Friday, 23 February 2024

CyberSoulMan: Reno Tahoe Blues and more

Tommy Castro performing at the Reno Tahoe Blues Festival in August 2009. Photo by T. Watts.

The CyberSoulMan was in the house at the fifth annual Reno Tahoe Blues Festival, held in Rancho San Rafael Park in Reno, Nev., on the weekend starting Aug. 14.

This year, the festival’s featured performers were Lil Dave Thompson, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Magic Slim & The Teardrops, Lady Bianca, Mel Waiters, The Emotions, Mem Shannon, Larry McCray, Tommy Castro, Shirley Brown and James Ingram.

When we arrived on Saturday the Mississippi-born Magic Slim was onstage. Slim cut his teeth on the Chicago Blues scene as a teenager with the legendary Magic Sam, who was his friend and mentor.

Magic Slim has cut more than 20 albums of his own and at 72 years of age is one of a dwindling number of elder statesmen of the blues. During Slim’s set, Saturday opening act, Ronnie Baker Brooks, sat attentively in the wings sopping up the blues vibrations emanating from Slim.

Up next was the Bay Area’s Lady Bianca. Bianca studied at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music after cutting her musical teeth in her dad’s church. The stylish Lady B crafted a creative set of rhythm & blues that included selections from her latest album, “A Woman Never Forgets.”

The uproarious “Ugly Man Song” – with its accompanying monologue – left the audience in stitches. Lady B informed me after the festival that they want her back next year, if possible, and intimated that the festival producers treated her like royalty.

The Gentleman of Southern Soul Mel Waiters and his revue had to bump it up a notch after Bianca’s riveting performance. Waiters, the consummate showman, came down into the audience and worked the crowd into a dancing frenzy through such numbers as “Hole In The Wall” and “Got My Whiskey.

The closing act for Saturday were the Emotions, the trio of female vocalists who had hits with “The Best Of My Love,” “Don’t Ask My Neighbor,” “So I Can Love You” and “Boogie Wonderland,” produced by Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire.

The Emotions are still a very talented group but their act was ill-suited to close for the blues festival crowd. Their style was more cabaret than blues festival. Perhaps they should’ve opened.

Sunday’s show was more balanced. Though I missed the opening act Mem Shannon, I did catch Larry McCray, Tommy Castro, Shirley Brown and James Ingram.

McCray offered a fine set of guitar blues and vocals. California favorite Tommy Castro’s high energy set of blues rock had the folks dancing. He strolled through the crowd playing cordlessly at the beginning and end of his set.

Southern Soul Belle Shirley Brown thoroughly entertained with her Aretha-esqe vocals and her bawdy brand of storytelling. You had to see it and hear it to believe it.

The great James Ingram closed the festival festivities Sunday night. His set was geared toward the ladies in the house, heavy on the love ballads. He also sang hits from his recorded repertoire that included his collaborations with Michael McDonald and Michael Jackson. His latest CD is his first inspirational effort and he also sang tracks from it. Unlike the prior nights closer, he held the crowd to the very end.

The food sold at the festival was varied and delicious. I tried a catfish platter that was fresh and tasty. The barbecued ribs were outstanding. I even tried the gator. It was great and didn’t taste like chicken!

And on the Lake County front … blues diva Bettie Mae Fikes, fresh from her endearing performance at the Blue Wing Blues Festival, is recording a live album in Lake County on Wednesday, Aug. 26. The album is set to be recorded on location at a “rightly energized space” that I will report on next week.

Keep prayin’, keep thinkin’ those kind thoughts.


Upcoming cool events:

Frankie J. and Real Deal will be performing at Acoustic Café, 745 State St., Ukiah, outside under the parachutes. Wine, dine and enjoy! Saturday, Aug. 29, at 7 p.m. Cost: $10. Advanced tickets available online at and at the Ukiah Music Center.

Tyrone Rivera and Tim Culp, Blue Wing Saloon & Cafe Sunday Brunch, Aug. 30. Brunch from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; music from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Blue Wing Saloon & Café, 9520 Main St., Upper Lake. Telephone 707-275-2233, .

Memphis Exchange with Randy McGowen, Blues Monday, Aug. 24, 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Blue Wing Saloon & Café, 9520 Main St., Upper Lake. Telephone 707-275-2233, .

Open mike night, Thursday, Aug. 27, 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Blue Wing Saloon & Café, 9520 Main St., Upper Lake. Telephone 707-275-2233, .

Lake Blues All-Stars with Neon, Blues Monday, Aug. 31, 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Blue Wing Saloon & Café, 9520 Main St., Upper Lake. Telephone 707-275-2233, .

Con Funk Shun, Saturday, Sept. 5, 8 p.m. Cache Creek Casino Resort, 14455 Highway 16, Brooks. Telephone 888-77-CACHE, .

Roy Rogers & The Delta Rhythm Kings plus Gerald Mathis & Starlight at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 7. Blue Wing Saloon & Café, 9520 Main St., Upper Lake. Telephone 707-275-2233, .

T. Watts is a writer, radio host and music critic. Visit his Web site at

Upcoming Calendar

02.24.2024 2:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Lake County Theatre Co. lip sync event
03.02.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Special Olympics Polar Plunge
St. Patrick's Day
Easter Sunday
Easter Monday
Tax Day

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