@ FACEBOOK // ONLiNE ROAD TRIP!
Two words that surely thrill most any human.
My summer road trip will be to The Deep Blues Festival, July 15th at the world famous Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland, Ohio. Though technically I suppose one could say that I’m cheating as I'm not driving driving the whole distance. I’ll be flying to D.C. to meet up with a friend and then driving six hours to beautiful downtown Cleveland.
The Deep Blues Festival started as the artistic vision of retired insurance salesman / Wisconsonite /all around good dude and friend to bands everywhere, Chris Johnson. Mr. Johnson and I had been online friends for several years, frequenting the same alt-blues Yahoo group called Too Bad Jim ( the title comes from a Fat Possum Records album by north Mississippi bluesman R.L. Burnside ). One day in 2007 I get a call from Mr. Johnson. He’d been to the North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic, put together by Kenny Brown, Burnside’s long-time guitarist (and “adopted white son”) and had decided to do a similar festival near his hometown and name it The Deep Blues Festival, in-part after my website as well as after the documentary film Deep Blues by Robert Mugge and the essential blues history book of the same name written by critic Robert Palmer.
I was reading an article recently in the New York Times about music critic Robert Palmer, author of the seminal blues history book Deep Blues. In the article Anthony DeCurtis, editor of a new anthology of Palmer's writing entitled Blues and Chaos, says that in his view: "Palmer had no interest in pop spectacle and craved music that had deep emotional power and broad ambitions. “Bob was all about essences,”.
I am sure that all those associated with The Deep Blues Festival, from the musicians to the fans would agree that that is what DBF is about as well. It is a fest for those not interested in blues as something your step-mom listens to when she drinks white wine alone, or for those interested in what strings Robert Johnson used and whether or not Clapton used those same strings when he copied Johnson. It’s a festival for those who are interested in not only moving the genre forward but kicking holes in the precious envelope it’s been carefully stored in.
This will be the fourth year The Deep Blues Festival (DBF) has been held, though the years have not been consecutive. The first DBF was held in August 2007 under a freak cold snap and near-torrential rain, on a golf course somewhere outside of Hudson,Wisconsin, not far from Minneapolis. Nineteen bands, essentially a whos-who of the alt-blues scene at the time. Artists like Mississippi’s Robert “Wolfman” Belfour, Scott H. Biram and fellow Texan Reverend K.M. Williams, William Elliot Whitmore from somewhere long the Mississippi River, The Black Diamond Heavies from Tennessee, Portland, Oregon’s Hillstomp, Tennessee's Elam McKnight, and northern California's Chris Cotton, to name a few. All alternating sets via Johnson’s ingenious use of two side-by-side stages which virtually eliminated down time between bands.
It was cold, rainy, and muddy but a couple hundred folks from around the country and a couple from the U.K. braved the weather for a thrilling though soggy day of dancing in the rain and mud under occasional slips of sunlight to blues infected music. Chris Johnson lost a fair bit of coin that weekend but was inspired none the less, to make DBF bigger and better in 2008. And he did.
Moving to a local fair grounds ( after winning a battle with local neighbors and the town council ), Johnson added two additional days of music in July 2008 and the weather cooperated this time around! New that year was a Deep Blues Film Festival premiering such films as The Hand of Fatima, a documentary film about musician and music critic Robert Palmer put together by his daughter, Augusta Palmer. My Blue Star, a documentary about the late psychobilly wild man Hasil Adkins, and a film about Jack White’s favorite artists Dexter Romweber and his seminal two-man band Flat Duo Jets titled Two-Headed Cow. The festival itself featured some forty bands from eighteen states, Italy, Canada, and the U.K.
Ya know folks, generally speaking, about the last thing I give a good G.D. about is a music festival. I suffered through enough years at Seattle's Bumbershoot Festival to know better. The Deep Blues Festival is different. Any other fest I'd have to pick and choose who I really really want to see then moo and low with the rest of the cattle from stage to stage praying to get there on time to see whoever it was I drove four hours to see. With The Deep Blues Fest of ‘08 you got 40 some odd bands all of which fall into a somewhat similar genre of vibe and all of which I either totally dig and can't believe I get to see alongside all these other bands I love or bands i've wanted to see for ages but who never come near where I live. The other really sweet deal clincher about the DBF is that the music was virtually non-stop.
