Time For The Blues
The Monterey Bay Blues Festival delivers a weekend full of good times and good blues on the smaller stages.
Thursday, June 22, 2000
What''s Up, Chuck?
It''s that time of year. Time for a good party, with good music, good food and good people. You know what time it is: Time for the annual Monterey Bay Blues Festival.
I''m not going to go into a whole long rap about the festival, all you really need at this point is a synopsis and maybe some suggestions. Now in its 15th year, MBBF has become one of the premier blues fests in the country, annually attracting sellout crowds for the mainstage acts. (A week prior to opening, a spokesperson for the fest estimated tickets for the mainstage acts were "more than 95 percent" sold, and that the festival board expected about 30,000 people to go through the gates this year.) So, if you don''t have tickets to the arena now, you''ll have to be pretty damn lucky to find one being hawked on the streets outside the fairgrounds.
While those kinds of numbers have remained stable for a couple years, this year marks one big change for the festival. In previous years, much of the festival''s management has been through Bostrom Management and Bob Massaro. With Massaro charting a different course, MBBF has taken over full management of the event.
According to Julie Paissant, first vice president of MBBF and its publicity person, the split was amicable and Massaro has offered his advice to the novice management team.
"Some very positive things happened for him and his group, and they decided they couldn''t do everything well.
"We do have an interim executive director, [longtime board member] Martin Puentes," Paissant continues. "And we have staff that''s handling a lot of things. It is a lot more work for us, but it''s not something that we didn''t expect--we just didn''t realize how soon it was going to happen. Sometimes life throws you a curve, and you pick up the bat and take a swing at it."
As festivals go, MBBF remains one of the most mellow, friendly events, year in and year out. The audience may be the most racially mixed crowd for any local festival, and if the person standing behind you in the catfish-and-hush-puppies line isn''t your neighbor...you get the feeling they might as well be. There''s a family feeling to the whole gig.
For me, that''s one of the big attractions to the festival. Doesn''t really matter if I can get into the mainstage or not. There''s plenty enough music and camaraderie going on throughout the grounds that it can make up for missing the headliners.
But, just for the record, here are the big names on the big stage this year. Friday evening: Deborah Coleman, Jimmy McGriff/Hank Crawford, and Ashford and Simpson (the duo who wrote "Let''s Go Get Stoned," "Ain''t No Mountain High Enough," "Ain''t Nothing Like the Real Thing," and other MoTown hits.) Saturday afternoon: Rod Piazza, Sista Monica, Little Jimmy King and the Neville Brothers. Saturday night: Lucky Peterson, Barbara Morrison, Johnny Otis and Little Milton. Sunday afternoon: Candye Kane, Trudy Lynne, Ruth Brown (and friends), Shemekia Copeland and Peggy Scott Adams.
Still, unless you already have tickets, you''re more likely to be making choices from among the groups at the two smaller stages on the grounds. (See sidebar for complete lineups.)
Although these stages are dominated by performers who make regular appearances in the Monterey area--primarily at Sly McFly''s or at Seaside''s many musical festivals--there are several who don''t get to town very often. These are the performers who will rate high on my must-see list this weekend, and, when you''re forced to make a choice between stages, these would be my suggestions.
Right from the get-go, the decisions are tough. The closing performance on the President''s Stage pits well-known, good-time blueser Elvin Bishop against funky newcomer Deborah Coleman. I''ll probably split my time between the two stages, with the lion''s share going to Coleman. There''s something very comfortable about Bishop, but I''m intrigued by the energy I hear in Coleman''s recorded work. Not only does she serve as vocalist, but she''s the lead guitarist in her band. The blues in her music sometimes almost gets buried under her rock and funk, but then she''ll cut loose with an Albert Collins-ish riff and the foundation of her music is laid bare. Probably what got her nominated in 1998 for the Best Female Contemporary Blues Artist WC Handy Award.
I''ll be at the President''s Stage on Saturday afternoon to catch Tom Ball and Kenny Sultan for some good acoustic blues. Nothing fancy here. Just really good guitar and harmonica work, delivered by a pair of amiable guys. And I''ll mostly hang out there for the rest of the afternoon, so I can catch Terry Hiatt and Lori Hofer (yeah, yeah, they''re regulars at Sly''s, but they''re good) and Sista Monica (OK, OK, she was just in town, but I missed her). And I''ll keep my seat to catch Kaye Bohler, who''s become a regular fixture on the Santa Cruz blues scene in the last couple of years. She mixes a nice blend of swingin'', jazzy blues with some downright gut-bustin'' shouters. And that means, I''ll be in position to catch the roadhouse jump and swing of the Blowin'' Smoke Rhythm and Blues Band, up from the Los Angeles area.
On Sunday, my itinerary is less jammed, which means I''ll have more time to mingle, but I''ll definitely want to see traditionalist Cephas and Wiggins on the Garden Stage and Jake Sampson on the President''s stage.
Monterey Bay Blues Festival. Friday, 6-11pm; Saturday, 10:30am-11pm; Sunday, 10:30am-10pm. Monterey Fairgrounds. Grounds passes: $50/all three days; $17/Friday only; $23/Saturday OR Sunday. 394-2652.
After the party at the Fairgrounds is over, the blues party continues at Sly McFly''s each night. Headlining the Sly''s gig on Friday is Santa Cruz blues man John Morris, and on Saturday Kaye Bohler makes her Sly''s debut. And on Sunday, there''s a sort of Blues Fest jam session that''s likely to attract some of the weekend''s performers. Tough to say who else might show up, but the gig is hosted by Taylor P. Collins and John "Broadway" Tucker.
John Morris, Friday, 9pm; Kaye Bohler, Saturday, 9pm; Jam Session, Sunday, 9pm. Sly McFly''s. 649-8050.
But if blues is really not your thing, you can take shelter at Morgan''s Coffee and Tea on Friday, where Hart Rouge is performing. The quintet does a sort of contemporary folk thing blending French and English lyrics in a sound described as Nouvelle French. It''s an invigorating, uptempo sound not quite like anything else I''ve heard.
By Saturday, however, what shelter blues-o-phobes found at Morgan''s will have disappeared when Chris Smither comes to town. Smither is a very fine finger-pickin'' blues guitar dude, who writes much of his own material--and delivers lyrics that are as cutting and evocative as any body who''s working the singer/songwriter circuit. There''s an Associated Press clip that about sums the music up: "Think of a wandering Zen troubadour with a blue guitar, a hot finger-picking style and a gravelly voice that could make any material sound deep and cool...Chris Smither is all that and more."
Hart Rouge, Friday, 8pm. $10/door; Chris Smither, Saturday, 8pm, $15/door. Morgan''s Coffee and Tea, 373-1479.