Powered by

Search bayweekly.com
Search WWW

Volume 13, Issue 20 ~ May19 - 25 2005
Letters to the Editor
Earth Talk
Dr. Gouin's Bay Gardener
Weekly Crab Forecast

Way Downstream

Were I Live
Bill Burton
Earth Journal
8 Days a Week
Destination Chesapeake
On Exhibit

Music Notes

Curtain Call
Movie Times
News of the Werid
Free Will Astrology
Classified Advertising
Display Advertising
Distribution Spots
Behind Bay Weekly
Contact Us
Submit Letters to Editor Online

Submit Your Events Online

photo by Ian Furlong
The Blues are back … But that’s nothing to cry about
Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival returns to Sandy Point State Park
by Paula Anne Delve Phillips

The blues were born on the Mississippi Delta and grew up in Chicago. In the last century, its magic has been captured on vinyl, tape, CDs, on video and DVD. The deep compelling sound of heartache and redemption and loves lost and found has been propelled via radio towers and satellites to the far corners of the globe.

Still, blues is best when served up live: when each piece is freshly interpreted in the moment by the real life characters on stage. The life experiences that line their faces help create nuances of style and musical texture. The famous loop is created as the excitement and anticipation feeds back from the audience to the musicians who take it in and exhale with great virtuosity and feeling.

Chesapeake Country cultivated its taste for live blues during the five-year run of the Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival, beginning in 1998. Then, in 2003 and 2004, the festival scaled down, and we went hungry. Now we feast again as the Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival returns to Sandy Point State Park Saturday and Sunday, May 21 and 22.

The festival feeds more than local tastes. It’s a major East Coast event, drawing up to 30,000 people over two days and simulcast to soldiers in Iraq.

Yet admission is only the cost of a double bill at most area nightclubs, and the proceeds benefit four local charities rather than lining the pockets of big-time promoters.

For these two days in May, we are home to the blues.

Electric guitar pioneer Hubert Sumlin
The Blues Nation
Living legends like harmonica player James Cotton and his lifelong friend, electric guitar pioneer Hubert Sumlin, perform on Saturday, along with another of the last great Mississippi blues men, pianist Joe Willie ‘Pinetop’ Perkins. Best known for his tenure with Muddy Waters — as are many other musicians playing this festival — Perkins created a style of blues that has influenced three generations of piano players. He and his cronies may have entertained your dad or even your granddad. Like fine wine, the blues are better with aging.

Younger icons like Shemekia Copeland, Dr. John and Delbert McClinton — all appearing on Sunday– each put their own stamp on the sound.

New Yorker Copeland pleases audiences with her vocal diversity, from raspy whispers to belting crescendos. The daughter of Texas bluesman Johnny Clyde Copeland, she was raised in Harlem. Her 1998 Alligator recording Turn the Heat Up had that effect on her career. She has performed all over the United States, headlining such venues as the Chicago Blues Festival, Milwaukee’s Summerfest and the Monterey Jazz Festival. Abroad, she commanded the stage of the North Sea Festival and the Montreaux Festival.

Better known as Dr. John, Malcolm John Rebennack Jr. flavors the blues with Louisiana roots. Born in the 1940s to a record store owner, Dr. John joined with other New Orleans and Texas blues artists and took the blues to a new dimension, adding more upbeat rhythms and syncopation, more complex instrumentation and jazzy funk. The young musician moved to Los Angelos to do session work, and on borrowed studio time recorded the 1973 hit, “Right Place, Wrong Time,” which launched his career.

blues woman Shemekia Copeland (top) and harmonica legend James Cotton (bottom)
Grammy award winner Delbert McClinton, known as one of the world’s most electrifying live performers, grew his musical roots near Ft. Worth, Texas, as a member of the Straitjackets, a house band for a rhythm and blues club. The harp-playing vocalist was schooled by a host of top names like Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Reed and Sonny Boy Williamson as they rolled through the town. He began recording in the 1960s with Bruce Channel, giving the young John Lennon a hand on blues harp while touring in England. McClinton first recorded under his own name in 1975. His 1980s’ album, The Jealous King, featured “Giving It Up For Your Love,” which is a perennial crowd pleaser.

Soul Connection
Blues is part soul, and this year’s revived Blues Festival has a strong soul music connection. Saturday’s show peaks with Isaac Hayes at 6:30pm. As the voice of Chef in the South Park television series begun in 1997, Hayes is a voice instantly recognizable to at least two generations of Americans. That’s a second leap of fame in a career that predates the disco movment as well as rap, for Hayes became famous in 1971 for his connection with the blaxploitation film Shaft.

Hayes was born in Tennessee and raised by his grandparents after his parents died when he was only five. He began singing in church and taught himself piano, organ and saxophone before moving to Memphis to play the club circuit. Early on he played on several sessions with Otis Redding for Stax Records, leading to an association with songwriter David Porter. The two wrote some 200 songs including such classics as “When Something is Wrong With My Baby,” “Soul Man” and “Hold on I’m Coming.”

Hayes made his commercial breakthrough in 1989 with his second album, Hot Buttered Soul. The distinctive album included four long songs with sensual grooves. About then, Hayes took on his trademark soul image: shaved head, sunglasses and gold jewelry. With the release of the blaxplotation movie Shaft in 1971, Hayes became the first African-American composer to win an Academy Award for Best Score. More recently he worked as a musician and arranger with Alicia Keys.

Sunday’s show climaxes with the great Memphis rhythm-and-blues session group Booker T and the MGs. The band’s guitarist, