Monday, 15 July 2024

CyberSoulMan: The 33rd annual Russian River Jazz and Blues Festival

T. Watts at the KPFZ microphone. Courtesy photo.



For the first time in 33 years, the Russian River Blues Festival and the Russian River Jazz Festival merged into one event. Prior to this year, the RR Blues Festival was presented for two days in June while the RR Jazz Fest was historically held in September, both in the resort town of Guerneville.

Two years ago the festivals were sold to Omega Events. In a paring down move related to the economy in general, Omega decided to shave a day from each festival and make it a one-weekend affair this year. Jazz on Saturday, Sept. 12; blues on Sunday, Sept. 13.

Appearing at this year's Jazz Fest on Saturday were Jackiem Joyner, East Bay Soul, Jazz Attack featuring Rick Braun, Jonathan Butler and Richard Elliot, and Al Jarreau.

Sunday's blues lineup included The Delta Wires, The Legendary Rhythm & Blues review featuring Tommy Castro, Bernard Allison, Rick Estrin and Janiva Maness, Dr. John and The Neville Brothers.

I left Lake County before sunrise on Saturday under a dubious weather forecast for the weekend. Fair and warm with temperatures in the 80s on Saturday with the semi-ominous threat of showers and temps in the 70s on Sunday. As I wound around Highway 20 exiting Lake County I observed lightening strikes in the distance.

After picking up my companion and completing all the gender specific tasks that make a date of this magnitude possible we headed toward Guerneville. We had booked a room at the Sonoma Orchid Inn which we would actually pass en route to Johnson’s Beach where the festival(s) have been held all these years. My fiancée/companion/date wanted to see the joint in the daytime so I begrudgingly (I wanted to get to the festival) swung in to the grounds of the inn to take a peek.

When we finally got settled in on the beach – blanket down, chairs up, etc. – a very talented Jakiem Joyner was on stage. (We missed opening act East Bay Soul.)

Recently tagged the “Debut Artist of the Year” by Smooth Jazz News, the 28-year-old honed his chops on the road with the likes of Marcus Johnson, Bobby Lyle and Keiko Matsui.

A great sax player and showman, the Norfolk, Virginia native tantalized and teased the crowd with a set interspersed with selections from his recent Billboard charting CD, “Lil’ Man Soul.”

The climax of his set was convincing the crowd that he would attempt to reach a high note that he’d never done publicly before. Running up the scale three times then pausing, thus heightening the suspense, when he finally hit the note it was release and pandemonium. Mr. Joyner had convinced the audience that he is the real deal.

I must confess that I never liked the industry catchphrase “smooth jazz.” I preferred the East Coast edge of straight ahead jazz or hard bop. Of course, now some instrumental funk could always jerk my musical chain as well.

Early in his career, I didn’t pay much attention to Rick Braun as he was one of the first artists to be saddled with the smooth jazz description. Consequently, his performance at the RR was really the first time I gave Mr. Braun a serious listen.

Jazz Attack, the group he anchored with Jonathan Butler and Richard Elliot, really blew me away.

First of all, they bounded on stage with the same clothes on they’d worn on their twice-delayed, fogged-in plane. No matter. Later for the visual.

These cats touched my main auditory nerve with a “nothin’ but the funk” set of steamy R&B nuanced selections.

South African Jonathan Butler killed us with “Lies.” Former Tower Of Power saxman Richard Elliot apparently was on a different weather delayed flight. When he hit the stage 20 or so minutes into the set the aggregation launched into the title track from his latest CD, entitled “Rock Steady.” Their rendition of Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up” became part of a frenzied funky medley that had the crowd howling with delight as Jazz Attack ended their set.

Not only has Al Jarreau won five Grammies, he is the only singer ever to win them in three different categories.

Jarreau hit the stage early at the Russian River and stayed late. He mesmerized the crowd with his vocal effects. Jarreau delivered songs from his four decade repertoire that showcased his voice as a Jazz improvising instrument.

Midway through his set he noticed the kayakers on the opposite shore of Johnson’s Beach and playfully razzed them: “Boat people. Boat people.”

He then nuanced the lyrics to “Wade In The Water” to the folks in the river. “Wade in the waterrr children, cuz Al Jarreau wants his MONEYYY!”

It was hysterical. Jarreau performed over an hour and referenced the nonpaying “boat people” kindly, again in his encore.

The weatherman proved a little to accurate for our tastes on Sunday the 13th at the Russian River Blues Festival.

At showtime, there was a 10-degree drop in the temperature from the previous day and a light rain was falling before noon.

That didn’t stop Delta Wires from playing like men possessed. The band features the original horn section from Cold Blood, augmented by the supernatural harp playing of Ernie Pinata.

I’d heard of the Delta Wires before but had not really investigated how good they are. They played Chicago Blues. They played New Orleans Blues. They definitely played the Oakland Funk which they claim as there turf.

The great Tommy Castro fronted the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue which featured Bernard Allison, Rick Estrin, Kid Anderson and Janiva Magness. Those folks are all regulars on the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise. They brought the Blues Cruise Party to the Russian River.

They closed with a tribute to the recently deceased Queen Of The Chicago Blues, Koko Taylor – a rollicking version of her signature tune “Wang Dang Doodle.”

The revered, Dr. John, The Night Tripper brought his New Orleans brand of funk to the stage next. His 2008 CD, “The City That Care Forgot” and was awarded a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album. His playing was superb and his voice in good shape. The rain shortened his set, thought he did an encore, closing with “Right Place, Wrong Time.”

The amount of rain necessitated some stage changes before the Neville Brothers went on. Some of the fainthearted fans couldn’t stand the rain and headed for the exit. They missed a grand performance by the First Family of New Orleans.

Everybody is older now and baby brother Cyril Neville is more out front than ever before. Cyril is sportin’ a new CD, “Brand New Blues” that is not to be missed.

Aaron Neville, he of the angelic tenor, still makes the ladies go crazy. Charles Neville can still channel John Coltrane on sax. Art Neville, the keyboard wizard, the one they call Papa Funk still anchors that Neville sound.

Those tight harmonies rooted in first and second line New Orleans tradition, never fail to remind me that, the Big Easy is a musical nation unto itself. It reaches around the globe though as evidenced by the Neville’s’ closing medley, “One Love” and “People Get Ready.”

Keep prayin’, keep thinkin’ those kind thoughts.


Upcoming cool events:

Monday, Sept. 21

Blue Wing Blues Monday. The Levi Lloyd Band, 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., Blue Wing Saloon & Café, 9520 Main St., Upper Lake. Information: 707-275-2233 or .

Tuesday, Sept. 22

Soulive w/ The Shady Horns, Nigel Hall and Fred Wesley at Yoshis Oakland. Call 510-238-9200 for showtimes.

Wednesday, Sept. 23

Soulive w/ The Shady Horns, Nigel Hall and Fred Wesley at Yoshis Oakland. Call 510-238-9200 for showtimes.

Thursday, Sept. 24

Open mike night, 6 p.m. Blue Wing Saloon & Café, 9520 Main St., Upper Lake. Information: 707-275-2233 or .


Friday, Sept. 25 through Sunday, Sept. 27

Stanley Jordan at Yoshis Oakland. Call 510-238-9200 for showtimes.

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

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