Thursday, September 07, 2006

Blues Fest was 'superior' event

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If you want to put a tag on the third annual Blues Fest, which took place Sept. 2 and 3 in Marquette, call it superior, just like the big lake next to the event's main stage.

Held at Mattson Lower Harbor Park, the program featured top name entertainment, including Bernard Allison, Saffire- The Uppity Blues Women, Reverend Raven, and Ana Popovic in a setting where the Upper Peninsula's natural beauty complemented first-rate musical performances, delighting several thousand festival-goers.

Superbly organized by the non-profit Marquette Area Blues Society, the event has grown into a regional attraction over the Labor Day weekend, putting a musical bang into the traditional end of the summer tourism season.

As well run as any such festival around the country, Blues Fest also offered competitive food vendors (Cajun catfish, anyone?), various blues-related workshops, and an opportunity to meet the performers.

Saturday's audience saw performances by Alberta Adams, Saffire, and the horn-driven Chicago Rhythm and Blues Kings.

Adams, grand dame of Detroit blues, commanded the stage with the seasoned experience of a singer who has performed for more than 60 years. Born in 1925, the Cannonball Records recording artist ably recalled some of the classic blues divas of earlier decades. She became a sentimental favorite with an endearing performance of her song, "Remember Me."

The historical perspective offered by Adams was carried on by Saffire, which took the stage next. A popular attraction on the festival circuit, Saffire includes pianist Ann Rabson, guitarist Gaye Adegbalola and mandolin player Andra Faye McIntosh.

During a crowd-pleasing set, they performed a quirky mix of risque originals and interpretations of blues gems from the pre-World War II period by the likes of Bessie Smith, Memphis Minnie and Lucille Bogan.

The day was capped-off with the big sound of the Chicago Rhythm & Blues Kings, formerly known as the Mellow Fellows. The six- piece combo, built around saxophonists Terry Ogolini and Gene Barge with trumpeter Don Tenuto, put a little jazz, some swing and a bit of soul into their version of the blues.

While Saturday was fine, Sunday's line-up was even better.
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Reverend Raven, born and raised in Chicago, but based in Milwaukee, is familiar to U. P. audiences, having made numerous appearances in the area, including Marquette, Gladstone and Escanaba. Referring to a recent illness, Raven said, "I had a bad incident in Memphis about three years ago, but I'm back now."

Along with his Chain Smokin' Altar Boys, he put on an inspired performance, including two tracks by songwriter Jim Liban, proving why this outfit was named best blues band in Wisconsin three times.

Next up came an unscheduled surprise guest in Canadian bluesman Anthony Gomes. Gomes, who was a headliner at the first Blues Fest, put on a rousing acoustic performance. On tour through the end of the year, the Toronto native was supporting his new album "Music Is the Medicine."

An appealing blues/rock combination, by way of the former Yugoslavia, followed with the appearance of the vivacious Ana Popovic, a talented singer, songwriter and guitarist. Born in Belgrade, Popovic was introduced to the blues via her father's record collection, and now, at age 30, is signed to Ruf Records, a German label.

Singing with the slightest accent, Popovic played songs from her three CD's, including a stunning tribute to her blues heroes, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Ronnie Earl, with the instrumental "Navajo Moon."

Popovic has also been influenced by Bernard Allison, another Ruf recording star, who, coincidentally was headliner for the day. Son of blues great Luther Allison, the lead guitarist showed the audience that he learned a thing or two from his famous father.
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In his set, Allison played a tribute to his dad, made his six-string "talk," and wandered through the crowd, guitar ablaze, driving his performance to a frenzied end.

All in all, my wife Sue and I enjoyed an entertaining weekend along the beautiful Lake Superior shoreline in Marquette in what for us has become an annual excursion to Blues Fest.

The fourth Blues Fest will arrive before you know it. Don't miss it. We won't.

1 comment:

CedarElkWoman said...

I just spent a great afternoon reading and enjoying your commentary on music, and all aspects of the music scene. I am greatly heartened that there are people out there, like you and Sue, who love classic music, the historical dimension of music, and Michigan, as much as I do. I just have one question - who is that...woman...with you in the photo???? Always a UP-er, Cedar Elk