Daytona Blues Festival 2013: The Report from the Bleachers

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The 2013 Daytona Blues Festival seemed like all the years before this lead up to this killer three day weekend at Jackie Robinson Stadium.  The weather was beautiful with warm afternoons and cool evenings; and the line-up included seasoned veterans and young and up and coming acts that were first timers in Daytona.  The mix of acts ranged from country blues to swing to gritty soul and blues, gospel and rockabilly.  Each of the three days stood on their own with six acts each scheduled from 1PM until 10:30 every night.  You could not go wrong if you could only attend one day this weekend but the beauty of it went far beyond the three days of sun and blues.

To get the whole swinging weekend going, there was a pre-festival party hosted by Damon Fowler on Thursday night that went on to include performances by Daytona stalwart Victor Wainwright and Nick Black.  Then Bryan Redmond and Grand Marquis from Kansas City took the stage and they brought up our own Betty Lou Fox for a couple of songs.  Victor and the Wild Roots close out the evening at 1AM and we’re ready for Friday afternoon!

Early on Friday afternoon Betty Lou Fox opens up the festival and the light crowd does not mean Betty holds back.  The next act on the bill is Harper and Midwest Kind.  This Australian transplant currently hailing from Detroit is familiar to some of us on the blues festival circuit in Florida but what isn’t well known is that he’s famous for performing with an aboriginal instrument called the didgeridoo.  His harp playing was top notch but breaking out the ultra bass of this massive horn colored his blues in new and interesting ways.

Carolina boy Matt Hill and The Deep Fryed 2 brought their sense of tortured rebel blues and country honk for a raucous show.  This band’s work is reminiscent of Dave Alvin and the Blasters and their social commentary, and Matt is equally adept at writing riffs and hooks.  He always believes in taking the show to the audience and his guitar playing stroll included reaching the uppermost reaches of the stands in Jackie Robinson stadium.

Also notable for a return stint as Daytona Blues Fest MC is Dar Lopez from WKPX in Miami, the home of Sunday Blues with Dar since 1993!  The ever charming Dar is celebrating her 20 year anniversary hosting a nationally broadcasted show that is consistently recognized in south Florida as one of the best listener supported radio programs.  Just ask anybody with the South Florida Blues Society about their herculean support and efforts to keep Dar on the air.  For those of you not in south Florida and able to tune into 88.5 FM on Sundays, Dar’s show is also available at www.blueatheart.com.

There’s a short break and the line-up takes a sophisticated turn with Grand Marquis taking the stage.  These boys in the sharkskin suits featuring trumpet and sax lead the audience through that Kansas City swing to depression era blues.  Nice uptempo show that had the now growing crowd dancing.  Next up is one of the more journeyman acts in the blues, The Nighthawks.  They know what works and bring their tight fretwork to a boil.  The sun was just starting to go down and the band really lit up the band shell with a seasoned performance.

Tonight’s headliner is Tommy Castro and the Painkillers.  About a year ago, Tommy parted ways with his band of nearly 20 years that included a full horn section and keyboards in favor of band with only a bass player, Hammond B-3 and drums.  The result is Tommy tightening up the act to largely feature him on guitar and vocal with a blues rock sound that really worked up the crowd.  Tommy’s got this blues party kind of attitude and it was infectious as the band got everyone on their feet.  To cap the night off, Tommy brings up his partner from the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue, Ronnie Baker Brooks and the guitar duel is on!

The festival shifted gears from there as we all headed back over to the Bahama Breeze on International Speedway, the official host for the festival after parties all weekend.  The outside veranda surrounding the restaurant served nicely to accommodate everyone and there was even a gazebo that served as a makeshift band shell.  The hosts tonight are the Grand Marquis and after a couple of numbers, they brought Betty Lou Fox up for a series of songs that got everyone dancing again.  And if she wasn’t on vocals, Betty joined the party-goers down front for some hip-shakin’ fun.  To everyone’s delight, especially Betty’s, Ronnie Baker Brooks takes over on guitar for a few numbers!

The band takes five and the stage is taken over by Victor Wainwright and the Wild Roots with Tommy Castro on guitar!  Boogie woogie numbers dominate and it was obvious that the band was having a good time.  Nick Black took over as front man and the party wrapped up at nearly 1:30AM.  Whew!  The after parties are the shiznit!

Saturday is going to be more fun than we can all stand because today’s line-up includes eight microbreweries bringing their ice cold craft brews to the thirsty crowd.  Early on the crowd seemed light but as the day wore on, more and more folks showed up and there looked like a capacity crowd was in the house by dinner time.  Thankfully, for those of us who dared to stay up the previous night, the day started out with some traditional acoustic blues courtesy of Canadian Darren Johnson.  Darren’s a return performer to Daytona and one of the nicest guys on the blues circuit.  It’s a little disarming to talk to the guy before the show and then hear him up on stage use a voice like Howlin’ Wolf and his personal hero, Leon Redbone.

