Your Complete Guide to the Chicago Blues Scene
Lucerne Blues Festival 2010
November 11 - 14
By Glenn Noble
photos: Jennifer Wheeler
photos: Jennifer Wheeler
Picture a city by a lake with mountain views everywhere, with the sound of blues music drifting out over the water. No, it’s not Chicago, but the beautiful, mostly German speaking, Swiss city of Lucerne, holding its annual Blues Festival in the luxurious lakeside surroundings of the Grand Casino. Now in its 16th year, Lucerne is one of the premier festivals in Europe and attracts top blues artists from around the world. This year saw a particularly strong turnout of Chicago favourites. The weather was absolutely perfect -- for the most part it was sunny and around 60 degrees. The great weather made it tough to come down from the mountains and get into the Casino. But the Swiss love their blues and know how to do it right.
Day 1 – Thursday 11th November
Main Stage - Panorama Room
A Lucerne regular, this being his third or fourth time at the Festival, New York City's Guy Davis opened the show. With his inimitable warm and friendly presence, Davis had the audience joining in, clapping and foot-stomping right from the start. Guitarist Bob Margolin joined in for the closing number.
Sharp-suited and soulful, Lou brought the show into the crowd and glad-handed his way ‘round the room. A real slice of Chicago South Side style, Lou Pride lives in Evanston, IL but performs mostly in Canada where he attracts large audiences. Look forward to his soon-to-be-released new CD.
Dave Specter/Sharon Lewis/Harmonica Hinds
Dave set the scene with a duo of atmospheric instrumental numbers, notably “Alley Walk,” from the new, critically acclaimed album Spectified. Singer Sharon Lewis then joined and straight away stirred the audience right into a frenzy with “In Too Deep”; she wowed everyone when she pulled out a pair of shakers from inside her outfit on “A Nickel and a Nail”. Sharon hit an emotional highlight with the confessional “An Angel Watching Over Me” and wrapped up by duetting with Harmonica Hinds, thoroughly deserving of the huge floral bouquet she was presented with.
JT Lauritsen and the Buckshot Hunters with special guest Billy Gibson
European blues was represented by Norway's JT Lauritsen and the Buckshot Hunters. JT, the accordion-wielding front man, puts Cajun and Tex-Mex flavours into the band's soulful blues sound. Memphis-based harmonica guru Billy Gibson's arrival brought a more upbeat, driving feel to the party, showing off the all-around capability of the Lauritsen band.
Meanwhile, as the main stage show began to wind down, over on the other side of the Casino on the Casineum Club stage, the first of the nightly late shows started up.
Casineum Club Stage
Lynwood Slim featuring Kid Ramos
Harp blower/vocalist Lynwood Slim and a band within a band – Brazil's Igor Prado Band -- pumped out some high-powered West Coast jump blues. L.A.'s Kid Ramos came on and really rocked the party with some incredibly muscular guitar work.
Day 2 – Friday 12 November
Main Stage - Panorama Room
Tia Carroll & Hard Work
Californian vocalist Tia Carroll, slinky in a little black dress but with a large and powerful blues voice, got the festivities off and running for the second night.
The Nighthawks with Bob Margolin
The flaming shirt sported by vocalist and harp man Mark Wenner was right on target for a hot set from the legendary Nighthawks. New member, drummer Mark Stutso, has settled right in since joining earlier this year and revealed a fine voice along with his skills on the skins. Steady Rollin' Bob Margolin took a guest spot (in for the unfortunately too-ill-to-travel Hubert Sumlin) and Sharon Margolin made it a family affair coming in on keys.
Starting a cappella and then swinging into “Creep Along Moses”, Mavis Staples completely transformed the mood. After pausing to extend greetings from the Windy City and reflect on the beautiful surroundings of Lucerne, Mavis’ performance of The Band’s classic “The Weight” brought the audience to its feet. Buoyed by Mavis' sheer uplift and energy. the title track from the new CD “ You Are Not Alone” and “March Up Freedom's Highway” kept them there right to the end of the set. A special moment for one young lady came when Mavis presented her with flowers and sang “Happy Birthday” -- a surprise organised by her boyfriend, Ronnie Baker Brooks!
Casineum Club Stage is where the blues music and party continues. This stage, with its beautiful balcony and full bar, is at the other end of the casino. The music starts around 10 p.m. and continues until 3 a.m.
Walt's Blues Box
An energetic five-piece band from the Swiss city of Winterthur, Walt's Blues Box is led by talented harp and lead vocalist Walt Baumgartner. Switching solos back and forth with guitarist Jonas Wolf, the band laid down some extremely great rocking grooves.
