It’s been a long, tough winter for area residents and if ya’ haven’t had a touch of the blues during these frigid months you’re one of the lucky ones. But a few things happen every March, the daylight gets a little longer, the air gets a little warmer and one of the year’s premiere music events occurs. And this Friday night and Saturday there’s no better place to shake those winter blues than at the Hotel Lafayette in Marietta, OH.
The Blues, Jazz and Folk Music Society (www.bjfm.org) will once again present one of the year’s most anticipated music events … the 23rd Annual River City Blues Festival. This year’s festival will have a special significance by honoring the late, longtime BJFM President “Cobbler John” Bolen. Bolen was a driving force for several decades, dedicated to bringing unique, authentic and wonderful roots music to the Mid-Ohio Valley. He will be greatly missed but he’ll also be expecting an all out house-rocking celebration of music from the fans!
This year’s festival will certainly follow that great music tradition! Throw away your misconceptions of blues music being a solemn presentation, it is far from it. In fact, it is often the most ass shakin’, party startin’ music to be found. A perfect soundtrack for a spring thaw! The festival is actually so filled with great music it is divided into three events … a Friday night show, a Saturday matinee and a Saturday night finale.
The fun kicks off Friday evening as 2014 BJFM River City Blues Competition winners, The Tee Dee Young Band (www.teedeeyoung.com), take the stage. Young fronts a super tight five piece band from Louisville featuring drums, bass, keyboards, saxophone and guitar, a band more than capable of powerfully presenting a wide range of feel good blues tunes. Young will be representing the BJFM at the 2015 International Blues Competition in Memphis, TN next January … come out and see why! “Young’s playing and singing are authentic to the genre but oblivious to current industry trends. His guitar is a weapon, wielded with total authority, assailing the listener with his sheer virtuosity!” – Tee Dee Young bio page.
Most blues musicians have a family tree that touches back through some very famous blues families and players, but every now and then that lineage runs into some roots rock and roll. Chris O’ Leary (www.thechrisolearyband.com) is one of those unique individuals who has bridged several genres. O’ Leary spent six years touring the world as the leader of the late Levon Helm’s band, The Barnburners, laying down harp and vocals. But now O’ Leary is busy fronting his namesake band and will be headlining on Friday night. The band brings together six talented musicians who have experience excelling in several different musical genres but on Friday night get ready for some harp fueled Chicago-style power blues! “O’Leary … is a more than capable singer and Chicago-style harmonica stylist; the proof comes in the shuffles and jump numbers he handles with suave assurance on his debut recording. It’s really the slow tempo of Blues is a Woman that draws out his best singing, reminiscent of Jimmy Witherspoon. His Hudson Valley-based cohorts stir up the all-original material without faltering. Young guitarist Chris Vitarello merits notice for his technical powers and imagination, his reach extending to rockabilly and swinging jazz.“
– Frank-John Hadley, Downbeat Magazine
Day two of the festival kicks off Saturday morning at 11:30 a.m. BJFM volunteer and local musician Mark Doebrich leads area music students in the “Schools That Rock” performance. Elementary, middle and high school age students comprise the group which gives the young, aspiring musicians a chance to not only learn the history of blues and rock and roll, but also chance to perform it live onstage! This performance is free for all to enjoy.
At 1:30 p.m. the Saturday matinee revs up for an afternoon of impromptu blues history. The Hoodoo Men open the show with their Deep South raw and gritty blues sound. Heavy on the Mississippi juke joint sound, the duo of Bill Steber and Sammy Baker rely on a variety of instruments to create a retro mid-1900’s blues vibe … the early howlin’ days of pickups and amplifiers and the new sounds that came with the electricity … but even still, the electric jug is a truly one of a kind party starter! “Cheap-ass vintage Teisco guitars, p90 pickups, over-driven tube amps, groovin’ drum shuffles, dirty concrete floors, butt-shakin’ hoarse-hollerin’ flask-drinkin’ 3am still bumpin’ yes ma’am blues music.” – The Hoodoo Men.
