Friday, October 14, 2011

Review - 2011 Mt. Baker Blues Festival

By Robert Horn
I told the vendor at the BBQ booth that I would mention to readers of this article that they need to put the ribs he cooks on their bucket list. His ribs were the most amazingly good ribs I remember ever eating. Try to pull a piece of meat by the bone and it won’t move as the bone comes out. You then find out that you have a huge amount of meat in front of you. Guys bigger than me had a hard time finishing their plate because of how much meat was there. I came back from Mt Baker Blues Festival three pounds heavier, and I only ate at two food vendors there. Wait… this is is supposed to be a music review. OK. I will say that you must go to the Mt Baker Blues Festival next year to get those ribs, and to get some of the best music on this planet.

I got some emails from festival goers who said that this may have been the best Mt Baker Blues Festival ever because of the lineup, the talent who dropped in on the jams, and the great beer servers in the beer garden (Note to Editor: I made up the statement about the beer servers because of my own beer serving ego).

Friday at about 5:30 Jesse James and the MOB started playing. These young blues musicians showed a little of the future of the blues. Someday they will be old enough to have a beer in nightclubs, and by then, they will have had many years of experience playing at events like this.

The Chris Eger Band followed, and Chris showed guitar greatness at the afterhours jams each night as well. I was impressed and told him that when I caught up with him to have a conversation sometime around 2 AM Sunday morning.

If you haven’t seen Hamilton Loomis perform live, you need to. Whether he’s in Texas or Washington State, or some other part of the world, Loomis is worth the trip! He is a good singer, great guitar player, and great entertainer. He also jammed after hours with good guitar players like Chris Eger. Each performer sold CDs through the Washington Blues Society booth, and the booth was busy morning, noon and night. Tony Frederickson and Chad Creamer were busier retail clerks than I ever see at a Starbucks location at daybreak, and Hamilton Loomis’ CD sales were very, very popular.

Bright and early at 11:30 Saturday morning, Jumpin Josh and Felicia kicked things off with a good set, followed by James King and the Southsiders. James King has a good, new band and I’m confident that they will be recognized by our society’s membership at BB Awards events. Look at the schedule in The Bluesletter each month to find out where to go see them play live.

Those who have seen the CD Woodbury Band perform know why he wins BB Awards for Best Electric Guitar. His band has no weak links. After his set, CD said the band will review some of the flaws they noticed. I point this out only to mention that, as part of the audience, I sure didn’t notice any imperfections. CD has decidedly high standards, this is one example of the attention to detail and professionalism that of many of our blues bands, band leaders, and guitar players are around here.

Mid-afternoon the band that is sometimes called “The House Band” at Mt Baker took the stage and showed why The Fat Tones are often the most popular band at this festival. The Fat Tones have a singing bass player, a guitar player that shares have amazing harmonies, and they also put on a great visual show. Bobby Patterson has won some major awards as a guitar player, and has to be seen as well as heard to be fully appreciated.

There were two performances this year that made about half the crowd fall deeply in lust. For straight women, it was Shane Dwight. For straight men, it was Ana Popovic. Ana Popovic comes on stage after her band gets the crowd going. Her bass player is an entertainer at A level that can steal the show from almost anyone but Ana. After a song or two he introduced her with rivers of sweat already running down his face and tight black clothing. Ana came out wearing just a pair of black leather pumps with 5” high heels with little silver chains, (oh, and a tight short purple dress, I guess). Her guitar playing was good, and she did some blues classics along with some original songs. Her band is very good at making sure the crowd is entertained. I was talking to Al Owen (a good harmonica player himself) later and told him that deaf people could still have loved her performance. He then pointed out that blind people could have loved her performance too. So we agreed that it was good for many.

The Average White Band was up next, and they are as great now as they were back in the days when they first rose to dominance on the music scene. They started in the British Isles and conquered America. They sounded great at Baker this year. They were followed by another bluesman from Europe, Matt Schofield.

Schofield was voted by UK’s Guitar & Bass Magazine as “One of the Top Ten Greatest Blues Guitarists of All Time from the UK.” The crowd at Mt Baker found out why. Someone in the same league as Keith Richards and Eric Clapton on stage showed one more reason why the Mt Baker Blues Festival must be on your blues bucket list. This is the kind of talent we now expect, and get, at this festival. I didn’t get much sleep before the music began on Sunday. There was a gospel show in the building at the festival site and my camping neighbors went to it.

Mark Whitman and Sweet Talking Jones put on a great show as other campers woke up, and I got some good photos of this good Washington band on stage.

One of the great guitar players in this region got on stage on Sunday afternoon. There is a YouTube video of Fat James at Mt Baker that shows what I am talking about. He put on a great performance people talked about all day. Late Sunday night (actually Monday morning) Fat James, Chris Eger, and Shane Dwight were on the jam stage with Shane’s bass player and other festival greats and put on what some sober people say was the hi-light of the year. Three guitar greats playing together, about three inches from each other, and taking each other higher, was something to experience.

I was very impressed by the Canadian blues band, The Twisters. The harmonica playing of Dave Hoerl and the guitar playing of Brandon Isaak, along with the humor and bass playing of Keith Picot were very noticeable, but the drumming of Chip Hart was also key to the greatness of the band and its show.

What should I tell you about Curtis Salgado and his big band? Curtis is one of the world’s vocal greats and harmonica greats. He brought the horn section and the back-up vocalists too so this show just like he does at his home Waterfront Blues Festival in Portland. I will never forget this show. It doesn’t get much better than Curtis on songs like “I’m Too Loose” or “I’d Rather Go Blind” or anything else he does. We would have rather have gone blind than to watch him go.

The whole crowd stayed to hear Shane Dwight. I took some pictures of his fingers on the guitar strings, doing what mere mortals can’t do to make the sounds intended for the other world. Shane was great on guitar and vocals. Women seemed to like him for other reasons, too. He asked “Who will drive me to my hotel?” and a lot of women standing next to husbands and boy-friends raised their hands. I found out later who was supposed to have answered his question. If she’s reading this Bluesletter, I need to get her Facebook contact again, largely because my memory was not perfect because I had a beer in my hand at, I forget, 2:30 AM or 3:00 AM.

I was ready to come back to Earth by Monday afternoon (worn out) but it was sure a great party.

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