This is the seventh year I have attended the Western Maryland Blues Fest but the first time I have attempted to write a review of it. The first few times I was assigned to write newspaper articles about blues music events I had flashbacks to the times I had to cover Cajun music without doing my homework. And like an idiot I had to ask the musicians to give me some background on their genre.
By then, though, I had done some homework. Each time I would cover a “Blues in the Schools event” – at which a blues musician meets with and performs for a group of student musicians – my appreciation and understanding of the music increased.
And each year at the festival I would find one or two more bands and musicians I would start paying more attention too.
This year I missed some of the better performers because of other commitments but I still had a blast.
The first band I saw was 2Blue Ensemble who not only played the festival but also – since it’s a local band – played at the opening of a new restaurant down the street.
The band sounded fantastic. The always engaging, entertaining singer Pete Lancaster did a great job leading the group through a variety of songs, some new and some older.
Once again I was blown away by the guitarist, Alan Mason and how amazing some of his solos were.
Carl Disque, saxophonist and an organizer of the annual event, sounded pretty good too.
By the time the band was done I’d decided I was being an idiot. Just because the concert was still going on despite the rain, just because some fans did not mind getting drenched, did not mean that I had to do, especially with my digital camera.
By the time I got back to the show, after changing into dry clothes and grabbing a case for the camera, I had missed the performance of the Deb Callahan Band.
If I had to say anything negative about him it was that he was TOO GOOD, with so many great guitar riffs and solos that it almost stopped seeming remarkable after 30 minutes. It was clear why BluesWax Magazine named him Blues Artist of the Year for 2004 and he has even received praise from blues legend B.B. King.
During his performance I realized that my digital camera’s battery was dying but I did get off this photo, my favorite of the weekend solely for the symbolism of it all.
I had high expectations for Bonamassa and he met them, finishing the night off with a blaze of musical glory.
The band that blew me away this year was the first one I saw on Saturday, the Kelly Bell Band. The singer, Kelly Bell, had charisma and great lyrics while the other band members also sounded great.
While some bands got the audience off their feet none forced them up and grooving as much as the Kelly Bell Band. This is what the stage area looked like during their show.
Some of the fans were clearly regulars of this band, named the Best Blues Band in the Mid-Atlantic Region for nine years.
Their music, which they dub Phat Blues, rocked the audience who ate it up.
At this point for example, they were asked to help with "F.B.I.," one of the best songs on their new live album, Live from the Recher Theatre. When the singer would say “Running with my baby” the crowd enthusiastically shouted back, “Hiding from the FBI!”
They also had great repartee. When the members asked people to buy their products one said the money would go to pay off student loans. Another said the money would actually go to pay for bibles while another bested him saying the money would go to pay for bibles to send to Russia.
The other impressive performer I wanted to mention was Nicole Nelson, leader of the Nicole Nelson Band.
This woman was not only an engaging charismatic performer but a knockout to boot. I shot lots of photos as she played with her dress while singing.
Throughout the weekend there were certain characteristics of this festival that I was watching. One is the disease that appears to afflict many musicians, but more so blues musicians. I call this disease “guitar face” pictured right is one of those afflicted, 2Blue Ensemble’s bassist and Kelly Bell Band’s guitarist
Another characteristic that has always fascinated me is the presence of a sign language interpreter. I’ve often thought she deserves a name in the program since she has more time on stage than any other performer.
While she sometimes seems unsure what to do during an instrumental she generally seems to just roll with the show and if the singer happens to be crooning about sex, than so be it.
So while others were photographing guitarists and singers I took photos of the interpreter, whose name is Nancy Verdier. She and her “blues sis,” Cindy Mease, take turns working to ensure everyone can see what is going on, even if they can’t hear the shows.
I am also always pleased to see another component of the festival, Kids Jam Too, devoted to not only keeping children entertained but to actually getting them into music. Some draw colorful guitars while others play kazoos. My favorite workshop, though, was one where kids are given harmonicas, told some history and trivia about the instrument, and then they all jammed together.
They sounded pretty good, all things considered. I think we can expect many generations to come of great blues music.