At 3:00 p.m., Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton takes the stage and the blues history lesson continues. Paxton takes elements of ragtime, old time mountain music, early blues and more, melding them together in a glorious presentation which will make the audience forget they’re listening to a young man in his mid-20’s. Paxton uses guitar, banjo, fiddle, vocals and a contagious joy to present what has been called “the next generation of the acoustic blues” by Living Blues magazine. “He’s witty, fast rhyming, poetic, fun, exciting, wonderfully skilled as a musician and a fine singer, he is the continuation of a proud tradition, literally and figuratively. It’s hard to tell at times when Jerron Paxton, a consummate entertainer, is putting on an act, when he takes his act to real life and when life starts and the act ends.” – www.thecountryblues.com
Rounding out the afternoon show at 4:30 p.m. will be Detroit-born blues empress Thornetta Davis (www.thornettadavis.com). Davis rose to acclaim playing in rhythm and blues bands in the Detroit area. But she has also provided backing vocals for some of Detroit’s biggest rock performers like Bob Seger and Kid Rock. But Davis has been infusing the blues into her soulful sounds since the 80’s and has had her songs featured in commercials, movies and even the HBO hit groundbreaking series The Sopranos! Heavy on the soul, her rhythm and blues background with a touch of rock and roll … Davis always provides a great spirited performance! “Thornetta Davis can sing R&B, soul, rock & alternative, but it is the blues Thornetta deals with in this her first live CD. Covered Live is a musical snapshot of the usual high-energy show at the Music Menu Cafe in downtown Detroit. This is lady T’s gift to her many fans, a slice of a live performance with all the favorites like Black Drawers, Muddy Water, & Damn Your Eyes. After over twenty Motor City Music Awards, there is no doubt Thornetta stands today as Detroit’s most loved and respected female vocalist. No one can match the smooth power of her voice or her over all soul.” – RJ Spangler for Big City Blues Magazine.
After a break for dinner from around 6 p.m. until 8 p.m., the Saturday night finale begins. Long Tall Deb (www.longtalldeb.com) takes the stage at 8 p.m. with her band The Werewolves of Alabama. Long Tall Deb is a BJFM favorite, helping with blues competition judging, rocking last years Red, White & Blues festival and forming a strong musical friendship with the MOV! Deb is joined by Colin John on guitar; once described by Guitar Player magazine as “what Jimi Hendrix might have sounded like if he abandoned the rat race, moved to Hawaii, taken up surfing and let the sun and waves bestow their laid-back high.” John Popovich brings his experience on the keys while Melvin Powe and Jan Roll hold down the solid rhythm section on bass and drums. The Werewolves bring the groove to the dance floor while Deb’s powerful yet smooth vocals share the passion to one’s heart! When I heard Long Tall Deb’s recordings, it was easy to know we hoped she’d choose the VizzTone Label Group for her CD. “When I shared the bandstand with her, and watched her perform, I was very impressed with her as a singer and entertainer as well. Her power is friendly and soulful and I recommend her to you enthusiastically!” – Bob Margolin
Closing out the festival will be The Victor Wainwright Band (www.victorwainwright.com). Wainwright is a high energy keyboardist that slams out some mean honky-tonk while moving booties with some hard core boogie. Wainwright’s live performances have been called “beautiful madness.” Wainwright is joined by a true young gun of the Memphis blues scene, Nick Black who provides the incendiary guitar work. And with drummer Billy Dean and bassist Will Hanlon holding down the beat and thump, Wainwright is free to focus 100% on ensuring the crowd gets down to the sound! One of the greatest qualities a band can have is road experience and the Victor Wainwright Band regularly plays over 300 shows a year. It’s no wonder they’ve received high acclaim from industry stalwarts like Billboard, Blues Beat, BMA, Living Blues, House of Blues Radio, Sirius/XM and others. But this band doesn’t just collect awards, they electrify fans with their frolicking, good time sounds! “Wainwright serves as an electrifying guide to a good time-spinning tales, telling his listeners how to beat the blues, and meticulously conjuring raw soul and energy out of his acoustic piano.He displays a sharp sense of humor and a knack for storytelling…. Every track is brilliant.” – Living Blues Magazine
If one is not a member of the BJFM, it is highly recommended to join and support this wonderful, non-profit musical organization. The yearly dues are only $15 and are easily recouped by the reduced ticket prices that members receive at events throughout the year. For example, a weekend pass for the blues festival is only $50 for members, $70 for non-members. Also if a member can only attend one or two shows of the festival, the costs still works out the same $15 for Friday night, $15 for the Saturday matinee and $20 for Saturday night! Non-member individual show pricing is $25 Friday night, $25 Saturday matinee and $30 Saturday night … yes it pays to be a member. And memberships are available the night of the show, so one can start saving instantly!
