Your Complete Guide to the Chicago Blues Scene
Sin City Soul and Blues Revival
September 15-17, 2013
The Riveria Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, NV
By Stella Ponce’
Photos: Dianne Bruce Dunklau
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Vegas, where the house always wins! Not so for 1,500+ lucky blues lovers (approximately half comprised of Legendary Rhythm and Blues cruisers) that lit up the Riviera Hotel & Casino September 15-17th for the inaugural Sin City Soul and Blues Revival. The Riv, boasting more than 55 years of non-stop entertainment, kept their winning streak intact by housing three days of top-notch blues. Definitely, a win-win.
After having moved from the Windy City to Las Vegas a year ago, a music fix of this enormity was crucial to my blues-well-being balance. It's true, Vegas’ bright lights dim when you're looking for blues. Of course Chicago, with its rich blues history and numerous nightly blues venues showcasing Chicago’s finest bluesmen and women, sets the blues bar high. The Chicago Blues Festival in June provided a big blues booster shot but a massive dose was again needed. So it was with tremendous anticipation that I arrived at the Riv with Chicago Blues Guide photographer, Dianne Bruce Dunklau.
Two hundred musicians, four stages, three days – all kicked off by Chicagoland’s own Kevin Purcell & The Nightburners in the standing room only Casino Bar. Purcell and his band, 2013 International Blues Challenge finalists, secured a coveted spot on the revival’s schedule by winning the event’s highly competitive YouTube video contest. The band, with their special blend of traditional blues and southern rock, had old and new fans stomping just as they did at Chicago Blues Festival’s Crossroads Stage this past summer. Look for their new, all original CD, Beyond the Storm.
Shawn Holt & The Teardrops, who performed at this year's Chicago Blues Fest, also connected instantly with the Casino Bar crowd. The intimate setting was perfect for reflecting on the son of Chicago bluesman, Magic Slim (Morris Holt). Shawn was lead guitarist in his father's group, Magic Slim & The Teardrops, until his father's passing this past February. Shawn's booming, solid vocals and the band's overall high energy sound made them an event favorite. After the show, a small group of blues connoisseurs could be heard debating Shawn's similarities to Magic Slim. Whether or not Shawn's guitar style is similar to his dad's, or whether his voice reaches higher notes, clearly Shawn Holt & The Teardrops are finding their own rhythm and success, while embracing a blues legend's influence. Blind Pig Records recently announced the debut of the band's album, Daddy Told Me.
Henry Gray and Bob Corritore! Need one say more? This was just plain fun. They, too, performed in the intimate Casino Lounge venue (my favorite stage). Legendary piano great Gray is credited for helping fashion Chicago blues piano's distinctive sound and has a never-ending list of blues greats with whom he's costarred on stage and on more than 58 albums (including Chess Records and Blind Pig). Chicago-born Corritore is a producer, radio show host, club owner (Rhythm Room, Phoenix), and blues newsletter editor. He is a Grammy nominated harmonica master player, recipient of numerous awards and honors, and his CD, Bob Corritore & Friends /Harmonica Blues, won a Blues Music Award for Best Historical Blues Release. The friendship between this award-winning pair was evident, with Bob smiling at Gray between harp wails. Sweet, slow blues was the name of the game here, with a little boogie woogie interspersed for good measure. Crowd favorite, "Come on In" brought folks to their feet in applause. "Come on in, ain't nobody home but me... we can drink a little liquor, a little wine...get drunk and have a helluva good time!" Heard above all the applause and cheers, was a fan's loud, "Thank you Henry!" Thank you indeed. Henry, as he was getting up, remarked: "I may be 88 years old, but my wife is 41!"
