By STEVE SEYMOUR
Delta County's Lark Brothers kicked off the 4th annual Marquette Area Blues Fest Sept. 1, in what turned out to be the biggest day in the event's history.
Festival goers arrived early at Mattson Lower Harbor Park to witness a rare performance by Dave, Bill and Sam Lark, augmented by drummer Rich White, keyboardist Mark Peterson and harp player Dean Peterson.
The veteran group, which includes former members of the Blues Weasels, fired up the crowd with original material such as "Tangerine" and "Look Before You Leap" as well as traditional numbers like "Sweet Home Chicago" and "Walking the Dog," showcasing Peterson's considerable harmonica skills.
In fact, the harmonica, or harp as it's known in the blues world, played a significant role in most of the acts hitting the stage on Saturday, including Fast Eddie's Blues Band, which followed the Larks.
Veteran Marquette musician Fast Eddie Consolmagno, playing both harp and slide guitar, delivered an inspiring set with the guitarist known simply as "Crabbe" adding Chicago-style lead fret work. "Rocket 88" and "Crosscut Saw" paced the band's set which ended with the cover of a Rory Gallagher gem, "Ghost Blues."
Peter "Madcat" Ruth took the harmonica theme down a more traditional path when he appeared on stage with partner Shari Kane. Madcat's impressive harp work has been evolving since he studied with Big Walter Horton in the late 60s. The duo worked through a set of old-time blues standards by the likes of Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton, Kokomo Arnold, Bukka White and Big Bill Broonzy. Kane cleverly changed the gender in Willie Dixon's "Hoochie Coochie Man," making the song her own while also sounding striking on steel guitar.
Westside Andy and the Mel Ford Band, hailing from Madison, followed with a set of distinctive, mostly original material. Ford's tasty guitar work blended perfectly with the blues harp style Westside Andy Linderman brought to songs such as "Nervous Fella," "Alley Cat" and "Call it Love." Hard-working keyboardist Jimmy Voegeli, playing his heart out on "Party Girl" added to the excitement. Linderman, with a portable microphone, wandered through the crowd, even posing for pictures, all the while continuing to blow his harp. Ford, not to be outdone, played his guitar behind his back, Jimi Hendrix style.
Although the sun was setting as Saturday headliner Tinsley Ellis took the stage, his set offered plenty of heat. "It's great to play in the U. P. for the very first time," the Atlanta native told the crowd between mesmerising guitar solos.
Ellis, who commanded the stage at once, played numerous songs from his last two compact discs, with bass added by a player known as The Evil One. Tracks like "A Quitter Never Wins," "Tell the Truth," "Get to the Bottom," "To the Devil for a Dime," and "The Last Song" demonstrated his world-class guitar prowess. An encore of "Double Eyed Whammy" ended the evening.
My wife Sue and I were back with our lawn chairs near the stage early Sunday afternoon for the Flat Broke Blues Review, as orchestrated by bass player Mark Johnson.
"I Got My Mojo Working," started a segment with Doc Woodward on Hammond B-3, guitarist Mike Letts and a young blues combo known as VooDoo Brew. That was followed by a Flat Broke Blues Band set, opening with a cover of the Janiva Magness song "Every Night," and continuing with guitarist Walt Lindala's version of "Big Legged Women." After vocalist Lorrie Hayes completed an effective version of "Lies," the Million Dollar Horns were brought on stage to complement a rousing rendition of Bobby Bland's "Twenty Room House."
The enlarged band powered through "Consequences," "Rock This House" and "Turn Back the Hands of Time." With all 11 musicians on stage, the Flat Broke Broke Blues Review finished with "Flip, Flop and Fly."
Next, fans of contemporary blues with a touch of southern rock were treated to a strong performance by Rusty Wright Blues, a combo based in Flint. Wright tore through a set of original material including "I Ain't From Mississippi," "The Fool Will Do," "Feel Good Blues" and "Ain't No Good Life," with the crowd falling in love with Wright's vivid guitar technique. Not to be categorized, the band also performed a touching rendition of the Gershwin classic "Summertime" with Wright's wife Laurie taking lead vocals.
The six-piece Big James and the Chicago Playboys brought their horn-driven, soul and funk flavored blues to the stage next. With trombonist Big James Montgomery handling vocals, this choreographed outfit was at its best on original material such as "Thank God I Got the Blues," "The Blues Will Never Die," and "Don't Take Your Coat Off." Obviously having fun on stage, the band played bits of "Smoke on the Water," "Wipe Out" and "Pink Panther Theme" just to make sure the audience was
paying attention. It was.
Sunday's headliner was veteran rhythm and blues singer Bettye LaVette, who despite her 46-year career, has just started being recognized for her obvious abilities. "Rumors of my demise have been greatly circulated. I am back," LaVette announced to the crowd. Dressed in black, LaVette danced about the stage singing tracks from her award-winning album, "I've Got My Own Hell to Raise."
Backed by a four-piece band, the 61-year-old Muskegon native gave a dynamic performance which included "I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got," "Joy," Dolly Parton's "Little Sparrow," and "How Am I Different." In an intimate moment with the audience, she sang a poignant rendition of John Prine's "Souvenirs" while sitting cross-legged at the edge of the stage.
LaVette's set closed the festival before 10 p. m.
The good times continued with an official post party at the Skyboxx in downtown Marquette where many of the festival's performers gathered to jam into the wee hours. Some of the weekend's most inspired improvisational playing took place there. But that's my little secret.
Marquette area Blues Festival 2007 picture gallery
by Sue Seymour
Lorrie & Walt from Flat Broke Blues Band
Big James from the Chicago Playboys
Blues fans Mike & Michelle Miller of Escanaba