There was a whole lot of guitar-slinging in Wheeling a few weekends back, where the annual Heritage Music BluesFest took place – from the solo acoustic sounds of Samuel James and local act Adrian Niles to the triple threat of the Brooks Family Blues Dynasty to the electrified blues of Nick Moss and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Sure, the talented Deanna Bogart helped move the spotlight to keyboards for one set Saturday afternoon, while the Joe Krown Trio brought a nice taste of New Orleans for Sunday’s attendees – but even that tended to be somewhat dominated by the guitar and vocals of Walter “Wolfman” Washington.
If there was a second main theme on the weekend, it would have been that of family, with the offerings including not only the father (Lonnie) and sons (Ronnie and Wayne Baker) combination of the aforementioned Brooks family, but the powerful two brothers/one sister acts of Trampled Under Foot and the Homemade Jamz Blues Band.
We weren’t able to make it to the Friday night performances – which included sets from Robert Cray, Peter Karp and Sue Foley, and Southern Hospitality, among others – but here’s what we saw and heard the rest of the weekend, starting – a bit unconventionally perhaps – with the Sunday headliner, the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band, which closed the festival with a rocking set spanning from their first album Ledbetter Heights (“Deja Voodoo,” “Shame, Shame, Shame”) to their new How I Go, kicking off, as the album does, on the powerful “Never Lookin’ Back.” After a short visit back to the Trouble is…album with “Somehow, Somewhere, Someway” and “Everything is Broken,” the band – which includes the talented lead vocalist Noah Hunt and drummer Chris Layton – returned to its newer music with “Butterfly” and its take on the Beatles’ “Yer Blues,” also hitting “Dark Side of Love” a bit later in the program, with “True Lies” and the instrumental “While We Cry” helping to close out the set. Of course, no Kenny Wayne Shepherd show is complete without a little “Voodoo Child,” which served as the finale in an encore that also included “Blue on Black,” “I’m a King Bee,” and “Oh Well.”
Preceding Kenny Wayne Shepherd on stage were the Schnebelen siblings, better known as Trampled Under Foot, who, after a solo warming up from older brother Nick on simultaneous guitar and drums, hit on such classics as a Danielle-sung “Never Make Your Move Too Soon,” a powerful “It’s a Man’s World,” and Nick on vocals for “Killing Floor,” interspersed with many of their own tunes, closing on a truly rocking “Rock & Roll.”
Of course, Trampled Under Foot wasn’t the first brother/sister trio to grace the Heritage Music BluesFest’s stage this year, with the Homemade Jamz Blues Band beating them to it the previous afternoon, beginning on a soulful “I’ll Play the Blues for You” before getting to a few songs from their latest album The Game with “Burned Down the House” and the slow, groaning blues of “Gotta Bad Bad Feeling.” Other highlights of the set included a nice take on “Ain’t No Sunshine” and the band’s gritty new tribute to their home in “Mississippi Hill Country” with references to R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, Jessie Mae Hemphill, and others, with brothers Ryan (20) and Kyle (18) stepping out to mingle with the crowd and show off their smoking, homemade (light-up!) muffler guitars for a while before sister Taya (13) forced them back to the stage with a terrific drum solo. Not quite ready to call it a day, the Perrys responded to the audience’s calls for more with John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom.”
Soon after, headliners the Brooks Family Blues Dynasty also put on one hell of a show, starting off with a few numbers from Wayne Baker Brooks, then Ronnie Baker Brooks, including “Make These Blues Survive” and a medley of his own “Born in Chicago” along with “Catfish Blues” and “I Just Want to Make Love to You.” Then the brothers welcomed their father – the legendary Lonnie Brooks – to stage, where the three joined in playing such gems as “Going Back to Louisiana,” at one point lining up side-by-side-by-side to play each other’s guitars – and “Sweet Home Chicago.” Already a few hours past our peak and with a bit of a drive before us, we weren’t able to stick around to hear the encore, but we’re hoping (both for the sake of those who were still there and our own, in the event the video happens to find its way to our computer) that it might have included a little something called “Don’t Take Advantage of Me.”