I can’t recall the exact date or time when I first met “Cobbler” John Bolen but I can pretty accurately detail the circumstances. I’m quite sure there was live music being played, music which was the work of John and his fellow Blues, Jazz & Folk Music Society (www.bjfm.org) volunteers. And I’m sure his loving and caring wife, Peggy, was not far from his side. For years he served as the president of the BJFMS and with the help of the organization’s dedicated volunteers helped to present some of the finest and most diverse music the Mid-Ohio Valley has ever had the opportunity to enjoy. I know I was enjoying that music in the early 1990’s when I first met the Cobbler.
Like many folks, I enjoyed the lineups of truly important and legendary blues artists and John’s love of live music. But I also respected his profession, years spent as a craftsman in the lower level of the Dime Bank building in Marietta. He was an artist working an age old trade, breathing life back into a pair of well-worn shoes. He possessed a skilled gift which is sorely missing in much of today’s digital and throwaway world, hence the nickname … The Cobbler.
But it was the John’s personal love of music that will leave an impact on so many folk’s lives. I often reminisce about all the great blues artists that he and the BJFMS brought to our area. Thankfully the organization had a large following of dedicated music lovers who would travel hundreds of miles to attend an event in the Mid-Ohio Valley and that dedication allowed the River Cities Blues Festival and Competitions to grow over the past few decades. Sometimes John and I discussed the challenges of getting local folks engaged with the same level of enthusiasm that the visitors brought to the events. Some shared ideas and some scratching our heads … tempered with a cold beer or two and a “we’ll get ‘em next time” attitude. Always realizing how important all the fans were whether from near or far.
The Cobbler and his team also worked diligently to provide Celtic, Cajun, Americana and other roots based forms of music to area music fans. I can fondly remember sweating it out on the Hotel Lafayette parquet dance floor while the John wore out a spoon on a washboard on a hot August night during the Swamp Stomp several years back! And another time I had the pleasure of helping with an Appalachian flavored night of acoustic roots music, which gave folks a special opportunity to see John’s life long love of folk music and his fine playing skills. John always worked tirelessly to give the fans his very best.
I have been BJFMS member for many years and specifically had the honor helping to judge five of the River Cities Blues Competitions over the years. This year I recently helped to emcee the event and provide some stagehand help for the competing bands. John was too ill to attend, but while I was helping out I could only think of how I could help the fans enjoy the show more, spark their excitement up another level and get them to feel the joy of the music like the Cobbler always did.
We are certainly all saddened by John’s passing and send our condolences to his family. Certainly many deserved thoughts and prayers will be flowing over the next few days but we must also find a way to rejoice in the music he cared so much about. Forgive me if I’m a little off base but somehow I envision a befitting grand farewell … a New Orleans style jazz funeral … somber with respect early and full of spirited music at the end as a celebration of the Cobbler.
Realistically, I think it as my personal duty to step up and help to continue the Cobbler’s legacy of music, and hopefully some other music lovers will come forward to help keep alive the fun, the joy, the importance of the music he loved. It may just be the best tribute of all for our late friend, Cobbler John Bolen. And if I’m smiling, I’ll be listening to that swinging brass section in my head and remembering many good times.
