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Mile High Blues Festival, Day 1, Mile High Marketplace, Denver, August 7, 2010
I realize I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating under the circumstances: I know the blues are primitive and repetitive, but so is sex and I like that too! And so, because on Saturday the blues went on all day, it was like a blues orgy. And like sex, how often does something like that land in my lap? (Hint: not often.) Therefore, Saturday was definitely something to savor.
Denver had an annual blues festival throughout the 1990s and into the new Century, but it folded shortly after the turn of the Millennium and Denver blues fans went into a funk. Last year, the two day Mile High Blues Festival set out to raise the spirits and it worked so well, it came back for an encore this year. Last weekend’s festival included some nationally known blues players and some up and comers. In fact, some of the players weren’t out of puberty and at least one hadn’t even reached that stage. Confession: I continue to fail in my continuing quest to Do It All! Therefore, I arrived late and left early because I was scheduled to host the Blues Show on KUVO from 5 to 7 that afternoon making for the total blues Saturday. Also, the festival continued Sunday; without me. Sigh.
Aden (Sonny Boy) Boa
The Colorado Blues Society was closely involved in the Festival and one of the Society’s aims is to bring the blues to kids through their Blues in the Schools program and to support young blues artists. To that end, the Festival included a “Future of the Blues Stage” featuring youthful blues players. One of the first up for the day was Aden (Sonny Boy) Boa, son of Denver blues man Eric Boa of Boa and the Constrictors. Sonny Boy can’t be much more than 10, but he stood in front of the crowd and played his harp while his dad accompanied him on guitar and vocals. (See picture # 435) Dad taught him well, he was right on with the rhythm, blue notes and mournful wail of the blues harp.
Wonderland is from Austin and spiced up her blues with a little country every now and then. The program indicated that she collaborates with Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel, so between that and the Texas influence, it’s not surprising a little twang crept in now and then. Mainly though, she played the blues. She fronts a trio with a drummer and a keyboardist who also plays the bass lines. She wasn’t content with a consistent sound, but she changed instruments throughout the set. She started with a Telecaster, but also played a miniature electric guitar which looked a little like an electric six string ukulele, a lap steel guitar and trumpet. She also whistled a solo and scatted another one with hand effects that mimicked either a muted trombone or trumpet. She played both originals and covers including “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” “The Wind Cries Mary” and Janis Joplin’s “What Good Can Drinkin’ Do?” Her vocals were strong and emotive and she has the charisma to front a blues band. Her guitar playing was mostly fluid but sometimes seemed a little pre-planned rather than spontaneous.
McGarvey is a 23 year old guitar slinger from Albuquerque in the mold of Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn. He’s got the chops, the expressive vocals and he’s better looking that those other two guys. Earlier this year he won the “Play Crossroads” contest and earned a slot at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads concert in Chicago. He uses a power trio format that sounds like it could as easily be from 1968 or 1972 as 2010. But that’s OK with me because I’m from both those eras. One of his originals “Cryin’ Over You” was a particular standout full of hot guitar lines and the classic lost-my-baby moan. The link below is to his performance at last year’s festival.
Rea was another performer on the Future of the Blues Stage. She’s only 15, but she plays like she’s a decade or two older. Indeed, the chick’s got licks. The tent with the Future of the Blues Stage was filled to overflowing and dozens more spectators jammed in around the edges to hear this prodigy. Her band mates were a generation older, but she was clearly the star of the set. Her guitar lines evoked the masters of the instrument and sounded as if they were emanating from a grizzled blues master, rather than someone that doesn’t even qualify for a driver’s license. She’s not quite over the stage fright stage. Although her playing was crisp and expressive, she held an oh-so-serious facial expression throughout. Obviously that’s a minor point, but as soon as she starts looking like she’s having fun, her live performance will go up a notch.
Hall is the former lead singer and harp player for Wet Willie, a Southern blues rock band in the mold of the Allman Brothers that reached the heights of its popularity in the mid 70s. Hall was joined Saturday by Reese Wynans, who played with Stevie Ray Vaughn, on keyboards and especially Hammond B-3 organ. This band served up Chicago style blues with a big sound. Only 15 minutes after this set started, I had to split to get the blues on KUVO; a noble cause indeed, but I also missed the day’s headliner, Tab Benoit. Oh well, I just can’t do it all. Dang!