Sunday, November 4, 2012

Review: Westport “Dock of the Bay” Blues Festival

Photos by Michael Bruce
I’m a gonna raise a fuss, I’m gonna raise a holler…!

Eddie Cochran’s ghost came to me one night. He told me I had a fever and taking my case to the United Nations won’t help. The only cure for the summertime blues he said was the 4th annual 3-day Westport “Dock of the Bay” Blues Festival September 7th through the 9th …and more cowbell!

Minutes south of Aberdeen on Highway 105, I rolled into this Pacific costal community in search of the cure. Noting that Westport has an annual Pirates Day Festival, I was immediately impressed and felt at home. This town welcomes pirates!

by Michael Bruce
Westport, the beautiful diamond in the rough on the Pacific coast of Grays Harbor County, is now home to a growing cadre of blues aficionados. At the very end of the summer festival season when it seems everyone heads east to Sunbanks Blues Festival in Grand Coulee, Westport Blues non-profit hosts its annual event to showcase Washington blues bands and the ocean beach area as a destination for fun. The tallest lighthouse in the state still beams its Fresnel lamp to passing ships, and t’s also at the same time as the Brady’s Oyster Feed just down the road.

Near the harbor of this quiet little fishing village on the grounds of the Westport Inn and RV Park, owned and operated by festival hosts Mark and Desiree Dodson, the event is tucked into a flat area just a skipping stone’s throw from the Pacific beach. Offering clean rooms and friendly staff, Mark and Desiree have worked hard to create a charming setting for this great blues music attraction. There is lots of spacious parking is just across the street. Centrally located at the very end of the main drag, these gracious hosts have shaped this blues music event with all the allure of a Siren’s song. Sport-fishing charter boats rock on the flowing tides as tourists flock to the restaurants and curio shops along the wharf. Rent a crab pot and try your luck, take a long walk on the beach or… go fly a kite!

by Michael Bruce
With pelicans and seagulls soaring on the gentle ocean summer breeze, the event began late on a warm, sunny Friday evening. In preparation for a “rain or shine” gig, the stage was protected by a large tent that could accommodate well over 200 blues fans.

“Next year,” predicted Mark, “our larger tent will hold 800!”

It was also a real community effort. I commented to Mark on the local major fisheries sponsorships for this event. “Mayor Michael Bruce has worked very hard getting sponsorships,” continued Mark. “He also is taking photos of the bands and staying in contact with the bands.”

Blues Attitude, hailing from Olympia and Tacoma, started out the Festival around 6:00 PM on Friday. They got the crowd up and jumping to solid blues ‘tude! Festival newcomer The Tim Hall Band played an incredible high-energy set to close Friday night to a very enthusiastic crowd.

Beer and wine was sold in the beer garden, two food booths, merchandise vendors and others gave it a carnival atmosphere. Oozing excitement, local Deborah Tiedemann sported a name tag with her title, Beer Wench. She was as bubbly as fresh sea foam on wet beach sand. As she handed out Washington Blues Society Bluesletters and beer on Saturday, I asked her if she was having the obvious fun she poured out.

“I’m having a fabulous time” she told me as the Pleasure Hounds finished their set. A bit later I wanted to know her thoughts about local homegrown singer Mia Vermillion.

by Michael Bruce
“I just finished listening to Mia, she’s fantastic!” she said as Mia left the stage. “If I were a guy, I’d be in love with her! She’s got the whole package. She has an awesome voice, an awesome stage presence and not too hard on the eyes!” Noting her stunning beauty and deep, sultry voice, I couldn’t agree with her more.

Mia, a Westport native, spent her summers commercially fishing these waters as a young girl. She now calls Anacortes home, and tours with a two piece band: drummer Jason Edwards and guitarist Rod Cook.

by Michael Bruce
“It’s fun playing with Mia” said Rod. “We have great material and it’s just a lot of fun!” Rod talked to me as they loaded their gear after their set to travel clear across the state to Sunbanks Blues Festival and play again the next day. “I like the venue here too! The tent makes it nice and cozy! ”

Many blues fans told me that they were impressed with the band’s full sound, even though there were just two instruments and Mia’s booming vocals.

