By Daphne Kilburn
Several Washington-based blues artists were the line-up, with Grant Dermody performing harmonica with Eric Bibb’s acoustic guitar genius. Randy Oxford returned to host the jams, and his trombone sounded a more exciting blues repertoire than ever before. Grant and Randy were warmly received and hung out with blues fans on the week-long journey.
This year’s cruise was very smooth compared to last year’s, when the ship was out-running a hurricane and didn’t make its three ports of call. This time, however, there were permit issues with Cabo Wabo, the Sammy Hagar’s famous joint in Cabo, so Larry McCray and Grady Champion did sets on the ship just before we sailed from Cabo. Champion was this year’s International Blues Challenge band winner.
Fan favorites this year included Marcia Ball, Coco Montoya, Tommy Castro and Elvin Bishop. The Lowrider Band, Smokin’ Joe Kubek with B’nois King, Wayne Baker Brooks, and Café R&B thrilled the audiences in the various venues with their unique styles. All of them seemed relaxed yet refined, searing their blues into the hearts of the nearly 1,300 fans on board the M/S Zaandam of the Holland America Line. Fans got a dose of every type of blues, from funk and soul, to the deep South. Piano Bar hosts Eden Brent and Leon Blue created their own soulful and steamy blues. Rev. Billy C. Wirtz put a comical twist on the blues with hyperactive hilarity and intimate story-weaving by way of his own creations, as well as remembrances of old blues blasts.
The once-in-a-lifetime, take-your-breath-away appearances by Edgar and Johnny Winter left many fans wanting more. For the first time in over 30 years the two brothers came together to perform and complement each other’s talents, closing out the last performance of the week with Edgar displaying synthesizer perfection on “Frankenstein” with Johnny’s band. As they left the stage we could hear them comment that this was the first they had played it together ever !
Los Lobos had a definite following of lifelong fans as well. Their sound, was classic and engaging. Three decades of performing has brought about an evolution in their music, and no one could sit still.
Kelley Hunt’s performances on this year’s cruise led to her CD “Mercy” flying off the table in the Bluesin’ Bazaar. Her website best describes the intent of the album, with “rich veins of political and social commentary threading throughout”. It was later just plain exciting to see this piano blues woman sit next to Marcia Ball and do what only they can do on the keyboards. She is quite accomplished as a guitarist, songwriter, and singer. “Mercy” was her fourth CD release back in 2008 but has found a fresh audience of late; she’s back on tour this month!
Tommy Castro’s Legendary Rhythm and Blues Revue spotlighted Santa Cruz favoriteSista Monica, onboard without her band this year. Larry McCray was, again, magnetic, drawing people into his guitar exploits time and timeagain. Elvin Bishop’s Hell Raisin’ Blues Revue and Kim Wilson’s Blues All Stars gave us an even deeper exposure to some blues artists we might not have been exposed to otherwise, along with old friends like John Nemeth and Kid Andersen.
Finally, there was Commander Cody. His boogie woogie is priceless, his stories of blues history and other anecdotes were captivating. He was gracious toward the fans, and compatible onstage with other greats as he conducted a Boogie Woogie workshop with half a dozen other keyboard specialists. Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen debuted in 1967, and he showcased some of his original art on the cruise, too.