, Chubby Carrier, Mac Arnold, and Corey Harris all playing overlapping sets during the same two-hour period Friday night. Even with the earlier start on Saturday (beginning with the Masters of the Telecaster show at 2 p.m., with Iron Butterfly and Blind Boy Paxton – for those who may have missed his Friday night set or want to come back and see him again – both playing at 4), this still makes for a whole lot of music to squeeze into one weekend.

And for students, players, and fans of certain artists, there will be even more to take in, with several of the musicians offering master classes throughout the two days, including Weider and Principato (on mastering the Telecaster blues style of playing), Blind Boy Paxton (on the evolution of the acoustic guitar in the pre-war blues), bass player Kenny Aaronson (Bob Dylan), boogie woogie pianist Bram Wijnands, and long-time Billy Joel drummer Liberty DeVitto, the latter of whom you can also catch on stage during a Saturday night set from The Reach Around Rodeo Clowns.

For those wanting to stock their inner roots cellar with some quality live music to help make it through the rest of the long, cold winter, we can’t think of a better place to do your looking than the Lancaster Roots & Blues Festival.

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International bluesmen Roly Platt, Thorbjorn Risager impress on debut offerings

Even several weeks into the new year, we’re not ready to give up on 2014 quite yet. Not when it comes to having CDs as good as these to still tell you about, some recent releases from two non-U.S. bluesmen with rather different histories.

The first is a Canadian harmonica player who’s been performing live and in the studio for the better part of four decades now, having recorded more than 1,500 album tracks, movie and TV scores, and jingles (for the likes of such advertisers as Tim Hortons, Ford, Chrysler, Labatt, Budweiser, McDonalds, and the Toronto Blue Jays). Surprisingly, the one accomplishment harpman Roly Platt‘s résumé didn’t include was any albums of his own – until now, that is, with Platt releasing his solo debut recording Inside Out late in 2014, one we think you’ll agree was well worth the wait.

Contrast Platt’s history to that of Danish singer and guitarist Thorbjørn Risager, who now has eight releases to his band’s name since its formation in 2003, including their 2014 self-produced Ruf Records label debut Too Many Roads. With the album and signing to Ruf helping to propel them to new levels of recognition across the world stage, the band has positioned itself as one of the hottest and hardest working “new” acts on the scene with its range of deep blues, rock, and soul sounds.

Here’s a closer look at the two projects, either or both of which we can assure you will serve as a fine addition to your collection.
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Old Man Winter Blues (Blues Lyrics radio hour edition)

With Old Man Winter biting and blowing here in the northeast U.S., we thought you might enjoy this double dose of blues to help keep you warm, featuring a talk-free edition of our BluesPowR Radio Hour as well as a sampling of our favorite lyrics from this month’s show!

Here are just a few of the lines you’ll hear in tracks from the likes of Kim Wilson & Mud Morganfield, Gary Clark Jr., Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater, Sean Costello, Bob Stroger & Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith, Davina and the Vagabonds, Long John Baldry, the Skyla Burrell Band, Thorbjorn Risager and more:

“I got a strange feelin’
my woman is doin’ me wrong.
I got a strange feelin’
my woman is doin’ me wrong.
She don’t love me the way she useta’
and all my money’s gone.”
– “Strange Feeling”, Michael Burks (performed here by Alastair Greene)

“I’m gonna’ do somethin’ baby
and I hope you don’t take it wrong.
I’m gonna’ do us both a favor:
gonna’ give you a damn good leavin’ alone.”
– “A Good Leavin’ Alone”, Eddy Clearwater/Ronnie Baker Brooks

“I love my baby
but my baby don’t love me.
I love my baby
but my baby don’t love me.
That’s why I’m goin’ back
to my old used to be.

I’m goin’ down to the Delta
where I can drink and have my fun.
I’m goin’ down to the Delta
where I can drink and have my fun.
Where I can drink my white lightnin’ and gamble
and bring my baby home.”
– “Charles River Delta Blues”, Erin Harpe (based on “Mississippi Blues” by Willie Brown)

“Well, they call me Bob Stroger;
they can call me any name they choose.
They call me Bob Stroger;
they can call me any name they choose.
They can call me what they want to,
but my real name is the blues.”
– “That’s My Name”, Bob Stroger

Go ahead and prop your feet up someplace toasty and give this latest edition of our program a spin!

