We told you earlier this week how the stars aligned to make this year’s Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival another truly terrific one, with superb performances from the likes of The Tedeschi Trucks Band, Janiva Magness, Lurrie Bell and Bernard Allison, Shemekia Copeland, and Philipp Fankhauser, among others. Here’s a quick rundown of what we saw and heard (minus a couple of acts on the front and back end of the festival that we had to miss as a result of our interstate travel), with photos coming to the BluesPowR Gallery soon.
Our feet hit the grass of Sandy Point State Park Saturday just in time to hear the last few songs from the Honey Island Swamp Band, who we’ll probably have to make a point of catching a bit more of next time based on the jamming we heard going down. The dynamic Janiva Magness was next up with a selection of songs from her current album Stronger for It, playing a cigar box guitar on the opening “Whoop and Holler” and then staying strong with “There It Is” before showing her more sensitive side on such numbers as “I Won’t Cry,” “Whistlin’ in the Dark,” and “Things Left Undone,” with the set also including a rocking “Make It Rain” and closing out on the fun “Humpty Dumpty.”
After a short break, Bernard Allison and his band got things smoking again on “I Wouldn’t Treat a Dog,” “Rocket 88,” and a powerful “Bad Love” before welcoming fellow Chicago guitar slinger Lurrie Bell to the stage for a tribute to Michael “Iron Man” Burks, who had been slated to join the two sons of the blues for this very set but died unexpectedly two weeks ago on his way home from an international tour. There’s no doubt Michael was present in spirit as Bell and Allison tore through a set that included “Don’t You Lie to Me,” a terrific “Tin Pan Alley,” and some “Dust Your Broom” as well as a spiritual “He Ain’t Knockin’ at Your Door.”
Joined by Hadden Sayers on guitar, the phenomenal Ruthie Foster kicked off a soulful performance with covers from Los Lobos, Lucinda Williams, and Patty Griffin. Following a duet on the Sayers-penned, Blues Music Award-nominated “Back to the Blues,” Foster turned the mic over to Sayers for “Love is Gonna’ Move You,” which also afforded the guitarist a chance to display some Derek Trucks-like playing. After a turn on “Front Porch Blues” and a “Richland Woman Blues” in honor of Jessie Mae Hemphill, Foster moved to the gospel sound of “God Moves on the Water” and a sweet, slowed-down take on Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” (perhaps in celebration of the next night’s rare annular solar eclipse, often referred to as a “ring of fire” itself), closing with the stirring spiritual “Travelin’ Shoes,” which she dedicated to Michael Burks.
Big Head Todd and the Monsters were the next to grace the stage, with lead singer Todd Park Mohr starting the set solo on Charley Patton’s “Jim Lee Blues.” Joined by the drummer for a cover of “Sexy and I Know It,” it wasn’t long before the full band worked their way through a nice mix of originals – such as an “It’s Alright” that brought Ruthie Foster back out to assist on vocals – and blues classics that included “Come on in My Kitchen,” “I’ll Play the Blues for You,” King Floyd’s “Groove Me Baby,” Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City,” and a “Last Fair Deal Gone Down” that began in the song’s traditional style, then picked up the pace for a rocking end. But nothing compared to the band’s closing number, which had them going out with a bang, bang on a John Lee Hooker “Boogie Chillen”/”Boom Boom” medley.
Headliners The Tedeschi Trucks Band took the stage just as the sun was setting behind it, creating a scene somewhat reminiscent of their Revelator album cover. After starting on the always-powerful “Don’t Let Me Slide,” the band went “Rollin’ and Tumblin'” before plowing into other Revelator tracks like “Bound for Glory,” “Ball and Chain,” a horn-filled “Learn How to Love,” and a “Love Has Something Else to Say” that found them joined by local tenor saxophonist and former Tedeschi band member Ron Holloway (who had appeared earlier in the day as part of the Chesapeake Bay Blues Band with Tom Principato, Patty Reese, andGaye Adegbalola). Along the way, they also hit on a superb extended version of the instrumental “Mahjoun” and introduced a brand new tune in “All Because of You” which Susan had penned just days before, although you’d never know it from the vocals, which may have been the best we heard from Susan that night. That, of course, is really saying something when she’s doing songs like “Midnight in Harlem” and the slow and bluesy, show-stopping “That Did It” (featured on the band’s new Everybody’s Talkin’ album, released just this week) that also gave her an opportunity for a mean front-stage guitar solo, with the band ending the night on “Get What You Deserve.”
