Your Complete Guide to the Chicago Blues Scene
Moulin Blues Festival
Friday 6th - Saturday 7th May 2011
By Glenn Noble
Photos: Jennifer Wheeler
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The small village of Ospel nestles in the countryside of Limburg province, in the south of the Netherlands. Year ‘round, the fields outside Ospel are quiet farm land but, the first weekend in May, sees the building of a substantial festival site with two large music stages, food and beer tents and all the supporting facilities. It seemed that almost everyone from the village was involved in some way with the festival, whether building the stages, ticket taking or running the concessions.
Thousands of blues fans from all over Europe come to camp for the weekend and the organisers can be proud of their achievement in providing showers, hot and cold running water, and flush toilets in the middle of a field for up to 10,000 campers. An exotic array of different camping styles gradually filled the campground, from backpackers, camper vans and caravans to a wooden chalet and a 30 foot high tepee! It was clear that large numbers of fans have come to the festival many times since it began in 1986 to renew old friendships, cook out and chill out in the countryside, and of course, enjoy the great music.
Friday 6th May
Some of the highlights of the two days:
Kilborn Alley Blues Band
Kilborn Alley Blues Band, from Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, lay down a grainy, funky back-alley vibe and leaves you in no doubt that there is some serious blues talent at work here. Their stage presence is one of solidity and intensity; lead guitarist Josh Stimmel was reminiscent of Lurrie Bell in the way he seemed rapt in a private dialogue with the sounds he was creating. Neither did vocalist and guitarist Andrew Duncanson need to let histrionics distract from his full-throated performance. It was obvious from the response of the audience that this set satisfied their craving for Chicago Blues full on.
Kenny Neal, from Baton Rouge’s famed Neal Family, having warmed up the night before the festival by playing at a local bar, was definitely ready to rock the festival. Backed with brother Freddy on keys and another keyboard player, Kenny took the crowd by storm. Guitar, lap steel, harmonica – Kenny’s technical skill was only matched by the sheer showmanship of a superb entertainer who had the crowd singing, clapping along and of course dancing to his tunes. Highpoints were guitar and harp solos on Guitar Slim's slow blues “The Things I Used To Do” and Kenny's own “Let Life Flow”. All in all, this performance was overflowing with energy and joie de vivre.
Mike Sanchez Band
Suited and booted, ‘50s R&B revivalist Mike Sanchez and his band hail from England's Midlands. Having played with a host of British blues and R&B's greatest names (Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings), Mike definitely channels Fats Waller's endearingly arch style, leading the band from the keyboard. A feast of old-school R&R and R&B punched out with verve had everyone in the audience singing along.
Los Lonely Boys
This self-proclaimed “Texican Rock and Roll” trio reveled in Latin-tinged soul illuminated by close harmonies and flamboyant instrumental attack, tipping the hat equally to Santana and Jimi Hendrix, with a nod to fellow Texan Stevie Ray, of course. They were very clearly the band the crowd had been waiting for as their tightly-choreographed stage moves drew a huge reception from the room.
Saturday 7th May
Over in the smaller, Café Stage tent Scottish bluesman Dave Arcari threw himself energetically into a swamp blues frenzy, wielding his National steel guitar like a man possessed. Considering the temperature under the canvas, it was no surprise that Dave was dripping sweat from head to foot by the end of the set and the crowd likewise got pretty heated.
Bob Corritore & Dave Riley
Stepping right off the plane from the Blues Music Awards in Memphis, Tennessee, where he'd picked up the award for Historical Album of the Year, Bob Corritore showed no sign of jet lag as he was gracious enough to sign photos and CDs for fans in front of the stage while getting ready. Partnered by guitarist/singer Dave Riley, the interaction between the two leads as they traded licks back and forth, was beautiful to watch – each seemed to fit perfectly with what the other was doing. It was a very satisfying set and good to see that Bob is getting some well-deserved recognition for his work.
Shawn Pittman and the Moeller Brothers
So we go from classic Chicago blues to three of Austin’s finest with Shawn Pittman and the Moeller brothers, Johnny and Jay (warming up for their later set with the Fabulous Thunderbirds). The Texans’ sound is rooted in early blues, R&B and rock’n’roll, and fits right in with current hip Americana styles. Shawn looked very cool -- relaxed on a stool in black Stetson, shades, fancy black Western shirt and jeans - certainly a hit with the ladies in the crowd! Whether leading on vocals, or backing up Johnny Moeller, or trading solos (“Too Much Noise”), Shawn seemed to be having a very relaxed, enjoyable time - and so did the audience, too.
Bounding on stage in a natty check suit and white wide-brimmed hat, John Nemeth switched the mood instantly with a soulful vocal sound supported by some heavy, riffing guitar, and of course some beautiful harp. Quick changes of style and tempo from guitar boogie to soulful blues, testified to the tightness of the band who supplied excellent support to John’s soaring vocals and harp leads.
Janiva opened with Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” and looked pretty good too. It was a very polished, sexy and gutsy performance from Janiva Magness, which included a tribute to the late blues artist Robin Rogers. Janiva puts out a fantastic amount of power in her vocals and coupled with her good-natured flirting with the audience (especially on “I Need a Man”), made for a hot performance. It’s no wonder she stands as only the second woman (the first was Koko Taylor) to win the Blues Music Award for B.B. King Entertainer of the Year in 2009.
Nick Moss and the Flip Tops
As the hot summer evening turned into night, the audience swelled for one of the hottest bands in Chicago. Nick was trying out some tracks from the latest CD Privileged and judging by the reaction, they don’t have to worry about living up to their previous achievements. Despite breaking a string mid-solo, Nick didn't seem fazed, and even managed to contribute a hand to a three-handed keyboard solo. John Nemeth came up for the finale - a keyboard heavy stomp reminiscent of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” that closed out the set in fine style.
The Fabulous Thunderbirds
Kim Wilson came out in a showbizzy, silver suit and, despite the heat in the tent, laid down some cool sounds. Ably supported by the current Thunderbirds line up of the Moeller brothers, Mike Keller and Randy Bermudes, the veteran frontman exercised his distinctive harmonica style across a set featuring some of the favourites from the T-Birds’ extensive back catalogue. It was clear from the way the audience was grooving along that this was exactly what they were there to hear and they were not disappointed.
A great ending to a unique event, the overwhelming impression of the Moulin Blues Festival is that of a really big backyard bash with all your friends and neighbours partying the night away. Kudos to the organisers for keeping this fun-loving atmosphere going since 1986!