Riverside Blues and BBQ - Greenfield, MA Oct 5-7 2012

By David Wilson
November 2012

Blues and Barbecue would seem to be a natural combination. A festival celebrating both should be a guaranteed success as well, should it not?

Unfortunately, more BBQ fans than Blues fans seem to have gotten the word and while some of our regions best blues performers put their talent and passion on the line, the fans were sparse.

Granted, this was only the second year and the weather was not as favorable as last year when temps hit the 80s on festival weekend. It is also true that many special events were going on in the western part of the state that Columbus Day weekend.

Greenfield in general is a great location for music festivals and the Riverside Festival producers were efficient, friendly and well-organized.

As I said before, the performers did their part.

There was Wildcat O’Halloran sans the Harp Girls, but wailing with great backup and this was at 9am on a Saturday morning. A subtle shift in his sound had me thinking Kansas City Blues, but as I have confessed elsewhere, I really could not put my finger on why I thought that.

Agona Hardison, with a bluesy edge to her hard-rocking performances was next and she gave a passionate performance of the songs on her new CD, The Drive, along with encore performances from past releases. Backing her and playing as tight as ever were lead guitarist David Porter, James Baker on bass, Oliver Hammerle on drums and David Tolar, also on electric guitar.

For me the brightest spot of many bright spots that weekend was the performance of Susie Vinnick. I had heard Susie perform a number of times over the radio while tenting in Canada. Yep, blues are big in Canada and have a national weekly CBC show to prove it. Experiencing her live performance, her simple presentation, the intimacy of her introductions and the way she shares her self quietly and familiarly with her audience was compelling. With no accompaniment other than her own guitar, Susie held the attention of a growing audience with 90 plus minutes of material, much of which she penned herself. Two of them, "The Honey I Want" and "Sometimes I Think I Can Fly," won her an International Songwriting Award in the category of Blues. I could have sat and listened to her for a lot longer than the two hours she performed.

Trailer Park closed out the Saturday performances. Returning now to perform after a five-year hiatus, they were as smooth as they ever have been. With two sax players, they brought a hipper, jazzier approach to the blues that was a great change of pace. It was a refreshing laid back aspect of our multifaceted blues genre. All the members chimed in on vocals from time to time and impromptu ad libs were in no small supply. I hope they are back to stay awhile.

Red hot mama Susan Angeletti joined by Bruce Korona, along with some strong coffee, got our hearts pumping and blood flowing on a somewhat dank and grey Sunday morning. (Blues in the early AM, there is just something wrong about this.) Her new CD release, Wisdom, is getting a lot of airplay and comprised much of her set.

Last month I reviewed Billy Boy Arnold’s recent tribute to Big Bill Broonzy, so I was ripped to hear Billy G and the Blue Zone who cover several of Billy Boy’s originals in their repertoire. They gave us a performance of Chicago-style blues interspersed with some of their signature electric funk. I am not sure whether Cathy Garcia was under-miked or under the weather, but would have liked to hear more from her.

Katrina’s gift to New England, Samirah Evans, along with her alleged Handsome Devils, closed out the weekend performances. Steady, consistent and always bringing some sultry N’Orleans Bourbon St. and bayous atmosphere to whenever and wherever she performs, per usual her appearance was polished and professional. Samirah has a down home way of building a bond with her audience that makes it easier for us to connect with her and her music.

While I have no complaint with the music we heard, one of the contrivances that allows music to work more effectively in large areas such as festivals is the intimate workshop, where we get to have closer contact with our favorite musicians and get to know something outside of performance skills about newbies. If the organizers were to branch out with a few experiments in structure, a little less on the big stage, a little more in smaller arenas, an opportunity for some pickin’ and jammin’, I think it could be a more attractive event. Also, the program was heavy on the bands and urban electric blues. A bit more diversity and more attention to root blues would also help prime audience interest. If you agree let them know.


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