The C&S Railroad boarded in Huntington, WV and headed north to Marietta on Friday night. They didn’t load their boxcars full of lighting fast pseudo blues guitar riffs but instead hauled a dose of blues history north to the River City. As the opener for the Blues, Jazz and Folk Music Society’s 22nd Annual River City Blues Competition the band helped to acclimate music fans to the many styles and nuances which make up the blues.
Vocalist/guitarist Chris Sutton took the audience on a blues journey that rubbed shoulders with folk, jammed with some southern rock, picked it with the sound of an Appalachian hollow and brought it all together with a smooth, soulful sound. It was a wonderful way to kick off the two day music event.
With the hardy fans in attendance in the mood, the Sean Carney Band from Columbus, OH took the stage. The trio brought their signature electric sound to the Hotel Lafayette Ballroom and filled the dance floor. Carney certainly displayed the bravado which netted him and his band 1st place at the 2007 International Blues Challenge and the Albert King Best Guitarist award that same year.
Carney and his band provided the up-tempo driving blues sound that helped the crowd melt of the winter chill and shake it dry on the dance floor. But fans were in for an added bonus, as Carney had assembled an “Ohio All Star Blues Line Up” which also featured past RCBC winner Roy Fuller and the young and talented Micah Kesselring.
Kesselring displayed his slide guitar chops on his trusty ’59 Gold Top Reissue, while Fuller bust out his ‘60’s Silvertone and revved up the audience with a dose of Elmore James and Hound Dog Taylor. For the few folks not wanting to dance, it just wasn’t a fair fight … this blues revue brought the lowdown boogie and it all feet on the floor!
As the festivities closed for the eve at the hotel, many blues fans crossed the street and made the short walk down Front St. to the Over The Moon Pizzeria for a late night blues jam.
If you didn’t make it out Friday night, not to worry, the band competition kicks off at 11:30 am on Saturday morning. Thirteen bands, a full day of music and an absolutely great way to spend a chilly Saturday!
If one doesn’t already have those slip sliding, bone chillin’, snow shoveling blues maybe they’ve been wintering in the Caribbean but for the rest of us the harsh realities of a brutal winter continue to slosh onward. But there is light at the end of the tunnel provided by a couple of reliable signs. Spring is just a few weeks away but more immediately it’s time for the 22nd Annual River City Blues Competition!
The event is sponsored by the Blues, Jazz and Folk Music Society (www.bjfm.org) and is recognized as the oldest and largest blues competition in Ohio. It will once again be held at the Hotel Lafayette (101 Front St.) in Marietta OH and this year a slightly new format is being implemented which should be exciting for the musicians and the music fans.
On Friday night, February 14th, a pre-competition party will feature 2013 RCBC Winner Chris Sutton and his band C&S Railroad (https://myspace.com/csrailroad). Hailing from Huntington the group will be kicking off the festivities at 8pm. Sutton won last year’s competition with a rootsy, soulful solo acoustic performance but will be joined by his band on Friday night to deliver some Americana inspired Ohio River blues! At 9:30 pm longtime central Ohio favorite, The Sean Carney Band (www.seancarneyblues.com) will take the stage and further intensify the winter thaw with a dose of smoking hot, guitar driven blues. Carney is a former winner of the International Blues Challenge and has performed not only all across the Midwest but internationally as well! And his work with guitar heavyweights like Duke Robillard and Jimmy Thackery continue to draw Carney industry wide attention and acclaim.
On Saturday February 15th the hard yet fun work begins when the competition tips off at 11:30 am with the first of the thirteen competitors hitting the stage. They’ll be vying for the BJFMS sponsorship to the 2015 to the International Blues Challenge (IBC) held in Memphis, TN. The first place winner will receive $1,000 in cash and $500 more when they register for the International Blues Challenge held in early 2015. At the IBC the sponsored performers will gain valuable exposure to record label A&R representatives and blues industry professionals and festival promoters capable of real career advancement for a serious blues musician. Second place with receive $500 and 3rd place $300. If a solo/duo act places within the top three the BJFMS may decide to also sponsor them in the “solo/duo” category and the performers will receive an additional $500 when they register for the Challenge. Over 120 worldwide blues societies and alliances send qualifiers to the IBC each January!