Again you had two side-by-side stages so as one band is playing the next is setting up. No trying to run through the crowd and tripping over baby strollers or a dog that some crazy hippie brought, being as dogs just loooove loud music. It was all right there in front of you at the DBF. You could stand in the same spot for the whole weekend and not miss a band. And for the most part I did. I saw Elmo Williams and Hezekiah Early, T-Model Ford, Dexter Romweber of The Flat Duo Jets, Bob Log III, Left Lane Cruiser, Mudlow, Scissormen, Tarbox Ramblers, and thirty or so other amazing artists. The crowds were larger than the year before, not large enough to make money, but large enough to inspire Chris Johnson’s artistic vision once more.
2009 would be the mutha of all Deep Blues Festivals...and like a complete Mo-Ron, I missed it. Due to personal obligations (which I should have bailed on) I passed up on seventy-plus bands and four days of music. Bands from all over the U.S. and around the world converged on Minneapolis and hundreds of folks from all over the place shakin’ it to the raw boogie sounds of alt-punkass blues. Sigh. I still kick myself anytime I think about it. Some small changes were made for the ‘09 fest: No film fest but in it’s place a gospel brunch let by the Reverend K.M. Williams.
But all good things must come to end. Especially when one’s pockets only go so deep. Mr. Johnson put an end to his Deep Blues love fest, layed the ol’ gal to rest and opened Bayport BBQ, which is now considered the best BBQ joint in Minneapolis. He now hosts his favorite bands in his own juke joint where friends dine on Texas style Q and sip from their choice of variety of legal white whiskeys.
2010 was lost and lonely. No DBF to unite the tribe. The tribe became restless. Inspite of the lack of a unifying fest the Deep Blues/alt-blues/punkblues/call it yr momma if you want to/ scene continued to grow and expand around the world. By the start of two-thousand-ought-eleven, Ted Drozdowski ( guitarist for Nashville’s by way of Boston’s Scissormen and noted writer for Gibson.com ) and Jim Chilson ( of Boston’s wicked Ten Foot Pole Cats ) had had enough and teamed up with the fool idea in their heads to start the DBF anew. To bring it to Cleveland this time around.
Starting out on the small side, make it 100% musician driven so that if profits are realized that goes back to the bands. That gives the bands a little inspiration to help hump the load as well. They are carrying on the DBF tradition. A nice little commie-for-mommie set up that just might work.
One of the things that has amazed me about this festival, and its something that haven't found at other festivals let alone within other genres, is the camaraderie between bands and fans. The bands are as big of fans of each other as the fans are of the bands. That makes for a very inclusive scene. Everyone wants to see everyone else succeed and does what they can to make it happen. Renowned blues photographer Stephen “Muttbucket” Davidson once wrote,
"...the epitome of Deep Blues for me is the legendary 'unknown convict'. It's all about the feeling...an open doorway to the soul...it's not polished and clean...it's dirty and raw...an open wound covered with wagon wheel grease...it's pain and ecstasy, it sounds like a tornado, the rainbow after the storm... ".
Indeed there will be what most would call traditional blues artists performing. But there will also be artists there that would not call themselves blues artists but would certainly admit to the deep influence their search for true blues has had on them and their music. And there will be artists there that are deeply moved by their love of old timey country and rural country blues but would not hold either title out of respect. Some more punk than blues. Others more blues than punk. Others just some sort of plain ol' punk blues hybrid. But what unites the whole thing for every artist playing this festival is a soul felt passion for a kind of music that moves them deeply. Music that makes them, like the artists that came before them, have to play this music as if their lives depended on it- and for most of them it does. And it's that same insatiable passion to hear real true honest soulful expression that unites fans of this music to support these artists.
Look out Cleveland!
