Monday, 15 July 2024

Blue Wing Blues Festival's fourth year keeps Upper Lake hopping

John Lee Hooker Jr. was a featured performer at the Blue Wing Blues Festival on Friday, August 6, 2010. Photo by T. Watts.


UPPER LAKE, Calif. – It has been this correspondent’s pleasure to witness the four season metamorphosis of the Blue Wing Blues Festival from a neighborhood musical gathering to a full-fledged, world-class entity.

There are larger festivals, of course, but if you are looking for upscale, intimate down-home funky blues, you will indeed find it at this event.

The all-weekend affair kicked off Friday, Aug. 6, with the new, expanded version of Lake County’s Side Of Blues.

With the relatively recent addition of guitarist Eric Roach, Side Of Blues has elevated its sound to another level.

The interplay between Roach and harmonica ace Tom King propels the band into a high energy very danceable mix. In addition the band features Bobby Pfanmuller on drums, Tommy Ing on bass and Anita Elliott on keyboards.

Their well-received set was heavy on the Chicago Blues with covers of Little Walter and Jimmy Rogers as well as Jimmy Reed’s post Chicago material.

The main lead vocal chores were ably handled by King. Roach sang lead one song and Elliott lent her sultry-smooth vocals on Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” and Little Walter’s “Hate To See You Go.”

When the band left the stage to boisterous, hearty applause, they came back to do Jimmy Rogers’ “Walkin’ By Myself” as an encore. Fine performance.

The son of legendary Mississippi Delta born Bluesman John Lee Hooker is rapidly becoming a legend himself. The two-time Grammy-nominated John Lee Hooker Jr. bounded onstage with greetings of “Upper Lake! Upper Lake!”

The Hooker Band launched into a burning set of blues and R&B that ingratiated itself immediately with the crowd. The band consisted of Michael Rogers on drums, Angelo Asanti on guitar, Elpher Legaspi on keyboards and Jack Starnes on bass.

Through a great monologue on a song entitled “Extra-Marital Affair,” Hooker Jr. made it clear that the road from seedy tenderloin hotels to the Tallman is not so far removed as one might think, despite the hazards of drugs, jail, infidelity and divorce.

In an exclusive pre-performance interview, Hooker revealed that he is drug-free and happily married, and not taking those side trips anymore.

In a rollicking, cutting edge set that included sing along audience participation, a tribute to Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Bonnie Raitt, B.B. King, Charlie Musselwhite and his dad, and a Funky Ass Booty Dance Contest, Hooker and band claimed Upper Lake as their own. They pulled out all the stops despite having a Saturday 7 a.m. flight out of San Francisco.

The crowd would not be satisfied without Hooker’s rendition of his dad’s classic “Boom Boom.” The band did an encore song simply titled, “Boogie.”

After the set Hooker graciously signed copies of his new CD, “Live In Istanbul.” The two-disc set includes a killer animated video. A blues first! You heard it first right here.

Saturday night’s opener was Boogie Piano Queen Wendy DeWitt. As reported 16 months ago when she last played the Tallman Hotel’s Concerts With Conversation series, DeWitt is a gifted stylist. She is fluent in the styles of the great masters of blues and boogie piano. The list includes Otis Spann, Memphis Slim, Big Maceo, Joe Duskin, Meade Lux Lewis, Little Brother Montgomery, Pete Johnson and a host of others.




Wendy DeWitt wit Kirk Harwood on drums performed at the Blue Wing Blues Festival on Saturday, August 7, 2010. Photo by T. Watts.



Dewitt is quite capable of holding a crowd’s attention without accompaniment but came to this year’s engagement with a drummer, Kirk Harwood.

DeWitt and Harwood kept the crowd’s rapt attention throughout. So intense was her captivation of the guests that even the dancers remained seated throughout, slack-jawed in awe of DeWitt’s dexterity and comic timing.

She closed with a Memphis Slim tune and left to a standing ovation. Of course she was convinced to do an encore. DeWitt offered up tasty servings of the aforementioned styles. She included compositions penned by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Fats Domino, Ahmet Ertegan, Gershwin and many others.

Lady Bianca and her band hit the stage just before dusk and immediately had the crowd dancing and swaying to left/right blues. After the second up-tempo number she slowed it down to a slow blues. Off in the corner, if you will, slow-dragged DeWitt and her drummer Kirk.

Bianca is a great pianist-storyteller and her monologues and tunes, co-penned by her husband Stanley Lippet, have great hooks. (Wake up man, it’s time to go home to your wife!)

On one medley which included what she called her stalking song – “Should’na Made it So Good” – Bianca told a tale of divorce, bar pickup of a nerd who turned into a muscle-bound stalker overnight. It was hilarious.

Her gospel background is infused with blues, R&B and country. She is fond of covering Elvis songs as well. She did a version of “Don’t Be Cruel” that was great. She also does a Lippet/Bianca Thornton penned called “The Oprah Winfrey Show” that is pure unadulterated country.

Bianca is a great artist, and a fine closer with stellar accompanists, including Steve Gannon on guitar and Michael Skinner on drums. Of course they did an encore as well.

I was not in attendance on Sunday night when Lake County’s own Twice As Good opened for Bernie Butcher’s new favorite guitarist, Daniel Castro. Twice As Good always tears it up so it must have been rockin’.

Did I mention the food? It was superb. Babyback ribs, Halibut Steak and chicken grilled to barbecue perfection. Perfect sides to match. The Butcher’s, Lynn and Bernie, did it again.

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



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