Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Festival attracts blues acts, fans


Harmonica player and vocalist Geneva Red
entertained at the 6th annual Blues Fest in


There was a bit of deja vu over the Labor Day weekend as the Marquette Area Blues Society (MABS) presented its 6th annual Blues Fest at Mattson Lower Harbor Park.

The scene may have been a little familiar because my wife Sue and I have attended every yearly get-together from the first, held at Marquette Mountain.

Still, organizers put a new twist on the theme, filling the bill with a fresh and interesting collection of blues entertainers.

Ten acts graced the stage over the weekend, with the Twistin' Tarantulas opening the program on Sept. 5.

Actually a rockabilly outfit, the Twistin' Tarantulas feature Marquette native George Friend on guitar. With founding member Pistol Pete Midtgard on upright bass and lead vocals, the band played a set of original and cover material, including Louis Jordan's jump blues classic, "Cho Choo Ch'Boogie."

The Original Delta Fireballs, comprising Geneva Red on vocals and harmonica, and Jackie 5 & Dime as a one-man backing band, followed. The two performed such varied fare as Bessie Smith's "Sugar in My Bowl," The First Edition's "Just Dropped In (To See What My Condition My Condition Is In)," and "Minnie the Moocher," originally recorded by Cab Calloway.


A Blues Fest favorite returned to the stage when Biscuit Miller appeared at the Marquette event for the third time in six years. Fans know the funky bassist played behind blues great Lonnie Brooks for a decade. Miller performed in the Anthony Gomes Band during the first Blues Fest in 2004 and again in 2006 during an impromptu set.

Biscuit Miller and the Mix paid tribute to James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, with "Soul Power." Miller tossed out Mardi Gras-type necklaces, firing up the crowd, which clearly approved of his performance. His original material, including "Let's Go Fishing," was also well received.


Philadelphia's rising blues star, Gina Sicilia, entertained next.

Just 24, Sicilia has already released two critically-acclaimed compact discs, "Allow Me To Confess" and "Hey Sugar."

A gifted vocalist and songwriter, Sicilia's set included "Try Me," an obscure Esther Phillips' chestnut; "Rest Of My Days," which Sicilia wrote at age 16; and Billie Holiday's "Fine and Mellow" from 1957.


Saturday's headliner was James "Super Chikan" Johnson, who spent his childhood working on his family's farms on the Mississippi Delta. Talking to the poultry, Johnson earned the nickname "Chikan Boy."

Years later, in 1997, he released his first compact disc, "Blues Come Home To Roost," which includes "Super Chikan Strut," a centerpiece to his stage show.

The inventive Johnson constructed his guitar from a ceiling fan and even made it cackle like a chicken.

Besides his original material, Johnson performed "Little Red Rooster," the blues standard by Willie Dixon, first recorded by Howlin' Wolf in 1961.

Sunday's entertainment started with Millie Street. Named after an address on the north side of Iron Mountain, the band offered "Share the Love" among a fine set of blues material.


Then, Reverend Robert Sexton brought some "prohesizin' and preachin''' to the blues as leader of a five -piece ensemble.

Dressed in suits and fedoras, the Reverend and his disciples tore through "The American Blues," "Have Mercy" and "The Mississippi Medley." A roadie tossed miniature Bibles into the audience.

The Reverend's performance included their take on Muddy Waters' "I Want To Be Loved."


Flint's Maurice Davis, "King of the Party Blues," complimented event organizers, saying "This is the best festival we've ever done."

Davis should know, he's headlined concerts and outdoor festivals throughout Michigan.

His set at this show included "Show Me," "The Maurice Shuffle" and "Stormy Monday," written by T. Bone Walker and first recorded in 1947.


Eugene, Oregon-based bluesman Curtis Salgado, who appeared next, has an emotional story to tell whether on or off the stage. He played with Robert Cray in the 1970s and honed his vocal and harmonica skills along the way.

When comedian John Belushi was in Eugene filming "Animal House," he caught Salgado's blues show. Belushi was apparently taken with the music and much of what he learned from Salgado later ended up in the "Blues Brothers" movie. The Blues Brothers first album, "Briefcase Full of Blues," was dedicated to Salgado.

Diagnosed with liver cancer just a few years ago, Salgado had no insurance. Numerous benefits were held around the country which raised half a million dollars for his transplant.

Salgado, who performed as lead vocalist in Santana for a period, puts his all into singing, whether it's blues, R&B or rock 'n' roll.

For his Marquette performance, Salgado opened with "Bottle of Red Wine," a track from the compact disc "Clean Getaway," released on Shanachie Records in 2008. He continued with the title song, "20 Years of B. B. King," "Let's Get Married" and "What's Up With That."


Headliners Smokin' Joe Kubek & Bnois King closed the day's program.

Kubek, who grew up in Texas, was playing blues clubs by age 14. Later he took a gig playing rhythm guitar for Texas blues legend Freddie King. Bnois King (no relation) and Kubek finally teamed up in 1989, offering contrasting but complementary styles. Kubek plays in the Texas guitar-slinger tradition, while King's sound is more jazz-oriented. King's soulful vocals tie the instrumental partnership together.

The band entertained the crowd with such songs as "It's Alright," "Texas Cadillac" and "TV Light."

During the event, festival-goers were exposed to a wide-variety of blues styles, all performed with expertise by a talented line-up of local, regional and national acts.

Blues fans, like Sue and myself, enjoyed the music, the surroundings, the food and friends over a memorable weekend.

If I experienced some deja vu, it was probably because that's the same pleasant feeling I've had after attending Blues Fest every year since it was first held in 2004.

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