Sunday, October 19, 2014

Crescent City blues and more

The Crescent City Blues and BBQ Festival, a three day free event in Lafayette Square in New Orleans, is well underway, but the most exciting act of the last few days was a superbly soulful gospel show at DBA in Frenchmen Street starring the Rev John Wilkins. Supported by his three daughters, each of them good singers in their own right, and a band that included Scott Bomar on bass and an energetic keyboard player, this was soul of the highest quality. Wilkins has a voice that brings to mind greats such as O V Wright and he can ring the changes from upbeat gospel tunes like Jesus Will Fix It and Wade In The Water to slow soul drenched numbers like You Can't Hurry God. He is a first rate guitarist and his daughters provided the perfect foil both with their call and response contributions and their harmonies and enthusiasm.  After a 90 minute set they took a break before Wilkins returned with an acoustic version of A Closer Walk before ending with the band and backing singers on Will The Circle Be Unbroken and I'm Going Home On a The Morning Train. Truly moving stuff, even if, like me, you aren't a believer.
The previous evening Dave Carroll and I, along with Alan Lloyd and two of his travelling companions, had a more cerebral start to the evening at the launch of a photo book about blues players called We Are The Music Makers and a talk by its photographer Tim Duffy at the Maple Street book store, with entertainment by blues guitarist Alabama Slim. From there we went to the Circle Bar where we ended up paying five dollars to listen to a horrendous band because we were waiting for a pizza we had ordered. A mistake, but next day we made up for it by having lunch at Dooky Chase, a historic soul food restaurant founded in 1941, where we met Mr Chase himself. Great food and highly recommended.
That afternoon saw the rather low key start to the Crescent City festival with performances by the brightly dressed and always acceptable Little Freddie King, who told a couple of stories about how his daddy had prompted him to write songs such as Bad Chicken and Rabbit On A Log. He was followed by Serbian blues guitarist Ana Popovic, a lady with a heavy guitar style but good legs, as someone commented.
Next morning we went to a record fair at Tulane University where I bought some New Orleans 45s and we came across a copy of a single by Marilyn Barbarin, who we saw a couple of nights previously, on sale at 200 dollars. I passed, needless to say. From there we dashed to day two of the festival, but were disappointed by the first couple of acts we saw, the New Orleans flavoured band fronted by King James, and a funky Dr John type character named Papa Mali. Leo 'Bud' Welch was also on stage, but, having seen him three times in the last month, we didn't stay. Much better was Walter Washington, who mixed blues with funk and with a wolf howl thrown in. His sound was much better than when we saw him at DBA and his band included an extra saxophone, adding to its funky sound. Best act of the day was Joe Louis Walker, who provided a mix of blues (I'm Not Messing Around and One Time Around) and gospel (I'm A Soldier For Jesus and People Get Ready, along with some pop in the form of Don't Let Go. An enjoyable set, but the headliners for the day, Los Lobos, were just a little too rock influenced for my taste and I didn't stay until the end. The weather was great though, and the final day looks pretty mouth watering, so watch this space and look out for photos of my whole trip soon.
Nick Cobban


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