This year’s River City Blues Competition line up once again provides both a regional and international flair! Each performer will have twenty minutes to present their set of music. Set that run longer than twenty minutes will be penalized. The performers will be judged by a panel of local and regional musical insiders. The judges will use a weighted scoring system which will look for the performer’s blues content, instrumental talent, vocal talent, originality and stage presence. The scores will be tabulated and the top six performers will move to the finals. The afternoon lineup is as follows.
Saturday, February 15th Preliminary Competition
11:30-11:50am – Steve Spires (4 pc. Band) Zanesville OH
12:00-12:20pm – The Level Best Blues Band (5 pc. Band) Huntington WV
12:30-12:50pm – Greezy Juke (4 pc. Band) Columbus OH
1:00-1:20pm – Rod Snider (Solo) New Matamoras OH
1:30-1:50pm – Fuzzy Catfish (3 pc. Band) Augusta KY
2:00-2:20pm – Dany Franchi Band (3 pc. Band) Italy
2:30-2:50pm – Blues Chronicles (Duo) Cleveland OH
3:00-3:20pm – Deuce n’a Quarter (5 pc. Band) Columbus OH
3:30-3:50pm – Noah Wotherspoon Band (3 pc. Band) Cincinnati OH
4:00-4:20pm – Luther Trammell (Solo) Elyria OH
4:30-4:50pm – Reverend Sexton’s All Star Blues Review (5 pc. Band) Detroit MI
5:00-5:20pm – Tee Dee Young Band (5 pc. Band) Lexington KY
5:30-5:50pm – Dock Adams and Blues Hammer (4 pc. Band) Columbus OH
At approximately 6 pm the preliminary competition will be complete and the BJFM will break for dinner. At 8 pm the competition will reconvene with the top six finalists going to the stage once again in the championship round for a shot at the RCBC title.
Tickets will be available at the door and are priced as follows. $10/$15 members/non-members for Friday Night, $15/$20 m/nm Saturday Afternoon, $15/$20 m/nm Saturday Night, $40/$55 m/nm Weekend Pass. VISA/MasterCard/Discover accepted. The Lafayette Hotel will also be serving great food and legal beverages adjacent to the event.
If one has regularly attended they are prepared for all the fun and music, but this event also draws a big crowd. The doors will open an hour before show time so it’s a good idea to come early if you want an upfront seat. Of course the entire ballroom is a great atmosphere full of good music whether one chooses to be upfront and feel the beat or watch from the comfort of the back corner!
Party! It’s the only word needed to summarize Friday night’s activity at the 21st Annual Blues, Jazz & Folk Music Society’s (www.bjfm.org) Blues Festival. And if you don’t believe me, just ask one of the other several hundred music fans in attendance at Marietta’s Hotel Lafayette ballroom.
For the uninitiated, the word “blues” often conjures up the misconception of down trodden woe-is-me roots music. Sure there is a family tree which encompasses a wide spectrum of feelings and attitudes within the “blues music” family, but when it comes to the BJFM Blues Festival it’s all about the boogie!
Friday night was no exception to this rule as New Jersey’s Mikey Jr. & the Stone Cold Band kicked off the weekend long festivities. Originally billed as a four piece band, Mikey Jr. had a little trick up his sleeve with the addition of guitarist Dean Shot. This set up a powerful three way dynamic between Mikey Jr.’s harmonica, Matt Daniels lead guitar and Shot’s fiery guitar interplay as the three tossed the energy around like the old comical ticking bomb ready to explode.
