Review by: Yvette Simmons
This is THE BLUES … And then some..
photo credit: Jay Blakesberg
It would be a stretch to try and measure just how many were in attendance this past weekend at the 2014 Doheny Blues Festival (Saturday and Sunday, May 17th- 18th), but it will suffice to say that as far as the eye could see there were beach chairs, blankets, and PEOPLE….lots and lots of PEOPLE… I'm talking people EVERYWHERE... And falling in perfect alignment for a wonderful blues weekend was the climate along the Dana Point, CA beach coast; Timed just right switching from a week of unseasonably extreme heat to a weekend of moderate warmth it amounted to a still warm (but breezy) afternoon and evening. What a welcomed and heaven-sent gift.
The Festival, which has been going strong for 17 years, once again hosted a plethora of dynamic artists jamming on 3 stages over 2 days. The schedule is such that one has to make some pretty tough decisions i.e. which artist and stage to set up permanent camp for the evening and since some of the performances are taking place simultaneously that can further present a perplexing challenge. An enticing component that also adds to the equation would have to be the dozens of vendors that are present on the festival grounds from the scrumptious dining choices like catfish, sausages, pork nachos, BBQ to the hip apparel and trendy merchandise like handbags, shoes, shirts, hats, art, and jewelry. There is also no doubt that one of the most exciting attributes of such a festival as "Doheny Blues Festival" has to be the rare opportunity to experience so many major artists all in one setting while at the same time gaining new exposure to likewise very talented but sometimes less visible artists.
Earl Thomas and the Rhumboogies - photo credit: Jay Blakesberg
Artists representing this year's main stage were bonafide "heavy hitters," for instance there was Earl Thomas and the Rhumboogies. Originating out of San Diego they are a tight unit of musicians with a soulful sound fronted by the smooth Thomas. The supporting cast is comprised of (saxophonist) Jonny Viau, (bassist) Scott Smart and (pianist) Taryn Donath. Thomas is a 3rd generation blues man (his father played blues guitar and his grandfather played fiddle) and he really set the festival gala off when he opened by rocking the pounding "C'mon Let The Good Times Roll." The performance turned (expectedly) humorous when they launched into the next song. With lyrics like "I love the way she shakes that thang" the "butt" was the focus and it certainly wasn't the last time it would be the focus as the evening wore on. And in case anyone isn't absolutely clear…..this butt truly is a "thang" rather than a "thing" at least from the perspective of the Rhumboogies.
The Mannish Boys - photo credit : Greg Simmons
When The Mannish Boys featuring Kid Ramos and SugarRay Rayford took the stage, between Rayford's gyrating pelvic thrusts and his vocal delivery which wreaked with traditional gospel influences especially on the pleading tune "Baby Forgive Me" the tone for the rest of the evening was set. The challenge for The Mannish Boys though was their performance position (they performed at the exact same time as popular 17 year old vocalist/guitarist Matthew Curry. Although Curry was performing at the much smaller "Back Porch" he showed the flavor of his sauce by attracting a very large and responsive crowd. It was one of the most lively sets of the afternoon…(A comment heard around the venue during Curry's performance… "I'm surprised "it" (Curry's guitar) still has strings on it!.") Curry may be just cutting his teeth by some accounts but he is an artist that we are certain to hear from in a mighty way in the very near future. Curry's performance was the first encore of the afternoon which speaks volumes of his crowd pleasing ability.
JW Jones - photo credit: Jay Blakesberg
Meanwhile right next door at the "Sailor Jerry" stage guitarist JW Jones (direct from Canada), Jamie Holmes (drums), and Laura Greenberg (bass) prepared to throw down. (A chick on BASS is always refreshing to see). A three man and woman band was all that was needed to project a really BIG sound. Jones set drummer Holmes in the spotlight with a game of synchronized drumming with Jones orchestrating Holmes' beats on cue.
Buddy Guy - photo credit: Jay Blakesberg
Day 1 Headliners... That could only mean 6 time Grammy award winner, the one and only Buddy Guy! This Blues Royalty showed just why he is considered one of the top 10 blues artists of all time and at the age of 77 years young, Guys' package is every bit as liberally colorful, eccentric and profanity laced as ever. Buddy "Damn right I got the Blues from my head down to my shoes" Guy took total charge educating his audience that "Blues is about everyday life." At one point Guy, in his trademark polka dot shirt, came out with "us" into the audience to get reach out and touch close.. When he returned to the stage he delighted us by using his (again trademark) "wah wah" pedal launching into a quick rendition of the Rolling Stones "Satisfaction" and then Isaac Hayes' "Do your Thing" to wrap it up.
