Blues hues

Russ Tarby 07/16/08More articles
Blues Fest

11 images in the Blues Fest album

The 17th annual NYS Blues Fest survived Sunday’s downpour:

Sunny and muggy or cloudy and wet. Take your pick.
Regardless of the weather, July 12 and 13 were two solid days of hot blues in Clinton Square at the 17th annual New York State Blues Festival.

Orange and blue
Looking radiant in white and sounding just as splendid, North Carolina blues belter Toni Lynn Washington jump-started the Budweiser Main Stage on Saturday under sunny skies. She acknowledged America’s present struggles overseas by dedicating a song to those serving in the armed forces, “Every Day will be Like a Holiday.”

San Francisco-based harmonica-blower John Nemeth was raised way up in Idaho, where he became familiar with Syracuse by watching SU basketball games on TV. He may be an Orange hoops fan in front of the tube, but he’s a bluesman through and through as evidenced by his swingin’ original, “Blue Broadway.”

After-hours parties
As Saturday’s headliner, Texas harpmeister Kim Wilson led a revamped Fabulous Thunderbirds through a set of 1980s’ hits and newer compositions. Longtime blues fanatics recall when Wilson wore a turban. Now he’s shaved bald. Still sounds as good as ever, though.
The Rebirth Brass Band blew the roof off the Empire Brewing Co. Saturday night, and that’s no easy feat when you consider that the Empire is located in the basement at 120 Walton St. A well-oiled crowd danced feverishly as the brassmen played raucous versions of New Orleans favorites such as “I’m Walkin,’” and “Iko, Iko.”
That same night over at the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, Rochester’s Joe Beard hosted an all-star jam session that featured Wilson, guitarists Johnny Mueller and Steve Grills, and members of Toni Lynn Washington’s band.
“It was magic,” said Blues Fest organizer and bandleader Bernie Clarke.

Show must go on!
Mid-afternoon Sunday the skies opened up and rain soaked the square for nearly an hour. But in the hallowed vaudeville tradition of “The show must go on,” the blues fest never missed a beat, save for a couple cancellations over at the Hanover Square Stage.

“We just kept everything going,” explained the festival’s president, Dave Katleski.

While Saturday’s attendance approached 10,000, Sunday’s was down considerably, with perhaps a few hundred weathering the storm, increasing to about 1,000 after the rain stopped for Anson Funderburgh’s set with James “Icepick” Harman. Several hundred more folks showed up for the Rebirth Brass Band’s funked-up set, before the crowd grew to nearly 5,000 when headliners Jimmie Vaughan and Lou Ann Barton appeared at 9:30 p.m.

Katleski credited main-stage manager Christie McKay for maintaining the schedule despite the meteorological conditions. “She’s great,” he said. “Christie deserves a lot of credit for getting us through this day.”

More magical moments
“It’s great to be here,” said harmonica man Skip Murphy as he joined The Kingsnakes on the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que Stage Sunday evening. “It’s great to be anywhere,” he added.
Then he sang the old Jimmy Witherspoon tune that seems especially topical these days, “Times Getting Tougher than Tough.” As bassist Gary Lavancher took a noir-ish solo mid-song, Murphy ad-libbed: “It sounds like an old detective novel, doesn’t it? ‘It was a dark night in Syracuse…’”
Then guitarist Mark Hoffmann plugged in and he and ’Snakes axeman Terry Mulhauser turned in an absolutely dazzling guitar duet on “Born in Chicago.”

The festival concluded with a particularly sublime pairing, Jimmie Vaughan’s Stratocaster machinations and Lou Ann Barton’s smoky vocals, on tunes such as “Wheel of Fortune” and “The Power of Love.”
Then it was down to Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge where Los Blancos kept the good times rolling for all the diehards who simply couldn’t stop “Shakin’ that Thing!”

TAGS: Blues Fest,Syracuse,Rebirth Brass Band,Fabulous Thunderbirds,Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge,Los Blancos,John Nemeth,Toni Lynn Washington,Clinton Square
EDITION: The Eagle

Rating: 2.4/5 (13 votes cast)

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