Dave Specter and The Bluebirds featuring Sharon Lewis and guest Harmonica Hinds
Dave Specter and the Bluebirds again provided a rock solid foundation for the voice, and performance, of Sharon Lewis. Sharon literally sparkled on stage and got the club crowd dancing along with Curtis Mayfield's “People Get Ready”. Not to be outdone, she kicked her shoes off and joined right in. After seeing Sharon off, Specter welcomed his second special guest, Harmonica Hinds, who treated the audience to a run-through catalogue of songs from the 30 years or so that he's been on the Chicago blues scene. Everyone was having such a good time, in fact, that Sharon came back for more, cutting a rug with Hinds on the dance floor and really letting “The Good Times Roll” and then sending the crowd home, appropriately with “Early One Morning”.
Day 3 – Saturday 13 November
Main Stage – Panorama Room
Super Chikan and the Fighting Cocks
The room was even more packed for the Saturday show and Super Chikan (a.k.a. James Johnson) entertained with infectious good humor and obvious enjoyment with his all-girl band, including his daughter who plays drums on tour. Particularly popular with the Swiss crowd was his yodelling and his colourful home-made guitars. Super Chikan yodels on a regular basis; since he’s been on tour for a while, Chikan seemed to forget for a moment that Switzerland is known for yodelling, which made it even more entertaining. Super Chikan is not only a talented musician but also is quite funny. If he wasn't a bluesman from Clarksdale, Mississippi he would most definitely be a comedian.
Lynwood Slim featuring Kid Ramos
As they did at their previous night on the Casineum Club Stage, Slim and Kid Ramos energised the larger room with a high-voltage set of California swing and jump blues with the extremely talented Brazilian Igor Prado Band for back up.
Bryan Lee and the Blues Power Band
Providing a complete contrast in style, but no less powerful, top-hatted Bryan Lee took centre stage. Describing himself as a “guitar slinger and blues singer,” both aspects of this long-time New Orleans resident's talent shone through, supported ably by Brent Johnson who contributed some astonishing guitar solos.
Nathan and the Zydeco Cha-Chas
The closing act on the main Festival stage, Nathan Williams and his band, the Zydeco Cha-Chas, continued the Southern theme, turning the Swiss crowd into a ragin', Cajun, dancin' party. Not least among the dancing action was Nathan himself who sashayed and high-kicked his way around both the stage and the floor of the auditorium, without any sign of being weighed down by his accordion. This showmanship delighted the already excited audience and when Sharon Lewis joined to duet, a truly special moment was created. All good things come to an end however, and after an extended set and encores, an exhausted but happy crowd made their way to join the late show at the Casineum Club stage.
Casineum Club Stage
Luxembourg's premier blues band (and clear winners of the best beard award at the festival!) entertained with a rocking set of Rhythm and Blues standards.
Ronnie Baker Brooks Band
Wrapping up the Festival on a cold Swiss night, Ronnie Baker Brooks hit the Casino Club like a blowtorch. One of the standard bearers of contemporary Chicago blues, Ronnie and his sidemen Carlton Anderson (bass) and C.J. Tucker (drums), laid down their unique blend of rootsy blues and harder-edged rock, delivered with an easy charm and natural flair for the stage. Once more, the ever-present and hard-working Sharon Lewis was invited up for an impromptu duet with RBB.
Sunday 14 November
Blues Brunch at the Schweizerhof Hotel
Guy Davis / Mavis Staples
For those able to make it after the rigours of a late night, a treat indeed awaited in the Grand Ballroom of the luxurious Schweizerhof Hotel where the performing artists also stay. Saying that the Schweizerhof catered a brunch, however, is like saying Muddy Waters was a guy who sang a couple of tunes occasionally. A grand hotel in the European tradition, the Schweizerhof featured Tia Carroll on Saturday; on Sunday it was Guy Davis, followed by the superb Mavis Staples, the final acts of the Festival. Guy's low-key, laid back set was perfect for a Sunday morning accompanying a delicious Continental breakfast spread. Allowing an hour or so to digest this, along came the Schweizerhof lunch buffet and carvery, which settled everyone down in their seats, ready to welcome Mavis Staples.
The Chicago artist packed many of the favourites from her Friday night show into a 60-minute set and performed to a warm reception from the 300-strong audience in a beautiful room complete with chandeliers. Presented with a large bouquet at the end of the show as a token of appreciation, Mavis genuinely seemed to have enjoyed the beauty of the city, and the appreciative reception from the Festival crowds.
It was a perfect ending to three days of music from a lovely city in the middle of Switzerland. The promoters really worked hard putting together this festival and it shows. The Swiss love to have a good time, and are very laid back and easy going, but they love their blues. The Lucerne event is one to put on your list of must-see blues festivals in Europe. For info on accommodations in Lucerne, visit Hotels Lucerne for hotel discounts and visitor guides.