by Michael Bruce
Kim Archer and her band was indeed fantastic including an almost note for note back up singer who absolutely belted out harmonies and impressive gyrations in time with the band. “The Westport Dock of the Bay Blues Festival is a great event and attracts some diehard blues lovers and people who appreciate music in general” Kim told me as she walked to the stage for her part of the show. “It’s just a good feeling here of community around music and it’s definitely something I like to be a part of.” She showed the crowd why she loves what she does by nailing a perfect set. Folks moved to the music at the sparse area at the front of the stage and boogied to the funky R&B sounds.

by Michael Bruce
Guitarist Spider Murphy closed Saturday’s lineup. “I was lucky enough to get up with Spider Murphy last night,” Blues Attitude bassist Peter Crossman told me on Sunday. Peter, who provided the sound backline added, “It was totally off the cuff without rehearsal, he’s an amazing musician, old Chicago blues style. I love his new CD, Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato!”

That night, Blues Attitude hosted a jam session worthy of the name as folks crowded together en masse. The Coho Room, adjacent to the Westport Inn, was at capacity until well after midnight; the joint was rocking so much that even breathing room was at a premium.

by Michael Bruce
Sunday’s sea mist with heavy winds was cured by getting most people huddled casually underneath the tent. The chilly nip of the first taste of fall weather blew in quickly to bring the temperatures down. Ranging from 90 degrees on Friday to 55 on Sunday, the extremes failed to dampen these blues fans’ enthusiasm. It was great, typical western Washington weather!

A friend and I had breakfast, and later Bloody Marys, at the VFW Hall on East pacific Avenue before the day’s music started. It’s the best deal in town! Open to the public for Friday Steak Night and Sunday breakfast, the short order cooks serve up quite an extensive board of fare.

by Michael Bruce
Westport’s local band, Catch of the Day, featured both Mark and Desiree (playing a custom fit washboard) with guest artist Andy “Badd Dog” Koch, got the party started. They introduced some original numbers including "Pack My Bags and Scoot" and "Papa's Song" that seamlessly weaved in a stirring country blues version of the 23rd Psalm in a salute to our nation's unsung heroes for 911. Andy also got the crowd going with his gritty Harp playing and great showmanship.

by Michael Bruce
Master of Ceremonies Merri Sutton, photographer, music promoter and self proclaimed “fetchin’-stepper” chatted with me while Little Bill was playing.

by Michael Bruce
“The Billy Shew Band and the Kim Archer Band played here last year and lit up Westport Saturday afternoon and evening,” she said. “Little Bill and the Blue Notes where here last year, too. They returned this year and are playing another amazing crowd-pleasing set.”

I agreed that Bill and the Blue Notes were in great form and having fun.

by Michael Bruce
To end the festival, Randy Oxford Band’s drummer Steve Sabol brought more cowbell and even more wood block to the stage! Randy Oxford, trombonist extraordinaire, set a frantically intense pace for his band, and they responded in kind! Song after song was full of blazing passion and outstanding technical mastery which had the small audience demanding not one, but two encores! Each band member made a potent, wonderful contribution to the band's sound and stage presence.

by Michael Bruce
“They played totally over the top, brought the house down and had a blast doing it!” Merri told me later in an email after the show. “All of these bands are made up of top-notch musicians who also just happen to be top-notch humans. I love and respect each and every one of them!”

The Coho Room was also the location of Sunday night's dinner to thank the hard-working volunteers. They were thrilled to be "breaking bread" and chatted with members of the Randy Oxford Band, who had just finished their set.

Mark and Desire are also planing music workshops at the Westport Inn this winter.“We are having a Steve Kaufman Flatpick Guitar workshop at the Westport Inn Nov 30, Dec 1st and 2nd” said Mark. “This  includes lodging, meals, parties, workshop and a full concert on Sunday.”

I asked if he had more workshops planned to attract music lovers to the ocean this winter. “We are also working with Lee Oskar and Mia Vermillion for additional winter workshops, but we don't have the dates solid yet. We’ll have to let Bluesletter readers know when we confirm these great opportunities with these great artists!”

You will not be disappointed by the lyrics of the classic hit by Eddie Cochran, “Summer Time Blues.” The cure is right on the beach at Westport Blues “Dock of the Bay” Festival, second weekend in September! CLICK HERE for more information on the Westport Inn.

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