What a wild weekend this past one was, in Rochester we had the Big Rib BBQ & Blues Fest, and in Syracuse there was the NY State Blues Festival – choices, choices, choices. Oh wait add to that we be heading off to San Francisco for some left coast congregatin’ – time to buy stock in 5 hour energy!
Having seen the majority of acts in Rochester, we opted for Ana Popovic Thursday night and then dash off to Syracuse down the thruway for Friday and some of Saturday. Good Choice! This festival gets overlooked, sorta like the pig tailed little sister that one day blossoms into a striking young woman, the NY State Blues Fest came out of it’s shell this year. Let’s hope it continues providing access to first class blues musicians for Western NY peeps to see and heat.
The opening act was a unique opportunity to see Anders Osborne in an acoustic setting, add to that Johnny Sansone would sit in as a special guest. This was just an incredible performance, plain and simple. Anders oozed charm and an openness that made us all feel special to be around. As he sat there, umbrella shielding the hot sun off him and his trusty iPad, he quipped about his songs, his middle aged spread and delivered the goods to us straight forwardly. To the person, each realized how accomplished a song writer this cat really is. There is a disarming simplicity to his writing, one that belies the depth and, at times, ominous and dark subject matter. Folks there are demons at work there and his chronicling of them and the sharing of them through his music with us makes us all the more closer to him.
As he sang his way through these acoustic renditions of his songs he grunted, gave us percussive soundings and even some, as John Mayall said back in the day, ‘chicka-booms’ all the while seated and enthralling us with his delivery and boyish charm. Mr. Sansone did a great job accompanying Anders, and sharing the spotlight with some of his own brand of blues and darkness. Johnny seems to be at a peak of sorts as he is just coming off a Blues Music Award and his songwriting and instrumental talent is being suddenly appreciated by more people – this cat deserves it all and more. No squeeze-box this time, just a set of harps and a backwards guitar. Hah, I had no idea he was a lefty, ya learn something new every day now don’t ya.
After a break they returned with Anders band for an electric set which had psychedelic overtones set upon a base of funky, second line rhythms which compelled the audience to take a little trip outside their comfort zone. Excellent guitar and bass work by Mr. Carl Dufrene they crossed more genres and styles than a drunk college girl crosses ramparts street on Fat Tuesday in New Orleans. One helluva show boys!
As Anders stated he left New Orleans and came up here and brought the weather with him. The hot steamy afternoon with sun blaring down upon us carried the moisture of Lake Ontario right to where we were. As the skies started crying BMA winning band, Monkey Junk hit the stage. Hailing from Canada this was Monkey Junks first American festival— what took so long?
A high energy modern version of a power trio this band has a sound and feel all their own. So with the rain pouring they played on and had folks dancing in those puddles of tears. Led by versatile guitar/harp player, Mr. Steve Marriner Monkey Junk has the goods to be a very popular band, and quite possible a force in the Blues music genre for years to come.
As the rain finally dried itself out and ceased it started to grow dark and cool off somewhat. A good thing because Matt Schofield would take the stage and set the night on fire with his incendiary guitar work and passionate vocals. Matt is an amazing guitarist who shape shifts thru the flimsy reinforced genres that are placed upon music and musicians. Jazz, Rock, Psychedelic – yeh, all of them are no doubt influences but the Blues is the parent and root of his music. Please see this young man if you get a chance, he is quite simply one of the most accomplished axe wielders out there, don’t take my word for it, go see for yourself.
So let me catch ya up on what was planned for Saturday, we were off to San Francisco on Sunday so wanted to stay home and pack, and do all those things that responsible adults should do before leaving town. Well the little kids won out, it as back for a mid afternoon tryst of Blues and Roots music as we hit the highway and head back to Syracuse.
Why? to go see Billy Thompson play up North, that’s why. Bill is a cat who has played with them all, and is trying to put his brand of Blues out there for the people. His release “A Better Man” has been nominated for a Blues Blast Award for best contemporary blues release. So what does that really mean, well it has to be good enough to get nominated by a knowledgeable committee of music insiders so it cant be all that bad, just sayin’.
On to Mr. Thompson…his roots are firmly planted in the old sod of classic blues, but they were watered with a love for a rock filtered, tripe faced boogies, from Little Feat, Sonny Landreth, Clapton and other sixties influences. Mr. Thompson has a unique style that blends all these colors into his very own rainbow that he spreads over the crowds. They dance, they sway and take in his music as if it were a breath of fresh air that relieves the stress of the often overdone stylized blues out there today. A very fine slide player, yes with a tonal relationship to Mr. Landreth but not quite as far reaching as Sonny. There is a balance inside his band that keeps him, with firmly clenched teeth, dug into the music and the overall package. His voice has a gritty edge to it that can be toned down to a somber almost sad feel when he plays some of his fine original tunes.
My surprise from Billy was his second line treatment of Van Morrision’s “Into The Mystic”, with a few chords of “Shenandoah” for good measure to start. Drummer Eric Selby kicked it into hi gear and piano man Ricky Wilkins threw out some ‘Fes inspired runs that allowed bassist Gene Monroe to do some justice to the bottom end. Oh yeh all through this set they had to battle those electronic gremlins that were living in Billy’s chords and PA system, but the sucked it up and laid it down for all to see and enjoy, I believe we will be seeing him on the road some more as we progress into this year.
So with that accomplished we boogied back to Rochester to throw some clothes into the suitcases and go out west, and see where the week would take us. Thanks to Todd Fitzsimmons and crew for a super fest and for their hospitality and kindness they showed us. Hope to do it all over again next year.
Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
photos: Leslie K. Joseph, Blues411
Billy Thompson http://www.billythompsonmusic.com/
Anders Osborne: http://www.andersosborne.com/
Johnny Sansone: http://www.johnnysansone.com/
Monkey Junk: http://monkeyjunkband.com/
Matt Schofiled: http://www.mattschofield.com/
For a Photo Gallery Excursion to the NY State Blues Festival visit here: