Monday, October 15, 2018

Crescent City Blues & BBQ

We are on to the final stretch of our road trip and started the weekend with an early lunch of baked ham at Mother's, a New Orleans institution with good food but very basic decor. Then it was off to the first full day of the Crescent City Blues and BBQ Festival. First up was Mem Shannon and the Membership. He's a decent bluesman with a V shaped guitar and was fine on numbers like 3 O'clock Blues and The Blues Looked Out For Me but not exceptional. The next act  John 'Papa' Gros, played some New Orleans funk but was rather dull.
Things came to life with the next act, Rev John Wilkins, who produced some blistering gospel blues with the aid of his three daughters. Wearing a black cowboy hat he looked every bit the southern preacher and most of his songs were praising God, including You Can't Hurry God, Wade In The Water, On The Battlefield and Will The Circle Be Unbroken. One of his daughters took the lead on a couple of numbers and gave them her all. Passionate stuff and an excellent set. Next up was Shemekia Copeland who was also in great form. She has a new CD out called America's Child which includes some thought provoking songs such as Ain't Got Time for Hate and Would You Take My Blood. Others included The Battle Is Over But The War Goes On, Somebody Else's Jesus and When You Play With The Devil. Shemekia introduced Irma Thomas on stage to congratulate her on her recent Americana award. Following her was Walter Wolfman Washington, an ever present on trips to the Big Easy. On this occasion he seemed to be in one of his jazzy moods but I didn't see the whole set so can't really comment.
Headlining was Jimmie Vaughan, a fine guitarist with a top notch band with four horns who began his set with some rather mellow laid back numbers including It's Been A Long Time and I Ain't Seen Nobody Like You. Things picked up with Just A Little Bit, a sing along version of Hey Baby and You Can't Sit Down before he was joined on stage by two back up singers, one male and one female, who brought real life to Like It Like That and the Flamingos If I Can't Have You. The set closer Boom Bapa Boom was a real stormer.
Afterwards we were in several minds about what to see and went to the Hi Ho Lounge to see a bit of a psychedelic improvisational band called Hash Cabbage. We soon gave up on that and went to Frenchmen Street where we ended up seeing a highly competent and enjoyable soul covers group in the Balcony Music Club called the Fleurtations. They are a nine piece outfit with horns and a couple of sassy singers. Free entry as well.
Day two of the festival began for me with Kenny Brown, a white slide guitarist who learned his art in North Mississippi. He was well worth a listen as he really drives his numbers along, Shake Your Money Maker being one example. Next up was Papa Mali, a New Orleans blues man who was merely OK, but the next act, the Keeshea Pratt Band  from Houston really got the crowd going with some full blooded blues in the style of Ko Ko Taylor. Keeshea worked the audience on numbers like Rock Me Baby, Have A Good Time, Wang Dang Doodle, Cold Sweat and Rock Steady and although it wasn't original material it was well done. Next up was a real treat: a set by 93 year old Henry Gray, whose piano playing and vocals remain in good health. His career goes back to the Chicago blues scene of the 1940s and he was a member of Howlin' Wolf's band for 12 years before returning to Baton Rouge where he still plays a weekly gig. He was backed by an enthusiastic Terrance Simien on rub board, Bob Corritore on harmonica and Lil Buck Sinegal provided some stinging guitar in a 60 minute set which included over 20 songs including Sweet Home Chicago, Bright Lights Big City (twice), Going Down Slow and Blueberry Hill.
The next act, Cookie McGee, from Texas was obviously a good guitarist with quite a soulful voice, but she didn't really do it for me. The headline act, however, was another matter. The Bo-Keys, led by Scott Bomar, provided the backing for Percy Wiggins and a quite scintillating set by Don Bryant, who must now be a contender for the title of the world's greatest living soul singer. Percy started the set with half a dozen songs sung with his customary style, rather wooden but with a truly soulful voice. They included Can't Find Nobody (To Take Your Place), Writing On The Wall and Never Found  A Girl. Then it was the turn of Don Bryant, whose gorgeous voice is only matched by his superb stagecraft. Nickel And A Nail, Set My Soul On Fire, Everything's Gonna Be Alright, I'll Go Crazy, I Got To Know, One Ain't Enough And Two's Too Many, What Kind Of Love, the ballad Tell Me How Do I Get There and That Driving Beat were all delivered to perfection, another soul master class from the great man. As an encore he sang a stunning Don't Turn Your Back On Me and finally I Can't Stand The Rain with Percy also on stage. This was a wonderful way to end a great festival and a great trip. But it wasn't quite over yet. We walked the few yards to the Ace Hotel where the Marc Stone band introduced, first, New Orleans stalwart Ernie Vincent and then Marilyn Barbarin who was truly excellent on some Aretha covers, including Save Me, Think and Respect, and some originals including her first record Believe Me. The icing on the already delicious cake we thought as we headed off for some final beers at the Avenue pub. Look out for photos of our trip in the coming days.


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