Well folks something did explode, and it was the wall of sound from the stage. Not only does Mikey Jr. blow a mean harp but he also understands the important fundamental that it’s not his party, it’s everybody’s party! As Mikey Jr. wandered into the crowd to weave a steamy story or two, drummer Adam Strasberg and bassist Jimmy Pritchard provided the groove that made it clear that everyone was going to have fun together and Mikey Jr. let it be well known that he was right there with them.
But the party was just getting started, and next up was the Lionel Young Band. Now many of the fans might have been commenting, “I’ve never seen a blues band with an electric violin”, they soon found out just how Young could make it wail. With Andre Mali providing punctuation marks and riffs on trumpet, Young played his violin in every conceivable way. Fiddle, mandolin, electric guitar leads were all emanating from the four strings of the sleek black instrument. The boogie was indeed on!
At the end of Young’s set the crowd was still up and ready to boogie. After a sheepish grin towards Mali, Young began strumming the familiar high notes of Prince’s hit song “Kiss” and the dance floor erupted again. As the band grooved through the extended dance version of the song, everyone grinned from ear to ear after being ordained “sexxxxxy motherfuckers” by the man with the funky violin in his hand!
If you’re kicking yourself for missing what is the best guaranteed party of the year in the Mid-Ohio Valley, don’t despair. You have all day Saturday to enjoy the festival. At 12:15 p.m., Mark Doebrich leads area high school music students through traditional & contemporary blues selections as part of the Blues in the Schools “High Schools That Rock” project.
At 2:15 veteran solo/acoustic performer Doug MacLeod brings his songwriting expertise, guitar mastery and soulful vocals to the stage. Appearing on 18 albums as well as writing a column for Blues Review magazine, MacLeod has not only lived the life from a musical viewpoint but also documented the history of this prolific genre.
Gospel inspired blues singer CeCe Teneal will take the stage at 3:45 p.m. Teneal’s silky smooth vocals provide an appealing mask for the true power and passion within her heart. With interesting originals and adaptations of some time-tested standards, Teneal’s songs are bound to please the vocal enthusiast as well as the fan of pure gospel based blues.
“If blues, soul, and rock can be said to form a triangle, you’ll find Hamilton Loomis right in the center of it”, says Guitar Player Magazine. At 8 p.m. Loomis and his five piece band get ready to tear the roof off the sucker. The Texas native and his band recently were labeled “a blues-rock-funk-groove-soul band,” by the Houston Chronicle.
What this means for the festival goer? A second night of high energy music which touches the total spectrum of American music in general, or otherwise, something for everybody to dig! But Loomis is more than just industry magazine or newspaper quotes, as a youngster at age 16 he was able to jam with his idol turned mentor Bo Diddley. But don’t just take it from me, the late great Diddley summed up Loomis’ talents as follows, ““You got to put some seasonin’ in what you’re doin’, and this boy’s got the whole salt shaker!”
As if the place won’t be already rocking enough, the finishing roundhouse blow to this undisputed heavyweight blues rockin’ festival will be the unique collaboration of musicians known as Southern Hospitality, which take the stage at 10 p.m. This six piece band from Florida features three versatile and dynamic modern blues performers … all in one band!
Members include Blind Pig recording artist Damon Fowler, fellow guitarist/vocalist JP Soars and piano player extraordinaire/vocalist Victor Wainwright, who came together for an impromptu finale jam one evening after a festival performance, which featured each of their individual bands in the lineup, and the rest is history.
Interestingly Southern Hospitality’s first official show was opening for Buddy Guy at the Heritage Music Blues Fest in Wheeling, WV. From there the group has entertained crowds with rockin’ boogie-woogie blues; with each of the three bluesmen getting to showcase their skillset in the blues genre while a top notch rhythm section holds down the groove. Folks here’s your chance to remove “Damn I wish I would’ve gone” from your next week’s vocabulary!
But there have been a few musical events stand the test of time in our region in recent years. Tonight area music fans will have the opportunity to enjoy one such event. The 21st Annual Blues, Jazz & Folk Music Society’s Blues Festival kicks off this evening at the historic Hotel Lafayette in downtown Marietta. Tonight’s 8 p.m. show will feature two high energy bands guaranteed to get your feet moving.