You had to hit the Pool Stage for Mike Zito & The Wheel. The Wheel: Ron Lee on drums, Scott Sutherland on bass, and Jimmy Carpenter on sax. What a wheel of fortune! Zito calls them his dream band and it's easy to hear why. Songs from their debut album, Gone Fishing (Ruf Records), from classic style blues to gritty soul and hard blues rock, had the Pool Stage on fire. Label-mate Samantha Fish joined Zito, adding to the frenzied cheers of the crowd. Zito boomeranged back to the Pool Stage with the Royal Southern Brotherhood, another supergroup he fronts with soulful Cyril Neville and rockin’ Devon Allman. Blues, soul, rock, and a little funk, blended special and delivered straight-up poolside! Seriously; all this, and wetlands hero Tab Benoit? It was a Southern kind of night for sure out by the Riv pool. It ended magnificently and dramatically, with Tab and Zito leading the three-horn final encore, "When the Saints Go Marching In." The brass was phenomenal and if you haven't heard Jimmy Carpenter on the saxophone, consider making it a must.
Day 2 found the spotlight shining especially bright on the lovely and multi-talented Deanna Bogart who packed the Delta Music Experience (DME) Top of the Riv stage. Deanna hugs you with her warm and playful personality while she performs. Her slow, jazzy sax solo in “Bye, Bye Black Birdbird” was splendid and a great contrast to her boogie woogie and other tunes she calls "blusion."
Time for switch-staging. Curtis Salgado on the Main Stage vs. Trampled Under Foot (TUF) at the Pool Stage. Blues lovers ran, switch-staging (or stage-switching) at "half-time" through the Riv to catch both of these blues favorites. Curtis, before whopping it on us, chuckled, "Time to make the donuts!" Curtis, with his deeply soulful vocals and powerful harping, is awe-inspiring. With his Big Band, he simply blows the entire room away in one svelte sweep. The playlist, but for one song, was from his newest, smoking CD, winner of the 2013 Blues Music Award's Soul Album of the Year, Soul Shot (Alligator Records). Several songs secured standing ovations, but an excellent extended version of love song "Strung Out," with Curtis' soulfully crafted voice and Vyasa Dodson's sweet, sometimes sizzling blues guitar, was epic. Wildly popular TUF, of course, dominated the Pool Stage, Schnebelen sibling style! Such talent, such range and so down to earth. Their recent Badlands CD debuted #1 on the Billboard Blues Chart.
Chicago's master bluesman Lil’ Ed followed TUF on the Pool Stage, a tough act to follow for any band, but Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials know how to keep a stage hot, and a party rocking. The mega-tight band lit up the darkening sky, playing some original hits from their latest CD, Jump Shot (Alligator Records). Lil Ed's legendary killer slide guitar riffs scorched the still, warm air, igniting shouts from the crowd. Playing poolside was perfect; made us all want to "Jump Right In" and cool off.
Tedeschi Trucks Band, Main Stage, delivered a prodigious performance, truly stellar. The eleven-piece powerhouse band, fronted by master musicians Susan Teseschi and husband Derek Trucks, had the masses standing, shouting, and singing from song one. Even before the first note, a frenzied fan yelled, "Start off with "The Storm!" They didn't, but he didn't seem to mind. The Grammy award-winning band played a number of songs from their newest album, Made Up Mind, and each shook the house. A super-extended rendition of Elmore James' blues standard, "The Sky is Crying" (said to have been inspired by a Chicago downpour) fabulously showcased Tedeschi's rich rugged vocals, ace guitar playing and Trucks' searing slide.
Day 3 and no loss of momentum. The Delta Music Experience (DME) Top of the Riv stage, with full capacity, buzzed with expectancy. Its Back Porch Revue was about to kick off with Curtis Salgado and John Wedemeyer, up close and personal. Wedemeyer, guitarist extraordinaire, played/recorded with many including Bonnie Raitt, Charlie Musselwhite, and was also Salgado's guitar player for one year. So here they were. One guitar, one harp, and one damn soulful voice. The performance included the Hendrix ballad, "The Wind Cries Mary" and Slim Harpo's "Baby, Scratch My Back" with Salgado at his playful best - "you're my little snicker doodle." The Salgado and Wedemeyer connection dealt a direct hit, unleashing laughs, tears, and a mighty standing ovation.