The sun may not have been quite as bright Sunday, but the blues were just as hot, as Albert Cummings got the day off to a rocking start, with highlights from his second appearance at the festival including a “Goin’ Down/Midnight Rider” medley, a Stevie Ray Vaughan-like “Regular Man,” and the closing “Blues Makes Me Feel So Good.” San Francisco-based Lydia Pense and Cold Blood were up next, having brought plenty of their signature funk sound known as “East Bay Grease” for what Pense indicated was, remarkably, only their second trip to the East Coast in the band’s 43-year history, kicking off their set with Muddy Waters’ “I Just Want to Make Love to You.”
Guitarist Michael Williams and his three-piece band lit things up with a hard-hitting performance, starting on the driving “Bet Yo’ Mama (looked good too)” followed by what Williams referred to as “a little dusty and dirty” Texas blues, including “Catfish Blues,” his own “No More Suffering,” a Hendrix-like “Don’t Put Me Out,” and Albert King’s “Born Under a Bad Sign.” Live, Williams’ performance and vocals may have been a tad on the noisy or shouting side for some, but several lucky enough to have been at the front of the stage for the conclusion of the set were rewarded with a free copy of Williams’ latest CD Fire Red, on which you’ll find the sounds much more balanced and well worth checking out.
We didn’t get to hear her sing “Beat Up Guitar” as we had hoped, but were still glad to see the reigning Queen of the Blues (here known as the Queen of the Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival) Shemekia Copeland again, who performed a nice mix of songs from throughout her career, including “Salt in my Wounds” and “Big Lovin’ Woman” from Turn the Heat Up and “Never Going Back to Memphis” and “Big Brand New Religion” from her latest album Never Going Back, noting her next album (33 1/3) will be released this September. As she always does, Shemekia remembered her father Johnny “Clyde” Copeland with a stirring rendition of his “Ghetto Child,” today also dedicating the song to Michael Burks, with whom she once spent two weeks in Iraq and Kuwait as part of a Bluzapalooza tour. Not ready to call it quits just yet, Copeland closed out her portion of the program on one of her all-time best in “It’s 2 A.M.”
Copeland’s set wouldn’t be the last we’d hear her father’s name, with Swiss bluesman Philipp Fankhauser the next to take the stage, who you might recall having served as a featured vocalist with Johnny Copeland’s band for several years before the bluesman’s death. Having just flown in from Europe, Fankhauser and his international band (with members from Italy, Chicago, Switzerland, and Japan) started their set on the softer side with “Sunday Morning” and “It’s Gonna Rain” before working their way into the scrappy “Jealous Kinda Fella” and the first of several Copeland numbers in “Blues Ain’t Nothin’.” Following a visit to the the title track from his latest album Try My Love, they went back to the Copeland well for “Down on Bended Knee,” then moved to the Solomon Burke classic “Down in the Valley” featuring a nice drum solo from Tosho Yakkatokuo. Calling it their encore song, Fankhauser presented another tune with which the crowd was obviously familiar, Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “Members Only,” then delighted us with a true encore in the style of what Copeland used to called “New Orleans funk with Kansas City swing” in a magnificent “Pie in the Sky.”
It was at this point that we unfortunately had to begin our long journey home, missing not only the last two acts of the weekend in JJ Grey & Mofro and the great Jonny Lang, but also any clear shot we may have had from the bay of that evening’s annular solar eclipse. But as we grudgingly made our way up the beltway and through the mountains of Maryland and Pennsylvania, we took some time to appreciate the fact that the festival we were leaving is one that has consistently eclipsed many others we’ve attended over the years. For that, and for its dedication and service to both the blues and to charity (with this year’s proceeds benefiting The Johns Hopkins Cleft and Craniofacial Center, End Hunger in Calvert County, We Care and Friends, and Special Love), we thank promoter Don Hooker and his crew for another job quite well done!