Sunday, June 22, 2008

John Jackson Honored By Falls Church Blues Festival

It was not as full a day of blues, Saturday July 14, as I was hoping, but the first John Jackson Blues Foundation presented by the Tinner Hill Foundation was a delightful first event of what will grow as an annual event.The Tinner Hill Foundation celebrates the first rural NAACP Chapter in Virginia (Falls Church to be precise), and had been putting on an annual Festival which had featured a variety of local acts including the late John Jackson and the late Sonny Warner. Unfortunately the festival usually was scheduled opposite the Western Maryland Blues Festival. This year the festival was initially renamed as the Tinner Hill Blues Festival, but later renamed in honor of the late Piedmont blues guitarist and songster whose last performance was part of the annual New Year’s Eve celebration put on in the City of Falls Church.

I arrived at Falls Church’s Cherry Hill Park after the initial performance by Danny Blue and the Blues Crew for the performance by the Acme Blues Company. While a capable bar band, they were not very good. Waverly Milor, who fronts the band, plays harp and vocals has a flair and a sense of showmanship, but a limited raspy vocal range that he is not able to enliven with phrasing or other vocal devices and the rhythm of the band was pretty mechanical this day. They were followed by popular favorite Catfish Hodge, who backed by harp and keyboards, may not have performed a straight blues set but was blues-based and was certainly entertaining.

Next up, after Mike Baytop did a demonstration of the bones, was Deanna Bogart with her quartet. Deanna has certainly evolved and matured as a pianist and vocalist and her boogie woogie-derived music is less of a gimmick. It is particularly as a singer that she excels with a honey-drenched soulful delivery. Why she did not play any saxophone, her piano and her band had a nice tight groove, and her vocals were outstanding. After her set, bobby parker, who less than two months prior had serious stomach issues and had successful surgery. Parker was in excellent form with renditions of Guitar Slim’s ‘Nothing but the Blues,’ and some Albert King classics.

During Bobby’s set, the sky darkened and an announcement was made about possible severe thunderstorms heading our way, so I headed indoors where in a gymnasium, Rick Franklin and Mike Baytop did a wonderful performance of classic country blues in the vein of their excellent album, “Searchin’ For Frank.” They both are quite accomplished. Franklin has been performing for over twenty years, often with fellow guitarist Neil Harpe and percussionist Rick Usilton, while Baytop, originally came to my attention for his harmonica playing with the late Archie Edwards and also Mike Roach. After Archie’s death, he became President of the Archie Edwards Blues Heritage Foundation, and became an impressively talented multi-instrumentalist. Playing on the gymnasium’s bleachers without any amplification, two pair handled tunes associated with Frank Stokes, the great Memphis blues singer and guitarist of the first part of the 20th Century and his contemporaries. One highpoint of their sets is Franklin’s hokum-tinged rendition of a Hawaiian number, “Big Kanocka,” but other songs like “Tain’t Nobody’s Business,” are delivered in a lusty, exuberant manner on material that many acoustic blues artists today are unfamiliar with as these other artists churn out their mediocre renditions of Robert Johnson numbers. There efforts were warmly appreciated by those who heard them.

The rain stopped me from enjoying other acts outside. I understand Bobby Parker’s set was cut short, but performances by Nadine Rae, Robert lighthouse and Memphis Gold went on, although with a much smaller audience. Nadine is one act I wanted to see and hopefully will get that chance in the not too distant future. Robert lighthouse did his Hendrix thing from reports I heard. A promising debut festival with hundreds enjoying the music. Hopefully, the word on this will grow so that more will enjoy it next year, and even more importantly, the weather will cooperate.

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