By Erika Olsen and Peter Dammann
Methow Valley on the eastern slopes of the North Cascades, WRBF—last year’s winner of the Washington Blues Society’s B.B. Award for Best Blues Festival and the Best Blues Event award from the Inland Empire Blues Society—takes place in one of the most spectacular festival settings in the Northwest. If you’ve attended WRBF in the past, this is a year you should plan to return—the Festival is serving up its most diverse, compelling lineup in years, a musical feast that has something any fan of blues/roots music can gnaw on, from Delta blues, roots-rock and gospel-funk, to horn fueled funk, and blues rock.
For the second year, the Festival opens with a special evening concert, 7:30 pm, Friday, July 15 in its Beer Garden, featuring two of the Northwest’s hottest acts: the Dusty 45s and Too Slim & the Taildraggers. The Dusty 45s’ reckless mix of honky-tonk, jump blues, and rock ‘n roll, char-broiled by Billy Joe Huels flame-throwing trumpet, have won them a Seattle Weekly “Best of Seattle” award three years running, and recently garnered the band the opening slot on the sold-out Northwest tour of Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Wanda Jackson and Grammy-winner Adele. The Dusty 45s also appear on the Festival main stage Saturday. Winthrop favorites Too Slim & the Taildraggers, debuted at #15 on the Billboard blues charts last month with their recent release, Shiver, and still climbing as of Bluesletter press time, the release has hung in Living Blues magazine’s top 10 for the past two reporting periods. The Festival’s producer, the non-profit Winthrop Music Association, will donate proceeds of the Friday night concert to The Cove Food Bank in Twisp.
Saturday, July 16th
Jimmie Vaughan & the Tilt-A-Whirl Band, featuring Lou Ann Barton in their Winthrop debut. Vaughan—co-founder of The Fabulous Thunderbirds, and elder brother to the late Stevie Ray Vaughan—Jimmie has been throwing down some of toughest, leanest and most compelling blues guitar since the early ‘70s. . Last year’s Grammy-nominated Blues, Ballads and Favorites, Vaughan’s first new studio album in nine years, showcased Vaughan’s earthy, roadhouse blues and economical guitar work, lushly backed by the Tilt-a-Whirl Band’s swinging horns, and the powerful pipes’ of Vaughan’s longtime cohort, Lou Ann Barton. His follow-up, More Blues, Ballads and Favorites, is due out this summer.
Co-headlining Saturday, Hammond B3 alchemist Booker T. Jones is one of America’s most prolific, distinguished and instantly recognizable musical forces. His 2009 Grammy-winning album, Potato Hole, not only re-affirmed his greatness, but it also re-introduced the neglected all-instrumental format to a noisy, crowded marketplace crying out for precisely the type of soul satisfying grooves which Jones excels at. Booker’s latest, The Road From Memphis, is an eclectic mix of retrosoul and hip-hop grooves featuring a wild cast of characters—hip hop’s The Roots, neo-soul queen Sharon Jones, Yim Yames from My Morning Jacket, Matt Berninger from the National, and the godfather of punk, Lou Reed.
Lydia Pense & Cold Blood debuted when San Francisco’s Fillmore Ballroom was at its peak as one of the nation’s musical Meccas. During the span of six late-60’s, early-70’s albums, Lydia and her fiercely funky band, along with Tower Of Power, helped forge a brand of funk/soul and R&B which came to be known as “East Bay Grease.”
Pense can still shout like a ‘60s soul diva and purr a slow blues with spine-tingling subtlety. Her band features a stellar group of musicians who have been playing together for nearly 20 years, as well as with such artists as Elvin Bishop, The Starship, Boz Scaggs, and Albert Collins.
Nobody in today’s blues world successfully bridges searing electric guitar blues with unbridled rock and roll energy like Alligator recording artist Michael Burks. Says the Chicago Sun Times, “Michael Burks is a flamethrower guitarist. He is the complete bluesman: songwriter, singer, riff-master, bandleader, and showman...Savage fury and heartfelt tenderness.” Burks will also host the Festival’s Saturday late night all-star jam session on the Beer Garden stage. Making their first trip to the Winthrop Festival, Seattle groove-masters Bump Kitchen deliver soul and funk, known for their intense energy on stage and front-man Tony Harmper’s soulful vocals. John Alex-Mason opens both Saturday and Sunday. Mason is a one man band from the front range of Southern Colorado, and he released sixth full-length album this past winter, Jook Joint Thunderclap—a world boogie collaboration of master players from Chicago, Holly Springs MS, Guinea and Colorado.
Sunday, July 17th
Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen, whose Deep in the Heart of Texas ranked among Rolling Stone Magazine’s top 100 albums of all time. However, the Commander is no mere nostalgia act, as last year’s Dopers, Drunks and Everyday Losers proved: “The Commander is stronger than ever,” as Hittin’ the Note raved. “His floor-stomping mix of country, swing, and rockabilly can shake the rafters of any bar or club.” In the past two years, Joanne Shaw Taylor has gone from a promising young blues talent to a bona fide force on the international music scene. She took home Best Female Vocalist honors at the 2010 British Blues Awards, has supported tours by Joe Bonamassa and Eric Sardinas and impressed legions of fans in the US, Europe and Australia with her high energy attack.
The Lee Boys serve up ‘sacred steel’ as only a real band of brothers can. Born out of the traditions of Florida’s House of God Church—where the howling, soaring voice of the steel guitar has dominated the fiery Pentecostal worship service for decades—the Lee Boys have delivered their sermon at major festivals across the US, playing and touring with the Allman Brothers, Black Crowes, Los Lobos, Gov’t Mule, Derek Trucks, the North Mississippi Allstars among many.
Chris Eger Band, formed four years ago in the Skagit Valley, have brought their eclectic mix of blues rock, funk, rockabilly and soul to the Mount Baker Rhythm & Blues Festival, Rendezvous Blues Festival, and the region’s major blues clubs. Too Slim & The Taildraggers make their annual high-octane Winthrop appearance Sunday afternoon, setting a high bar for closer Commander Cody. After the main stage action ends, stick around if you can. The allstar jam at the Beer Garden, hosted by Joanne Shaw Taylor and Chris Eger, promises to be incendiary.
On Saturday and Sunday, the music starts at 11 am and runs until 2 am. On-site camping ($40 for the weekend), free showers, food and craft vendors, shade tent, and beer garden are all located on the Blues Ranch grounds on the beautiful Methow River, a mile west of Winthrop on Highway 20. The Friday night Beer Garden Show admission is $10 or free with weekend pass. A weekend pass is $75 in advance, $85 at the gate.
For complete schedule, tickets, and lodging information, visit: www.winthropbluesfestival.org. Also visit the festival’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/winthropbluesfestival and follow them on Twitter at www.twitter.com/WinthropBlues.
The Winthrop Rhythm & Blues Festival is brought produced by the Winthrop Music Association (WMA), a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation. Proceeds from the Festival help support a number of cultural and civic organizations in the Methow Valley and beyond, including The Cove Food Bank, Little Star Montessori School, Heart of the Methow Pow Wow, Oregon Food Bank/Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival, and the Washington Blues Society Musician’s Relief Fund. Like the Washington Blues Society, the WMA is an affiliate of The Blues Foundation, Inland Empire Blues Society, Cascade Blues Association, Washington Blues Society, and Methow Valley Arts Alliance.