Next up is singer-songwriter Hadden Sayers and his band.  This Texan may have looked kind of unassuming and had a laid back style but him and the band have a level of sophistication that was subtle and unexpected and each member of the band was a master of his instrument.  Seeing his bass player, Mark Frye break out a flute at one point was a nice touch.  Hadden also performed his Handy Award nominee blues song of the year, Back To The Blues from his cd, Hard Dollar.

Another surprise for this Saturday afternoon was an appearance by renowned radio DJ Bill Wax!  Bill works for the Blues Foundation now and it was nice to hear his voice that was so familiar to us on Sirius XM radio.

E.G. Kight, the Georgia Songbird, brought a band with her and after seeing her a couple of times focus on her vocal and guitar work, this time the band was allowed to work out and she was unexpectedly in a rowdy mood.  Nice uptempo performance from a blues artist known for her acoustic shows.

The night would go on to be one party band after another from here on out.  Nashville resident blues icon Stacy Mitchhart has a unique take on double entendres and funky grooves that worked up the crowd as the sun set.  Another seasoned performer, he knew how to keep the crowd dancing and was good with a joke or story in-between the songs.  An all-around performer who did not disappoint.

The party really switched into high gear when Biscuit Miller and The Mix took the stage.  With a mix of soul and blues and funk, I could not believe how many people were up and dancing during this band’s performance.  Can somebody say, “Yeah, yeah, YEAH!”  By the time he got to the James Brown medley that ended the show, everybody in the stands was on their feet.

Not to be outdone, the headliner this night is Ronnie Baker Brooks!   There’s a guy on Hammond B-3, a four piece horn section, and a whole lot of soul-infected blues rock with Ronnie playing his trademark stinging leads.  He can bring the low down blues his father, Lonnie, played in the early blues days back in Houston; and the blues funk he learned in Chicago from the masters.

[I did not make the after-party this night.]

After two and a half days of heavy blues partying, we looking forward to an easy Sunday afternoon with Alexis P. Suter.  Her booming voice reminded me of Mahalia Jackson but the gospel number she started with soon brought out the rowdy rockin’ blues with a thundering rhythm section and scorching lead licks.   This band hailing from Brooklyn, New York featuring Jimmy Bennett on that guitar just refused to let the crowd have that hazy lazy Sunday afternoon and began a day that would be one long blues party.

Too Slim and The Taildraggers were not about to let up.  The blend of country honk and blues and southern rock teased the sun to see who would be hotter this afternoon.  Slim and the boys haven’t been to the east coast much but they’ve recently relocated to Nashville from the Pacific Northwest and we’re looking forward to these good ol’ boys bringing the blues ‘ZZ’ style to Florida again soon.

Louisiana’s Jon ‘Boogie’ Long got into everybody’s face right out of the gate.  Abusing his bright red Gibson in the very first song of his set, Jon stepped down off the stage to come down in front and show us some of his licks up close.  He strolled back up to the stage playing behind his head the whole time and the show was on!  He indeed, brought his infectious boogie with him and challenged the crowd to stand still while he was tearing the place up.

In the more traditional style of blues was journeyman harmonica player on the Memphis scene, Brandon Santini.  Brandon is a return performer to the Daytona Festival and for good reason, he’s a crowd favorite and leads a tight band through delta and west coast blues.  In addition to his work on the harp, Brandon is a fine singer and has a great voice that has earned him extensive airtime on Sirius XM radio.

In the mood to party and wanting to get the crowd into it again is J.P. Soars and The Red Hots.  In 2009 they won the International Blues Challenge in Memphis and J.P. was also acknowledged with the Albert King Award for his guitar work.  Learning to play guitar in Miami, J.P. plays a varied style that shifted from latin Santana infected riffs to boogie woogie and blues rock.  He’s also adept at playing a Diddley Bo his brother made for him that’s made of a plywood box, a stick, two strings and a pick-up.  From finger-picking to some searing slide work, J.P. can handle it all.

The festival closer and boogie kings, Victor Wainwright and the Wild Roots were not to be outdone.  Victor was well rested and in fine voice after taking off the last month and was ready to show everyone a good time.  He was humble enough to let each of his band members have their time soloing before sitting down at the piano with what have got to be the fastest hands east of the Mississippi.  From standing on his piano bench and urging the crowd to get into it or leading them in a little call and response, he was really enjoying himself and the crowd responded accordingly.  The party wasn’t going to be over either, until Victor said so and his set went on for two hours.

People from all over the U.S. and Canada were in Daytona for the culmination of the work of one man, Dominic Benecasa.  Having endured your usual concert promoter issues from personalities to rain in the past, none of that was on the table this year and the times I ran into Dominic throughout the weekend, he was all smiles.  He could be seen everywhere this weekend, from sitting at the entrance at the main gate to helping vendors load their wares, he was always working and didn’t take too much time to sit down.   Running into him at one of the after parties and hear him announce ‘record attendance’ made the weekend a huge success all around.  These are the kinds of weekends that make the Daytona Blues Festival a must-see event and makes you eager to be back next year for more!

[I did not make the after-party this night.  I was exhausted from the previous three and a half days!]

~ Daryll Davis

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