This past weekend, blues-icians from all over the world gathered on Beale Street in Memphis for the International Blues Competition to see who had the best sauce.
Of course, it came from Kansas City.
Next weekend, the biggest blues explosion in the world will go down in Memphis at the International Blues Challenge on Beale Street. More than 100 bands from Australia to Croatia will represent in this competition that is sponsored by the Blues Foundation, an American nonprofit that provides medical and dental care and funeral expenses for blues musicians and their families.
I caught up with three local musicians who will make the 450-mile trip for the competition and showcase: Bryan Redmond (lead singer and saxophonist from the swing-jump-blues band the Grand Marquis), Mary Bridget Davies (frontwoman of the Mary Bridget Davies Group) and Jason Vivone (solo entrant, member of the Billy Bats).
Since Fish has been overseas, she's been recording her first album and touring with RUF's Blues Caravan 2011, which also features British soul musician Dani Wilde and Otis Taylor's daughter, Cassie Taylor. Their Lindewerra show this Thursday night is already sold-out.
All of this comes before Samantha Fish turns 22 next week.
By the time I finally got to see B.B. King at the Midland this past Friday night, it was too late.
I wasn't too late because I was waiting in line for a bowl of Mongolian BBQ across the street or looking for a $10 parking spot -- it was too late, figuratively.
"Just don't be mean, okay?" my boyfriend said to me after the show as the stage lights were growing brighter and the blues legend was still on stage, signing autographs and tossing out guitar picks. Most of the sold-out audience either left already or was filing out, grumbling on the way.
It was sweet, really. Throughout his performance, King kept saying he was having fun. I suppose he was telling the truth. Shortly after coming on stage, he announced, "I can't see you, but I can hear you." The Beale Street Blues Boy is 84 now and entered (and exited) with the help of a three-man entourage.
Riley B. King played (maybe) eight songs throughout his 90+ minute set, his rich voice sometimes drowned out by the four-man horn section. Sitting in a high-backed red chair, it seemed he would play a few strong riffs, then mellow out or just stop altogether. The energy of the crowd went way down after he started. King garnered very few catcalls and whistles from the mostly white, middle-aged crowd in comparison to Buddy Guy.
Once the horn men left, the talking began. Before going into "See That My Grave is Kept Clean," the classic cover originally written by Blind Lemon Jefferson, King announced, "I'm from Mississippi and I carry a knife," a segueway into one-sided discussion about women ("I've never seen an ugly woman") and the first couple verses of "You Are My Sunshine."
And then that's when the talking really began... and people started leaving.
King kept promising to play "The Thrill is Gone," but well, it took awhile. First, the audience would have to hear about Levitra, Cialis and powers of Mogen David wine (the makers of MD 20/20, FYI). He apologized for not playing "Hummingbird," and continued on.
The rest of the horn section finally came back to bring it home. They stood around, looking rather bored, then eventually exited the stage towards the middle of the set. After delivering "The Thrill is Gone," they left again, leaving The King to say farewell to the front rows, who presumably paid $132.50 for a ticket.
On the other hand, Buddy Guy gave the crowd (part of) what they wanted: a full-on Chicago Blues explosion. Along with his amazing keyboardist, Marty Sammon, Guy delivered the classics: "Slippin' Out, Slippin' In," a Muddy Waters medley of "Hoochie Coochie Man/She's 19 Years Old/Love Her with a Feeling and a particularly rousing performance of "Drowning on Dry Land." It was pretty fucking awesome.
B.B. King, however, was more gentle to his guitar. It's hard to say whether he'll be back in Kansas City. His age and condition have taken their toll on the man who still has at least 30 dates left to play (including five in South America) in 2010. I suppose I could sum up the experience with a quote from Guy, who in regards to his own performance, announced "I didn't like a damn thing, but he gave me the best he had."
Shinetop Jr. has the market cornered on blues piano in this city.
The KC native, a.k.a. Mike Sedovic, who occasionally gigs with Levee Town, Trampled Under Foot and John Paul's Flying Circus has also been nominated for a 2009 Pitch Music Award. Check out his boogie piano solo show every Wednesday night at B.B.'s Lawnside BBQ. Need a preview? Click the link for some footage of a show he played last year in Brazil.
The Pitch: How long have you been playing piano?
Shinetop Jr.: I've been playing piano for over 30 years - basically since I could reach the keys.
What is on your turntable?
I've just recently moved over to the iPod side of things, so I now carry around my whole collection on one device. Depending on my mood, I listen to everything from classical to metal. If I pushed play on my iPod right now, you would get some Brazilian music. My favorite is to put the iPod on shuffle and see which of the 12,000+ songs come up.
Where is your favorite place to play or see a show in KC?
There are a lot of great venues in KC, but with my playing style, I like B.B.'s Lawnside BBQ the best. When the music gets going, the place just seems to breathe with the beat. Plus, it's hard to pass on the barbecue and cajun food they serve.
Who do you think is the most influential person in the KC blues world?
Everyone has influential players unique to themselves... I owe most of
what I know to my former band, the Blues Notions and Lindsay Shannon. In my mind, I think Lee McBee has inspired and continues to inspire players, young and old. Part of being a blues musician in KC is sharing the love and knowledge of the music with anyone willing to listen. It's like a family.
How do you rate the blues culture in other cities that you've played in or been to, compared to KC?
The funny thing about the Blues is that it transcends culture. West Coast, East Coast, Chicago, Memphis, KC, even Brazil - it all plays about the same. It's the feel or the groove that changes. Kansas City has that "swing" that sets it apart from other cities and it's a big hit around the
This past weekend, I headed west to the KCK Street Blues Festival, a completely homegrown gathering on 13th and State Avenue.
Folding chairs and cooler in tow, my friend and I found spots in the grass around 6:00 and relaxed amongst the diverse crowd while the donation buckets came around, the kids chased each other and smells of grilled goodness wafted through the thick evening air.
There were a few honorees of the ninth "almost annual" festival (there was no event in 2007 due to lack of funds), most notably, the recently passed repeat performers Tommy "Soul" Williams and King Alex Littlejohn.
The festival, though, belonged to Diana "Mama" Ray, leader of KC's longest running jam session and assiduous fundraiser for the past 47 years in these parts.
This weekend, for the price of five cans of Beanee Weenees, three cans of hominy and two cans of peaches, you can see some of the finest blues bands in KC tomorrow at B.B.'s Lawnside BBQ.
Blues fans have reason to be glad this weekend -- and, to carry the pun further, cause to get stoned. The (mostly free) Gladstone BluesFest kicks off on Friday at Oak Grove Park in North Kansas City (76th and North Troost).
On Friday night starting at 6 p.m., see locals King King, northeast Missouri's B.J. Allen & Blue Voodoo and, all the way from Atlanta, the Chris Duarte Group.
In a new twist for midtown, sweet rockin' harmonica sounds are coming to Record Bar tomorrow night, courtesy of this hombre.
Have you ever felt the spirit at Knuckleheads?
In the back of the biker-friendly blues venue in the East Bottoms, there is third stage, back behind the bathroom. In this small, intimate, three-room area, Reverend Carl Butler hosts Gospel Lounge every Wednesday from 7:30 to about 8:45 p.m.
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