Old Man Winter Blues playlist
If You Wanna Leave – Thorbjorn Risager & The Black Tornado
Magic West Side Boogie – JW Jones
Blow Wind Blow – Kim Wilson & Mud Morganfield
You Better Start Praying – Davina and the Vagabonds
Strange Feeling – The Alastair Greene Band
Midnight in New Orleans – Long John Baldry
A Good Leavin’ Alone – Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater
Charles River Delta Blues – Erin Harpe & the Delta Swingers
If Trouble Was Money – Gary Clark Jr.
Blue Heart – Too Slim & the Taildraggers
Hard Luck Woman – Sean Costello
Funky Monkey – Jeremy Baum
That’s My Name – Bob Stroger & Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith
Blues Scars – Skyla Burrell Band

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Chicago guitarist Dave Specter delivers Message in Blue with latest Delmark release

Dave_Specter_Message_in_Blue (220x219)There aren’t many musicians out there who could pull off a song acknowledging some of the biggest names in Chicago blues without coming across as somewhat opportunistic or trite. But Chicago native guitarist, bandleader, and producer Dave Specter manages to do it with integrity on a tune called “Chicago Style”, one of eight new original tracks you’ll hear on Specter’s latest album Message in Blue (Delmark Records). Even though it’s not Specter himself singing the tune (Specter has yet to sing on any of his ten recordings, handing the mic in this instance to fellow Windy City multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Brother John Kattke), there’s no mistaking that the words are genuine, with Specter demonstrating throughout the album the talent and experience that made it possible for him to share the stage with many of the legends Kattke names during the song, from Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, and Lonnie Brooks to Otis Rush, Sunnyland Slim, Mighty Joe Young, and soul crooner Otis Clay, the latter of whom joins Specter on three songs here, starting with a swinging take on Harold Burrage’s “Got to Find a Way” that also features the Chicago Horns and some fine female backing vocals.

That’s followed immediately by a soulful creeper in the Bobby “Blue” Bland classic “This Time I’m Gone for Good”, where Specter’s pleading guitar nicely matches that of Clay’s vocals as Kattke’s keyboards resonate underneath, and a bit later by a swaying “I Found a Love” (Wilson Pickett and the Falcons), with Specter’s expressive guitar work and Clay’s chalky, soulful vocals making it hard to find one any better than this.

That said, Kattke also does an admirable job on vocals for several songs; in addition to the aforementioned “Let the Good Times Roll”-like “Chicago Style” on which he rattles off the names of some of Chicago’s finest, Kattke’s strong, no-nonsense vocals can also be heard on covers of both the Don Nix-penned “Same Old Blues” (Freddie King) and Lonnie Brooks’ “Watchdog”, a shuffle similar to the earlier “Chicago Style”.

As great as the vocals on this album are, the truth is that Specter really doesn’t need himself or anyone else singing in order to get your attention, allowing his guitar to serve as his voice on a bunch of terrific instrumentals, from the greasy Chicago swagger of the opening “New West Side Stroll” – an update on Specter’s own earlier “West Side Stroll” – to the muddy, impassioned grooves of the title track and the funky guitar tones of a The Meters-influenced “Funkified Outta SPACE” that also features some superb work from Kattke on organ.

The band adds Victor Garcia on congas and percussion for a pair of Latin-flavored originals in “The Stinger” and the soft, jazzy “The Spectifyin’ Samba”, with John “Boom” Brumbach providing some smoky tenor sax on the latter, while Specter welcomes fellow Chicago native Bob Corritore on harmonica for both a lively “Jefferson Stomp” that’s probably among the album’s best numbers and the creeping closer “Opus de Swamp” on which Specter’s tremelo guitar could easily be mistaken for that of Gary Clark Jr.

Recorded in August 2013 at Delmark’s Riverside Studio in Chicago, Message in Blue is the label’s first new blues recording to be released on LP since Specter’s 1991 Bluebird Blues featuring fellow guitarist Ronnie Earl, who you might consider Specter sort of a Chicago version of.

Like another Chicago musician’s album about which we told you recently, this is one of those sets that makes you feel like you’re right there for it. With a variety of blues, soul, funk and jazz sounds and plenty of fat, rich notes, this Message from Specter is one everyone should hear.

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Blues Lyrics of the Week: Happy New Year Blues

Here’s one to help kick off your new year. Recorded by Blind Lemon Jefferson back in 1928, the song has the “Father of the Texas Blues” looking ahead a bit “thinkin’ ’bout the year of 19 and 29″. Sadly, that would be the last New Year Jefferson would have the chance to celebrate, with the bluesman dying in the weeks just prior to the start of 1930.

“The whistle was blowin’ for New Year
around 12 o’clock at night.
The whistle was blowin’ for New Year
around 12 o’clock at night.
I lied down on there with my baby
until the good Lord broke daylight.

Early one New Year mornin’,
I was walkin’ down by the mill.
I say early one New Year mornin’,
I wandered down by the mill.
Every man likes his liquor
when he gets it fresh from the still.

I hate to drink on New Year
for this whiskey they make is too strong.
I say I hate to drink on New Year,
this whiskey they makin’ is too strong.
Because til’ I take two or three drinks,
I’ll be drunk the whole day long.”
– “Happy New Year Blues”, Blind Lemon Jefferson

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