Tommy Castro followed on the DME stage. He informed the crowd that he would be pretending to play acoustic on his electric guitar. Then confided, "I've been performing for over thirty years but I'm as nervous as a x@&#'r!!" Well, that really is very, very nervous. A special bluesy treat was offered by a solo Castro, who sang "Cakewalk into Town" as a tribute to Taj Mahal. Castro brought in reinforcement by way of TUF's Nick Schnebelen whose strong vocals and precision guitar worked magic up on that high altitude back porch. Donations made by DME stage music fans made it possible to send three young people to camp via The Honeyboy Edwards Fund for the Blues at the National Blues Museum. Great work Barbara Hammerman and Amanda Gresham! Earwig Music label president Michael Frank dutifully worked at the Honeyboy Edwards Fund booth throughout the fest.
A quick turnabout had Castro on the Main Stage, performing with his band, the Pain Killers, to a full house - as expected. Houston's Hadden Sayers Band and The Ruthie Foster Band also played the Main Stage, with Sayers joining Foster on a couple of songs. Foster is credited for bringing Sayers out of blues retirement. Thank you Ruthie.
Los Lonely Boys, after a very uncertain appearance due to lead singer/guitarist Henry Garza's back re-injury, commanded full attention on the Main Stage with their opening song, "Blame it on Love." It was their second song though, "Cotton Fields and Crossroads" that clearly jettisoned Henry's guitar-wrangling out to the crowd. His passionate guitar style is often compared to both Santana and Stevie Ray Vaughan. The brothers' tight vocal harmonies with Henry's pelleting and riveting riffs, had the crowd cheering. The band's hit, "Heaven" brought a standing ovation. Amidst the final applause, Henry left the stage and collapsed into the arms of two waiting support staff. What dedication; what inspiration! Shows, just prior to Sin City, had been cancelled. Wishes for a complete recovery Henry Garza.
Two hundred of the greatest names in blues performed at the Sin City Soul & Blues Revival, in both the scheduled performances and during the phenomenal Pro Jams. Each jam was divided into two segments with a separate host for each segment. The first night jam was hosted by TUF and the Brad Cordle Band; the second night by Tommy Castro & the Wheel and Josh Hoyer & the 58's; and, the final event wrap-up jam, was hosted by Lil’ Ed & the Blues Imperials and Deanna Bogart. Each night these master musicians, joined by other top notch musicans, delivered a knockdown right punch and a roaring good time. For blues cruisers, the only thing missing was the ocean. Okay, and the ship. Looking around, one saw Roger Nabor, founder of the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise (LRBC), stage front. Geoff and Judy Alexander - also of LRBC fame - were present and accounted for, so it certainly had the Cruisin' cover. Plus, days and nights of the best soul and blues bands, with old and new friends, left you mellow and swaying on the vibes! What a run! No doubt. Lights out.
The maiden voyage of the Sin City Soul and Blues Revival was an amazing event, one of great logistical magnitude, conceptualized, orchestrated, and delivered by Terry O'Halloran. We were able to catch up with O'Halloran, post-event, and he graciously shared his greatest revival moments, "Getting to showcase some my favorite artists performing some of my absolute favorite songs: "Back to the Blues" duet between Hadden Sayers and Ruthie Foster, "Good Day for the Blues" by Malford Milligan & The Austin All-Stars. And the nightly Pro-Jams were incredible." To those who shared the Sin City Soul and Blues experience with him, O'Halloran says, "You have my extreme gratitude for having (had) faith in my vision." His message to all, "Stay tuned for information on future Revivals. Soul and Blues fans are demanding more, and we are fanatically driven to produce more Revivals in the future!" Stay tuned we shall.
O'Halloran, the president of Live Music Vacations, has 29 years experience owning and operating seven separate venues in Omaha and Las Vegas, where he was also the talent buyer and head of marketing. O'Halloran has extensive experience producing music festivals and was awarded the International Blues Foundation's "Keeping Blues Alive Award" for "Promoter of the Year" in 2007. He was a founding member of the Blues Society of Omaha, and held the position of President for 11 years before moving to Austin, TX in 2012. He is currently a member of the Austin Blues Society and a volunteer with the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians and the International Blues Challenge.
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