Mikey Jr. & the Stone Cold Blues will get the party started Friday evening with their brand of high energy blues. Hailing from the greater Philadelphia region, Mikey Jr. has built a reputation has one of the hottest harp players around. Mikey Jr. has been drawing comparisons to some legendary harp masters such a Little Walter and Sonny Boy and when teamed with guitar, bass and drums is sure to provide a rollicking even of contemporary blues fun.
Headlining the Friday evening show will be the Lionel Young Band, winners of the 2011 International Blues Competition Band category. Like most great blues bands, the Lionel Young Band has roots which extend throughout the legendary blues family tree. Young, winner of the 2008 International Blues Challenge Solo/Duo competition has jammed with the likes of Clarence Gatemouth Brown, Elvin Bishop, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Tab Benoit, Chris Cain and Bob Margolin just to name a few.
Young is backed by Andre Mali on trumpet, Dexter Payne on sax, clarinet and harp, Ricardo Pena on piano, organ and vocals, Kim Stone on bass and Jay Forrest on drums. Collectively this band is ready for any style of blues anytime anyplace. The bands resume would fill up another page of music who’s who’s!
But ones ears and eyes are the best judges of all and the Lionel young Band has been winning people over whether it’s crisscrossing the U.S. or hitting the high seas as part of a Blues Cruise. With smooth vocals and a powerful sound the Lionel Young Band will impress and still have room to through in a few tricks for the party!
Its Friday night ya’ll know you deserve a good time and there’s no better place to start than the BJFMs Blues Festival baby!
“No matter what your talent level, there has to be something a little unsettling about presenting your skills onstage and being judged among your peers. And when one looks at the scope of performances at the recent 20th Annual Blues, Jazz & Folk Music Society’s Blues Competition, it would appear that solo performers have a daunting task indeed. Gary Applegate (www.garyapplegate.com) of Indianapolis, IN met that challenge head on during his performances last Saturday.
While bands competing in the contest certainly have an advantage of a fuller sound and a livelier stage, Applegate utilized a few talents of his own as well. The competition witnessed four solo acts over its two day run with two of those performers advancing to the final round on Saturday evening and a third just barely missing out.
What is it that gave Applegate and Elyria, OH’s Luther “LT” Trammell a ticket to the finals? Several factors come into play for the solo contestant, with two obviously enormous ones being instrumental and vocal talent. When the solo performer walks onto the stage, they are essentially walking on to a blank canvas ready to be painted by their musical talents. Sure full bands will paint their own portrait as well, but often times the same full sound that bands attempt to achieve may also create a less defined vision of the combined talents being presented.
In the competition, blues content is the heaviest weighted scoring category, meaning that all the contestants are assessed a number between one and ten by the judges and then their score is multiplied by a value of four to achieve an acts “blues content” score. While bands may sometimes have the tendency to stray into other musical genres during their performances, the solo artist can strip their presentation down to the essential old school fundamentals of the blues themselves.
While just literally singing the blues may be grandfather of all blues music, one can easily imagine that an acoustic guitar and a harmonica are not too far down that family tree. But while Trammell presented a more traditional performance, Applegate wowed the fans and judges with a little bit of technical know-how to go along with his obvious talent.
“I’ll be playing all the sounds you hear live,” Applegate said to the standing room only crowd before beginning his twenty minute set. Armed not only the traditional acoustic guitar and harmonica instrumentation, Applegate also uses a unique style which allows him to incorporate a bass line and a kick drum sound … all being played by him live!
Through a little modern technology (no more than your average electric or bass guitar player uses in foot pedals or amplifiers), Applegate transforms his two lower strings in the E and A positions, into the bass line and splits the signal to a bass amp onstage. On the floor, Applegate’s right foot becomes a metronome/kick drum which is amplified as well. So far there are two tracks being played … are you following?