The Gregg Allman - photo credit: Jay Blakesberg
The Gregg Allman Band closed out day 1 and were they worth the wait.. Opening with the rousing "I'm no Angel," Allman, killing on his Hammond B-3 was simply amazing. Complete with horn section he reminded the world of what real music really is. At age 67 he has not slowed his pace in spite of reported health challenges. He is still just as exciting as he was in the early 70's with the Allman Brothers.. Tunes like "Sweet Feelin' and the uptempo "Don't Keep Me wondering," an upbeat groove performed with a full orchestra and Mindi Abair, helped Allman to close with a bang.
Mindi Abair joining The Gregg Allman set. Photo credit: Gail Hyams Burlingame
James Cotton Blues Band - photo credit: Jay Blakesberg
Day 2 main stage started with The James Cotton Blues Band which means country blues at its finest. The raspy voiced Cotton's throat challenges did not stop him from delivering a head boppin' fine performance although performances these days may be a bit fewer in frequency. Cotton, along with his trusty harmonica, really touched his audience. Accompanied by Noel Neal on (guitar) Jerry Porter on (drums) Darryl Nulisch on (vocals) and Tom Howard on (guitar) Cotton let the Doheny Blues Fest audience know that he had finally "found something good, I'm gonna put everybody down, finally got lucky… found me a girl that's on the ground."
Keb' Mo' - photo credit: Jay Blakesberg
When Keb' Mo' hit the stage, (a returning festival favorite) his ability to understand and relate well to his audience took over. And before launching into songs from his new release "Blues Americana" he struck gold with the cream of his most loved compositions, the hysterical "Government Cheese" which he dedicated to "all the people who were ever on welfare" and the very heartfelt tune about pride and acceptance "You don't have to shave "yo" legs… for me." Keb' Mo,' (gov'ment name Kevin Moore) brought the tempo way up with "The Whole Enchilada" a tune from his last CD.
Mindi Abair, Ruthie Foster, Keb' Mo' photo credit: Greg Simmons
One cool segment was when smooth jazz saxtress Mindi Abair and vocalist Ruthie Foster graced the stage with Keb' Mo' to perform "Dangerous Mood." When he took on his new material it was in the form of "The Worst Is Yet To Come" and then "Somebody Hurt You."
Continuing the array of first class performances Gov't Mule fit right in. On the tune "Inside Outside Woman Blues" the guitar was clearly speaking.. With tones of rock, blues and even funk. the guitar work alone on this cut once again showed off the general diversity of what the blues really are. "The Mule" performed this tune with such an edge that it's clear to see why their legions of fans were on their feet in appreciation from the beginning to the end of the set.
Ruthie Foster - photo credit: Jay Blakesberg
Across campus at the neighboring stages we had Ruthie Foster with her absolutely heart wrenching instrument of a voice taking on a life of its own. Foster belted like there was no tomorrow and her loyal fans embraced her performance in appreciation. Vintage Trouble's Ty Taylor had time to skip back and forth between stages serving as a special guest with Gov't Mule as they rendered "Take Me To The River" a cover written and originally performed by Al Green still making it back to the "Sailor Jerry" Stage to perform with his own raw soul band "Vintage Trouble." Attired in a red dinner jacket and dancing up a storm Taylor's vocals have been compared to the vocals of Otis Redding.
Doobie Brothers - Photo credit: Gail Hyams Burlingame
Closing out the 2 day festival was the hallowed Doobie Brothers and those that were previously sitting were soon on their feet as the first chords of "Jesus Is Just Alright With Me" rang out. To say they set it off would be accurate. The Doobie Brothers have been in the business for years and yet the appeal they have to this day cannot be understated. Their perfect harmonic blend is something they will always be revered for. They gave the audience a dose of the favorites "Take Me In Your Arms (Rock me a little while)" which was a winner as were "Black Water" and "Takin' it to the streets."
"Officer Byrd" photo by Greg Simmons
The entertainingly down to earth nature of the blues gives it the ability to attract anyone... You never know who you might run into enjoying this beloved genre. At the Doheny Blues Festival this year it happened to be Petrie Hawkins "Byrd" the longtime bailiff on the Judge Judy television show for the past 17 years. When asked to put his own spin on what the Blues REALLY are, at least to him… Byrd shares his wisdom. "Whether your blues are the I ain't got no more money" type OR the "my stock portfolio is worth half of what it was type, it's all relative, and it's all TRUTH." He adds that there are even "joyful blues" which would be the "I got a good woman and she's putting up with me blues."
Either way when it comes down to the Blues........Ain't No Rules.