In between those family affairs were a few other terrific sets, first from the talented Deanna Bogart, then Chicago guitarist Nick Moss. Again proving a triple threat on vocals, keyboards, and sax, Bogart offered several songs on keys before moving on to the horn, venturing well into the crowd and most of the way up the steps of the ampitheater. Returning to both the stage and her piano, she proceeded to present the soft ballad “Blue by Night” and a heartfelt take on Stevie Wonder’s “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers,” followed by “In the Rain” from her new Pianoland album, and a encore of “Still the Girl in the Band.”
Moss was the next to take the stage, with Huddie Ledbetter (Leadbelly) direct descendant Michael Ledbetter helping to provide some soulful vocals when Moss himself wasn’t at the mic for songs like “Tear ’em Down,” the powerfully inspirational “It’ll Turn Around” and the encore “Katie Ann (Slight Return).”
Earlier in the afternoon, Samuel James presented a nice solo set of originals including a new “Nineteen” as well as classics such as Bukka White’s “How Long Before I Change My Clothes” and Yank Rachell’s “Hobo Blues” that saw him playing his guitar from the left, right, on his lap, and even vertically, with a Bob Dylan tune “Meet Me in the Morning” for an encore. Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the weekend for us came in the form of a funky rocking set that followed from Kentucky guitarist Tee Dee Young and his four-piece band, which included such treasures as “Why I Still Play the Blues,” “Proud Mary,” and “How Blue Can You Get,” also the first of three artists to step out into the crowd that day.
The Nancy McKeen Bluz Machine and Izzy and Chris took turns keeping the music going on the second stage, with songs like “Fixin’ to Die,” “Catfish Blues,” “Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean,” “Gimme Some Loving,” and “Every Time I Roll the Dice” mixed in with some originals and other covers. Second stage honors Sunday went to solo act and International Blues Challenge semi-finalist Adrian Niles, who recently had a few of his songs featured on F/X’s Justified, and an undeniably talented group of young men from Ohio who call themselves the Brighter Side Band and whose originals such as “Louisiana Woman” may surpass the covers like “Rollin’ and Tumblin'” and “Diving Duck” they do remarkably well for their youthfulness.
Also putting on quite a show Sunday in the form of some powerful soul was Eugene “Hideaway” Bridges, with his often B.B. King-like guitar work accenting such tracks as “Woke Up This Morning,” the Sam Cooke-sounding “In Your Arms Tonight” (probably not coincidentally followed by “A Change is Gonna Come”), and the catchy “Bluesman” before closing his set with “Take Home Pay.”
Likewise, Hadden Sayers and Sean Carney each contributed some nice string action earlier in the day, with highlights of the Texas native (by way of Columbus, Ohio) Sayers’ easy-flowing set including the slow grooves of the Blues Music Award-nominated “Back to the Blues,” “Take Me Back to Texas,” a soulful “Bring It on Home to Me,” and for an encore, a slow blues version of Prince’s “Purple Rain.” After a funky show from the New Orleans-based Joe Krown Trio (with Krown on organ, Walter “Wolfman” Washington on vocals and guitar, and Russell Batiste on drums) that included jazzy takes on such tunes as “Can I Change My Mind” and “Last Two Dollars,” it was Ohio guitarist and International Blues Challenge winner Carney’s turn to command the stage, where he and harmonica player Omar Coleman shared vocals, with highlights of the set including Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “Looking Back” and the closing “She Wants to Sell My Monkey” (Tampa Red).
Off the stage, plenty of non-musical artists were also present, in the form of food and craft vendors peddling their products, which ranged from pulled pork barbecue and catfish sandwiches to crabcakes and cold drinks, to jewelry, hats and shirts, and blues society memberships, to the striking artwork of eastern PA’s Dane Tilghman, who we’ve seen now at quite a number of festivals and does such a nice job of capturing the likenesses and emotions of bluesmen such as Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Stevie Ray Vaughan, James Cotton, Eric Clapton, and others. Check out his website to see what we mean, and for a few more looks at this year’s on-stage performances, be sure to check out our own BluesPowR Gallery.