The other four guitar strings are played as rhythm and lead during the performance … now there’s three tracks. Next throw in vocals or an occasional blast of harmonica, and yes that right, Applegate is essentially keeping four separate tracks under control at one time! All of which are being played live.
Now it is easy to discuss Applegate’s interesting set up, but ultimately it still boils down to the performer being able to exude the power and emotion on which the blues have relied for hundreds of years. There has to be a felt personal connection between the crowd and the performer, with the artist holding the keys to unlock those emotions.
In a bittersweet manor, Applegate explained the story behind his original song, “Damn It! I’m Lonely” and that sometimes elusive connection was established. It was inspired by his loss of a loved to cancer at far too early of an age.
In years past the BJFMS would award a sponsorship to both a band category and a solo performer, but that was changed a few years back. Luckily for Applegate, the BJFMS came up with an interesting guideline concerning sponsorships of solo performers.
Within the finals of the blues competition, if a solo performer places in the top three spots, he or she will be awarded a sponsorship by the society to the International Blues Challenge. Applegate will be busy in home state of Indiana, before returning on July 6th for the 18th Annual Red, White & Blues Festival in Marietta.
From the opening blast of “I Got to Move,” blues fans knew the party was on! As The Tee Dee Young Band launched into the last set of the Saturday evening finals round, the capacity crowd at the 20th Annual Blues, Jazz, Folk Music Society’s Blues Competition was only left to wonder who would place second and third. With the win, The Tee Dee Young Band will represent the BJFMS at the International Blues Challenge (www.blues.org) held in Memphis, TN.
Young took control of the stage with his incendiary guitar playing, as his four piece band created a wall of sound as wide as the mighty Ohio River. The Lexington, KY based guitar slinger gave the audience a full helping of both hot and mild guitar licks from his trusty Parker Fly.
When the stage wasn’t smoking from Young’s guitar work, saxophonist Dan Jackson helped keep the groove smoldering with his down and dirty baritone sound. Along with keyboardist Bruce Smith, the two created some monster tones, allowing Young to concentrate on delivering his powerful blues vocals when not tearing up a guitar solo.
Bassist Billy Linton and drummer Gus Johnson provided an absolutely rock solid foundation for the bands five original songs. The band transitioned flawlessly from one song to another, as the audience tried to find an opening for applause during their clockwork set.
The Tee Dee Young Band will make a return trip to Marietta on March 17th to play at 1 p.m. during the afternoon session of the BJFM Blues Festival. The festival promises to be yet another sell out at the Hotel Lafayette, and one of the biggest days of music in the Mid Ohio Valley. For more info go to www.bjfm.org.
Columbus, Ohio’s Mojo Theory placed second in the competition. The five piece hard rockin’ blues group powered through five original compositions on Friday and Saturday evening. Vocalist Mark Richards kept the crowd enthralled as he wove his lyrical stories.
Guitarist David Wamock offered up some red hot guitar playing while Richards spurred him on from a few feet away. Keyboardist Jeff Morris, bassist Curt CJ Justus and hard hitting drummer Todd Mollette helped conjure up some huge mojo sound.
The 20th annual BJFMS blues competition will kick off Friday night at 8 p.m. at the Hotel Lafayette ballroom in Marietta. The Friday evening preliminary round will feature five performances from regional contestants. At the end of this round, two winners will move on to the Saturday night finals.
This event is always one of the busiest events of the year, and fans are advised to get to the ballroom an hour early for good seats. The list of contestants performing on Friday evening is as follows.
Friday, February 17 First Preliminary
8-8:20 pm Silverhorse (4 pc. Band) Marietta OH
8:30-8:50 Chaz Humley and the Effects (4 pc. Band) Teays Valley WV
9-9:20 Big Al & The Capital City Players (4 pc. Band) Columbus OH
9:30-9:50 Scott Horn (Solo) Akron OH
10-10:20 Mojo Theory (5 pc. Band) Columbus OH