The Tampa Bay 2015 Blues Festival is right around the corner! The first one was in 1995, making this the 21st time that this shindig has been thrown at St. Petersburg’s Vinoy Park. It begins on Friday, April 10th, and runs through Sunday, the 12th. The festival kick-off party is actually Thursday night (April 9th at the Palladium) with Rod Piazza & the Mighty Flyers, who have graced the TBBF at least ten times in the festival’s history.
Friday’s headliner is Tower of Power, featuring the legendary Tower of Power horns. Surely you know the hits, but do yourself a favor and check out “Only So Much Oil in the Ground” and “A Little Knowledge (Is a Dangerous Thing).” But fasten your seatbelts first!
Rod Piazza and his boys play again on Friday, as does nasty gal Denise LaSalle, famous for such songs as “Lick It Before You Stick It” and “Your Husband is Cheating on Us.” John Nemeth and Brandon Santini round out the night’s bill. Nemeth, LaSalle and Santini also play the aftershow at the Palladium.
Saturday Boz Scaggs makes his first TBBF appearance. Scaggs’ career has covered many bases, but he is first, last and always a bluesman. His recent albums Memphis and A Fool to Care demonstrate his prowess. Delta blues slinger Tab Benoit and the Bernard Allison Group add a soulful punch to the festivities. Benoit and Allison have the aftershow.
Southern Hospitality is a new name, but the faces are very familiar. Damon Fowler and Victor Wainwright head up this Southern rock-style blues band on Sunday, joined on the afternoon by hard-rocking Albert Castiglia, Bryan Lee and Tampa Bay’s own Betty Fox.
There are three performers not yet mentioned, three you might not know or not know well. They come highly recommended; check them out online and in person.
Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters play Saturday. Earl has been recording since 1979, drenched first in the blues, then in a glorious mix of jazz and blues. He was a member for ten years with Roomful of Blues. He recorded a number of blues albums before Language of the Soul just exploded – no vocals, just searing, clean brilliant guitar work with a superb band. That continued through a series of albums including the wonderful The Colour of Love.
Earl would go on to collaborate with the great Duke Robillard (The Duke Meets Earl), and his recent albums, Just for Today (live) and Good News, add to his great discography. His guitar sings, and you can feel every note.
Carolyn Wonderland is a guitar slinger from Austin who also plays Saturday. That ought to be enough right there, but there is lots more to say. To my way of thinking, she belongs in the discussion with Susan Tedeschi, Kelley Richey and Ana Popovic as superb guitar slingers and singers as well. Let’s acknowledge right here that these ladies are great players, period. Wonderland’s big voice is occasionally compared to Janis Joplin’s, but here is the reality: Joplin was a great blues belter but not a great singer. Wonderland can sing! And her lap slide playing is beautiful.
Sunday is gospel time, and America’s premier sacred steel band The Lee Boys will grace the stage. They will lift you up and keep you there. There are few bands who touch you so deeply inside. They are a gospel band, but their message of moving with the spirit and feeling the music is positively universal. The sacred steel tradition from the church features the pedal steel guitar and/or lap steel guitar in addition to a rocking band. The instant that Alvin Lee kicks off “Going for Glory” or Derek Lee encourages everybody to “Dance With Me,” it’s a rave-up party.
The center of such a band, obviously, is the pedal steel player. Often, that chair belongs to Roosevelt Collier, acknowledged as the premier player on the scene. However, Chris Johnson has done a spectacular job as the focus of the band when Collier is on the road, and their shows are incendiary. The special sauce, however, is singer Keith Lee. I have seen thousands of musical performances, and I have never seen a man more filled with the spirit; it permeates the entire audience when he and brother Derek sing and dance. Finally, it IS all about that bass… and drums. Al Cordy and Earl “Big Easy” Walker are brilliant in driving this uplifting music.