Thursday, July 3, 2003
Photo by Stuart Thorton: Kings of the Blues: Charlie Musselwhite received the coveted Monterey Bay Blues Festival Artist of the Year Award at Sunday''s show.
The blues were everywhere this weekend. Of course, the main event was the 18th Annual Monterey Bay Blues Festival, where music on three stages, incredible food and even blues-inspired artworks were vying for the attention of festival attendees.
Blues fans could also check out plenty of blues in the clubs this past weekend, from the Blues Monsters'' Friday night gig at Ocean Thunder, where the band introduced their frontman, T-Bone Stone, as "the guy you are likely to see wandering around the aisles of Wal Mart, straight from the trailer park," to Sly McFly''s 5th Annual After Blues Festival Jam Session on Sunday evening.
While walking toward Sly''s after two late nights of blues music, I heard a spirited version of "Mustang Sally" blaring from the club. This annual jam session has followed the Monterey Blues Festival for the past five years. Host Lee Durley makes sure to invite every single performer to the Sunday night jam. "It is for people who are hungry for just a little bit more music," he says.
The great thing about the jam is that there is no telling who will jump up on the stage. Past jam-night performers have include Bo Diddley, Sista Monica and Barbara Morrison.
The after-Festival jam session is an inspired idea. All of the musicians look like they are having a blast, while blues fans are treated to a sampling of around 30 artists.
After vocalist Bishop Mayfield, who played the President Stage Saturday morning at the Festival, sang "Rock Me, Baby" with the J.C. Smith Blues Band, he exited the stage and shook the hands of his new fans like a presidential candidate. I found the imposing Mayfield seated at a table near the bar. Over the sound of the crowd, Mayfield shouted in my ear that he decided to skip seeing Al Green, one of his favorite performers, in favor of attending the jam.
Looking out over the packed club, Sly''s looked like a roadhouse. The dance floor teemed with men spinning their dates, and the humid heat inside felt exotic for temperate Monterey. One man with a hand-held fan was a hit with the ladies, while another gentleman fanned his wife with a couple of beer coasters.
Onstage, the J.C. Smith band made sure the event was running smoothly. The band showed its versatility by backing artists who play straight-ahead blues and then switching effortlessly into horn-driven Motown grooves for some of the evening''s soul numbers.
When saxophonist Julian Vaught, who was recently inducted into the Rock ''n'' Roll Hall of Fame for his work with the Flamingos, brought the saxophone to his lips, Sly''s was filled with a rich, brassy sound. After Mayfield, Gigi Amos took the stage and impressed the crowd with her fancy guitar work.
One of the standout performers was vocalist Ella Pennewell, who took the stage while the band started laying down a funky riff. A few seconds later, her powerhouse voice was complemented by the band''s horn section. Pennewell usually prefers a blues beat, but she sounded great backed by Smith''s band. After an impressive couple of songs, someone onstage nonchalantly noted that "that went pretty well."
When local blues harpist Billy Bash took the stage dressed in a bolo tie and a vest, he started to talk to "the ladies" in the audience while the band played a chugging number. During his next song, Bash sang about the kind of women he likes, and the audience learned that he likes women of all shapes and colors.
Then the charismatic Marvin Banks took the stage in a huge, white hat. Banks sang to the crowd, and then looked over in amazement as several members of the backing band took extended solos. His constant mugging made me think that Banks would have a career in comedy if he did not have such a good singing voice.
After another night on the town, I slid into my truck and turned on the radio. It was Taj Mahal. Who says that Chicago is the blues capital of the world?