Sunday, July 22, 2007

Stax of soul at Porretta

The first two days of the Porretta Soul Festival, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Stax Records and the 40th anniversary of Otis Redding's death, more than lived up to expectations. Once again this quiet town tucked away in the mountains near Bologna came alive to the sound of sixties soul music. The weather was perfect - so unlike the UK this summer - and the atmosphere was relaxed.
First on on Friday was Bobby Johnson, a decent Otis impersonator, who got the mostly Italian crowd going. The excellent Austin DeLone band featured some soulful solos by drummer Ron Beck and Austin himself (plus a couple of awful numbers by someone called Barbara Cola) before providing the backing for the star of the night, the simply superb Toni Green (pictured above). What a voice! This was deep soul at its best, with the glamorous Ms Green belting her way through the tremendous Just ain't Working Out and Someone Else's Guy, as well as more upbeat numbers like Say a Little Prayer. She was followed by the energetic Ellis Hooks, a Sam Cooke look alike, who jumped around the stage with abandon and got the crowd on its feet. Then to Betty Harris (pictured below), introduced as the Soul Queen of New Orleans (Irma Thomas might have something to say about that). Betty's voice is as strong as it was on her classics such as Cry to Me and Nearer to You, and it was these, rather than her newer material, that shone out. Finally it was the turn of the 'Old Gangsta' Sir Mack Rice, looking remarkably fit and sporting ginger hair. If anyone has the right to sing the ubiquitous Mustang Sally, it's him, since he wrote it, and he didn't disappoint.
Saturday night was Stax night and the compact Rufus Thomas Park where the festival takes place was packed. It was another great night, kicking off with the high kicking SugarPie DeSanto. She clearly doesn't take herself too seriously and her act included gurning, back rolls and jokes, but it was good fun. Even older was Jimmy McCracklin, 86 next month, wearing a bright red suit, who went through many of his hits including Think, The Walk and Tramp. His back up singers, Sweet Nectar, featuring his daughter, took some of the strain with several adequate covers. Next it was the turn of Booker T and the MGs, with Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn ( above), who performed note perfect versions of many of their Stax hits, including, , Green Onions, as well as Hang 'em High, Time is Tight and Hip-hug-her. Saturday's final act - at nearly 1am - was the Blues Brothers Band. Despite being essentially a tribute band, they are entertaining and excellent musically, with singer Rob 'Honeydripper' Paparozzi taking the main Blues Brother role as singer. Guesting with them as usual, and adding some credibility was Eddie Floyd. His voice is not what it was but that didn't matter too much as the crowd sang along to Big Bird, Knock on Wood and the rest. He invited Sir Mack Rice onstage for a couple of numbers - two Falcons together.
Altogether Porretta is living up the reputation built up over 20 years of keeping soul music alive in this corner of Italy. Tonight's show is a reprise of the last two evenings, with nearly all of the acts performing again. I can't wait.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home