Tuesday, May 19, 2009

12th Annual Doheny Blues Fest gets off to a rousing start

This post includes my review of day 1 of the 12th Annual Doheny Blues Festival (May 16, 2009), and I've included my favorite photo I took of Brian Setzer, seen here tearing it up on his Gretsch guitar. Another post will feature a number of shots I took on day 1 for you to see.
Brian Setzer, Grace Potter and Elvin Bishop stand out from a field crowded with highlights
The biggest challenge for listeners attending Saturday's first half of the 12th annual Doheny Blues Festival on Saturday, May 16, 2009, was how best to squeeze in breaks during the 10-hour run of nonstop music on three stages. With a bill boasting a dozen artists – not counting Gregg Young's appearance outside the main gate before the doors opened – it was physically impossible to catch every note.

But that's a good dilemma to have when the performances are as strong as those of the 10 artists I had a chance to catch in Dana Point.
Fans of the Stray Cats may be out of luck in terms of catching that classic trio this summer, but the rockabilly faithful were treated to the next best thing via Brian Setzer & the Nashvillains' headlining an 80-minute set on the Doheny Stage. Opening with the one-two punch of "Red Hot" and "This Cat's on a Hot Tin Roof," singer-guitarist Setzer and his outfit proceeded to tear through 19 songs that included newer originals as well as classic rockabilly staples and reworked Stray Cats hits.

While Setzer has never been known for top-tier vocals, the guy sure can play guitar. Just about every selection allowed him room to amaze the packed crowd with his fretwork. "Peroxide Blonde in a Hopped up Model Ford," "Slow Down" and the night-ending "Rumble in Brighton" were all standouts. The lengthy concert also provided stand-up bassist Ronnie Crutcher and pianist Robbie Chevrier spotlights to display their strong chops.

As entertaining as Setzer was, his wasn't the best set of the day. Several others outdistanced it thanks to artistic ambition or sheer will. Grace Potter and the Nocturnals might not be the usual choice to appear at a blues fest, but the young Vermont outfit's winning mix of blues, R&B, classic- and roots-rock, gospel and soul impressed mightily during a 75-minute set on the Renaissance Stage.
Potter, 25, is a charismatic singer backed by a revamped lineup making its first-ever public appearance. Although longtime lead guitarist Scott Tournet and drummer Matt Burr remain with the Nocturnals, bassist Catherine Pepper and rhythm guitarist Benny Yurco proved they are the perfect fit for the band.
Going back and forth from her mic at center stage to the seat behind her Hammond B3 organ, Potter led the crowd through a musical world that somehow blended the magic of Bonnie Raitt, Lucinda Williams, Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Joni Mitchell and Etta James without sounding anything close to those legendary names.
Several selections from the band's 2007 album "This Is Somewhere" easily replicated the joy of that recording, including "Ah Mary," "Apologies" and "Stop the Bus."
Elvin Bishop didn't have mighty soul singer John Németh join him on stage until an hour into his 75-minute set, but Bishop's entire performance was great. His loose, casual style of singing and smiling and playfully interacting with his band was the perfect sonic stew for the afternoon.
Highlights of Bishop's set included his signature hit "Fooled Around and Fell In Love," bolstered by emotive slide guitar work, as well as his collaboration with Németh, who provided guest vocals and strong harmonica firepower on "Night Time Is the Right Time."
Any overview of my Day 1 has to include the strong early set by the 44's, an electric blues band that kicked off the action with a set of Chicago blues crossed with primal rock 'n' roll. Another early offering featured piano man Taryn Donath tearing through some boogie-woogie on the Backporch Stage with a drummer and sax player.
Better yet was John Hammond thrilling a packed and rapt crowd packed in around the Backporch with his acoustic, Mississippi-style delivery of originals and classics by Howlin' Wolf and Buddy Guy.
Keb' Mo' again proved that his art appeals to both blues purists and those who enjoy the accessible side of the genre, while hometown heroes Big Sandy & the Fly-Rite Boys played that their mix of Western swing, rockabilly and Buddy Holly-esque rock 'n' roll that included the upbeat "It's Time" and "Love That Man."

1 comment:

Megan said...

Hi Robert,
I’m writing from Surfdog Records. Thanks for posting about Brian on your blog, we really appreciate it! We’re gearing up to release a brand new Brian Setzer album this Fall and I’d love to add you on to our e-mail list so we can keep you in the loop. I did not see an e-mail address on your blog. Please send me an e-mail at megan@surfdog.com if you would like to be added to our list!