"You brought me here to play blues. I'm not going to disappoint you."
Buddy Guy, headliner of Day 3 of the Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival 2011, did not disappoint me ... except in one respect. (More about that later.) He really did play blues, in contrast with much of what the Blues Festival offered.
What often seems to be popular now is a slick package of commercial soul and funk through which performers race without much connection with the audience. In order to get a good spot for hearing and seeing Buddy Guy, I had to endure a couple of hours of what seemed to me to be interminable offerings along those lines. Buddy Guy's band had to wait while the previous band went overtime with endless repetitions of the chorus of "Signed, Sealed and Delivered."
To be fair, it's hard to lead in to Buddy Guy. When he's at his best, he brings a unique energy that goes beyond his virtuoso guitar playing. For one thing, he plays right to the audience. Most of us know his signature songs by heart--but when we didn't come in with the chorus to his satisfaction, he said, "I was in India last week and they didn't f*** it up the way you did." On our second try, he pronounced himself satisfied: "Portland, I love you."
Those asterisks relate to my peeve with Buddy Guy. He and his band are tight and highly prepared, but part of the magic of a BG appearance is his apparent spontaneity and the way he messes with the audience. His liberal use of profanity is part of that, I guess, but it struck a false note with me--a false note that, in my delight at seeing him again for maybe the tenth time, I tried to ignore, but it wouldn't go away. I don't want Buddy to be like all those other slick and safe performers whom we endured to keep our prime locations on the grass, but on the other hand, the Waterfront Blues Festival is a family event. Lots of kids were there to hear him. I saw a kind photographer lift up a small child to the photo stand so that she could take a picture with her little camera. Doesn't "playing to the audience" mean taking the children into account, too?
Buddy Guy actually addressed the issue of profanity directly in talking with the audience. He said that for years he wondered why radio stations weren't playing blues, and thought that maybe the explanation was the rough language of the genre. But then he heard radio stations playing hip-hop lyrics that made the barroom language of blues performers seem tame. So why bother exercising restraint?--he seemed to imply.
OK, if I had to choose between Buddy Guy with his uncensored mouth and no Buddy Guy at all, I'd choose letting him say what he wants. But it will still feel like a false note.
While more popular hybrid bands play the festival's big stages, the music on the Front Porch Stage is often more traditional and rootsy. And that venue has benches and a real dance floor. I love hanging out at that stage because I hear acts that aren't as well known but still amazingly good. Among this year's standouts were Meschiya Lake and the Little Big Horns, Curley Taylor and Zydeco Trouble, Lisa Mann and Her Really Good Band, and Roberson and Beese.
Two performers were at the very top on terms of both musicianship and showmanship: Brother Yusef, and Grady Champion. Brother Yusef played solo, but he got a band's worth of sound out of his guitar and his foot-operated tambourine. His warmly humorous commentary put blues into musical and social context. Grady Champion was one of several very good harpists in the Bill Rhoades Harmonica Blow-Off (all backed by Bill's "house band" of incredible blues musicians)--but Grady has a star quality that could make him a worthy successor to Buddy Guy. And, at least this time, no false notes!
Donald Miller: "All Great Spirituality Is Subversive." I agree wholeheartedly, with one rhetorical caution: don't let being "subversive" (that is, quietly sabotaging the habits and bondages of this present world in favor of Gospel values) become another code word for being superior to other Christians.
"African Election 2011 Update."
"One Big Blagojevich Blamefest." Why do Illinois voters and politicians "collude" in spectacular mismanagement and corruption, election after election after election?
"The Mother of All No-Brainers." David Brooks wonders what has happened to his political party as it's poised to achieve all it could reasonably want.
In Russian but mostly pictures: Elektrostal architecture in four parts.