Saturday I went out to the 11th Western Maryland Blues Festival in Hagerstown, Maryland for an afternoon of blues in the downtown area. The Saturday is probably the main day to many of us at the festival although the Sunday picnic in the City Park is a popular affair. I must confess this year's Sunday line-up was not enough to entice me to drive up there two straight days but Saturday was a day of fine music. ARmed with cameras but a note pad, here are geenral impressions
I arrived at the end of the set by the BoneDaddy band which sounded like a pretty solid jump blues group for the little I heard. The Festival has two stages and when music stops on one stage Larry B hops to the other and introduces the next act with the next act starting right up. Kelly Bell Band was up featuring Bell witht his Phat Blues, a mix of blues, funk and some psychedelic touches. Bell has a tight group with a fine guitarist (believe his name is Irving Mayfield) and organist. He has a soulful voice and does not take himself too seriously but he seriously good at entertaining an audience and bringing out quite a crowd. Bell was followed by The Nicole Nelson band and Nelson impressed me as a fine singer with control in her delivery, not simply power and a tight backing group over a range of blues material including a rendition of "Summertime" that had the crowd really excited. It has been a few years since I saw Sugar Ray & the BlueTones who put out a splendid set of Chicago styled blues. Guitarist Paul Size supported Ray Norcia ably with Norcia playing some wonderful harp and playing some real fine songs, including a cover of Rocking Sydney's "No Good Woman" (a pre "Don't Mess With My TuTu" swamp blues) and Rice Miller's "Keep it To Yourself." I have known Sugar Ray since I first saw the band with Ronnie (Earl) Horvath on guitar backing JB Hutto in NYC. A real fine band that keeps true to the tradition while never slavishly imitating it and did a number of songs that one does not hear that often.
Sugar Ray's set was followed by a typically fine performance by The Holmes Brothers who opened with the spiritual classic "Amazing Grace" before launching into covers of Jimmy Reed and others along with their originals, all passionately delivered. After that was a terrific set by Tab Benoit whose singing matches the power of his guitar in the power-blues trio setting. The backing rhythm add so much and they get a groove going and can rock and roll. Highlights were a wonderful Otis Redding cover and a of numbers associated with New Orleans along with Benoit's telling the audience they can't let the politicians forget about the areas victimized by Katrina. John Lee Hooker, Jr. followed and if he is burdened/blessed by his name, he wisely has not attempted to play blues in his father's style. He has a really good voice and might be labeled as a soul-blues performer, although his band was a typical modern blues quartet. I really like his vocal delivery and his stage presence and while I left during the middle of his set, I look forward to seeing him in several weeks at the Pocono Blues Festival.
Making the drive back to Northern Virginia, I skipped the Dirty Dozen who were also featured at last year's festival and I have no reason to doubt they were similarly splendid this year. There was no question that this was a really excellent day of blues and I look forward to next year's line-up. The City of Hagerstown puts on quite a nice party the first Saturday of the month.