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Joe Harewicz’s Duluth Blues Festival Report

Joe Harewicz reporting in Duluth

Three days, two stages… a variety of genres and weather framed by the dramatic Lake Superior. Just a small part of year 29 at one of America’s great music festivals, The Duluth Bayfront Blues Fest.

The setting: Duluth Minnesota’s Bayfront Park, on the shores of the world’s largest inland sea, Lake Superior (aka: Gitche Gumee).

The fest delivered, from the opening night as Robert Randolph jammed, to Kim Wilson & the Thunderbirds who slammed. On closing night, an inspired Lucky Peterson commandeered a blues fest golf cart for a freewheeling guitar solo that put a new spin on the crowd walk. Like the majority of artists who play Bayfront, Lucky feels fortunate to headline a festival that for close to 3 decades has demonstrated a deep appreciation of the blues. “There’s a variety of great blues artists here” Lucky mused “They book many styles and the audience knows and has plenty respect for the music, we can feel that on stage and the artists play off that, as a result, the performances in Duluth are special.”

On Sunday, the last day of Bayfront, a Lake Superior fog bank oozed over the twin ports of Duluth and Superior WI. After the last chord was played, the blues party traveled a few blocks downtown to one the Duluth neighborhood bars brave enough to host a Blues Fest after party… and it did not disappoint.

Roscoe’s Pioneer Bar has been a part of Duluth’s 1st street, in one form or another (with a few errant chapters), since the turn of the century. Roscoe sits kitty corner from the Duluth YMCA on cobblestone streets that should last another century. A long wooden bar leads to a performance space with exposed brick, duct work, soft lighting and decent acoustics. In short: a great space for a blues show.

Holding court for a four day mini-residency at Roscoe’s was seminal blue band, Reverend Raven and the Chain Smoking Alter Boys. From classic shuffles to slow blues, Revered Raven led a tight four piece band with plenty of accolades. They’ve been nominated for a Grammy and voted best blues band in Milwaukee for five years.

The Reverend combines commanding stage presence with superb technique, tone and super expressive guitar face.

It also allowed the band a chance to stretch out. “We’re out on the road 20 days a month, playing the music we love, but four nights at Roscoe’s allows us to get out of our standard material, dig a little deeper, experiment a bit, push the blues boundaries.”

At stage right is harmonica ace West Side Andy, who filled the room at Roscoe’s with warm, fat Chicago style harp. “It’s all about the tone,” shared West Side Andy Lindeman, as he nursed a Jameson neat. “Tone for sure, but you need the great chops” Andy, who calls Madison, Wisconsin home, has been plying the blues harp trade for 40 plus years, with total command of warbles, glissandos and triplets. Andy plays traditional Chicago style, with subtle nods to the masters of the blues harp. “You’re gonna hear some Big Walter Horton, Little Walter, Junior Wells, Sugar Blue and James Cotton. All the players who had something to say to me, it becomes a part of you and your sound.”

On this Sunday night in Duluth, as the moody, foggy mist from Lake Superior covered the town, the sound from Roscoe’s pierced the night like the fog horn.

After 3 decades of great performances, the Bayfront Blues Festival settles into legacy status. It’s a music festival that continues to grow. And the after party in downtown Duluth is one more reason to take in the blues on the shores of mighty Gitche Gumee.

For more information, visit: www.bayfrontblues.com

UP NEXT…

Bouncing around NYC in the Village, at Terra Blues for a set of traditional blues with harmonica devotee, Steve Guygur.

The Philly based artist is loyal to the fat tone of the 50’s, and the Rocky Balboa of the blues moved the crowd in this legendary New York club.

For more information, visit: http://www.terrablues.com/cal/thismonth.html

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