My Norwegian skin can take about five minutes of direct sunlight before burning. Despite all precautions, four days of the open-air Waterfront Blues Festival have had the expected result. Ecstasy has its cost.
It was all worth it. My skin is redder on the outside; inside, I'm still glowing in the dark. The big acts were all I had hoped for ... Charlie Musselwhite, for example, was as classy as ever. His restrained presentation depends on his rich voice and full-bore harmonica, and his great cut-loose band, including (if my eyes didn't deceive me) Frankie Randall on bass.
"Restrained" would not be the word for the very next performer, Buddy Guy, in his white overalls and floppy hat. I think he finished about two of his songs—usually he'd be jumping into the next song pretty much when he felt like it, as usual, with a few editorial comments along the way. You never know with Buddy; at one appearance he just breezes through the material with disappointing casualness, and the next time he's as intense and present as he could possibly be. This time he was somewhere in between, but good enough that I was glad I'd talked my two sons into coming.
Shemekia Copeland held nothing back. Her presence was so powerful that her choice of material—more R&B than blues most of the time—didn't put me off as much as I would have guessed. If I didn't particularly like the song, that just gave me more mental bandwidth to admire her incredible presentation. She was clearly delighted with the warm reception we gave her. I thought it took a lot of courage as well as showpersonship to abandon the microphone, as she did at one point, and sing to the open-air audience with just her amazing unamplified voice.
For the most part, aside from these headliners, I spent my days at the smaller stage where the lesser-known artists perform. Every year without fail some of those artists completely floor me with their excellence or sheer delightfulness. This year was no different.
Two years after Australian Fiona Boyes came, fresh from winning an International Blues Challenge award in Memphis, another IBC acoustic-guitar winner from Australia lit up that stage. Jimi Hocking was as quick-witted as he was quick-fingered.
At least two of the performers were interesting teachers as well as performers, sharing from their knowledge of American roots-music history. Local musician Lauren Sheehan and New Orleans' Spencer Bohren were both absolutely fascinating when they spoke as well as when they played.
And at least three of the bands were able, on a blazing hot midday, to put out that incredible combination of timing, funk, energy, great musicianship, humor (all that goes into the "heart and ass" formula) that transforms a show into a party. Last year's regional representatives to the IBC, the Rose City Kings; the band that should have won that honor this year, the Randy Oxford Band; and Diunna Greenleaf and Blue Mercy.
It's yearly meeting season
Back in April 1997, I wrote about "an ideal yearly meeting" in my Quaker Life monthly column. I must have been in fantasy land: I wrote, "I hope that, this year, routine business in all our yearly meetings will get the one morning that it deserves (more or less!), and that the rest of the time is devoted to telling Jesus—and each other—in very personal terms what we have taught and whom we have healed. Then let's wait for God to tell us what to do in the coming year."
The whole editorial, for what it's worth, is here.