Let’s take a look at who’s playing the 2011 Deep Blues Festival:
• Boom Chick: Frank Hoier and drummer Moselle comprise this electric guitar and drums rock ‘n’ roll duo out of Brooklyn, NY, who mix surf music, ’50s ballads and slide guitar blues to make good on all the things rock ‘n’ roll promised us so long ago. They recently recorded and album titled Show Pony.
• Cashman: Led by Houston raised singer-guitarist Ray Cashman, the Nashville-based group that bears his name weaves the sound of Mississippi hill country juke joint blues ala R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough into a powerful stew captured on two riveting, raucous albums. Cashman’s album is Black and Blues.
• Left Lane Cruiser: The pride of Fort Wayne, Indiana’s garage roots scene, this duo blend the authority and soul of Muddy Waters and R.L. Burnside into their own bone-crunching sound. As their name implies, they are road warriors extraordinaire, touring widely in the U.S. and Europe. Their music appeared in the 2010 season of TV’s Breaking Bad. Their fourth and latest album Junkyard Speedball has just been released.
• Mark “Porkchop” Holder: One of the true pioneers of the modern Deep Blues scene thanks to his earlier role as guitarist in the Black Diamond Heavies, Chattanooga, Tennessee’s Mark Holder puts his own spin on country blues, writing songs and delivering them in a solo performing style that’s an perfect mix of truth and virtuosity. His latest disc is Fry Pharmacy.
• Misery Jackals: This Akron, OH, quintet bust out their special blend of old school punk rock on acoustic instruments. They wail on banjo, accordion, guitar, bass, drums and whatever else they can find to produce a one of a kind experience of “Pillbilly Browngrass.” One time a patron at a music venue asked “The Misery Jackals? What kind of music do they play?” The bartender replied “I don’t know man, they’re just flt;#ing awesome!” They’ve got an ep on CDbaby.com
• “Mississippi” Gabe Carter: Solo dirty blues with a Mississippi regional flavor is this Chicagoan’s specialty, reminiscent of the MS hill country’s Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside, and his Bentonia mentors Jack Owens and Jimmy “Duck” Holmes. His latest album is Until They Drag Me Down.
• Molly Gene One Whoaman Band: True to her name, Warrensburg, Missouri’s Molly Gene cuts her music to the bone, playing guitar, harmonica and foot drum while singing like a ghost from the Delta flatlands out for vengeance. She tours extensively and had a wildly successful tour with Bob Log III in 2010. Molly Gene is rapidly earning a reputation for her high-powered performances. Her latest album is Hillbilly Love.
• Old Gray Mule featuring C.W. Ayon: Juke joint blues is this Austin band’s specialty — once again echoing, in particular, the electric blues sounds of the Mississippi hills as minted by the Burnside and Kimbrough families. For the Deep Blues Festival 2011 they’ll be joined by Las Cruses, New Mexico’s C.W. Ayon, who usually performs as a foot stompin’, guitar slingin’ one-man band. Old Gray Mule’s new album is titled 40 Nickles For A Bag Of Chips.
• Scissormen: This Nashville-based guitar and drums duo carry a style straddling the oldest blues traditions and modernist turns like daring improvisation and sonic experimentation, without betraying the music’s lowdown, dirty roots. With four albums and a new Robert Mugge directed movie starring Scissormen called BIG SHOES: Walking and Talking the Blues now playing at festivals, they are earning a reputation for high-energy live concerts in the US and Europe. Their latest album is Luck In A Hurry
• Ten Foot Polecats: This blazing trio is from the Boston-area, but they sound like hard-bred juke joint dogs from the Mississippi hills. Nonetheless, their appeal is wide and their churning, psychedelic-yet-downhome sound is gaining them fans in the rock, punk and psychobilly circuits along with the traditional blues scene. Their latest album is I Get Blamed For Everything I Do.
HERE'S A LOOK BACK AT DEEP BLUES FESTiVAL NUMERO UNO via my crappy early video editing skills:
This piece originally appeared in the July issue of IGNiTiON Magazine. Long time readers here will notice I pretty much plagiarized myself, but whatever gets the message out,right? I hope/look forward to seeing you at the fest. -r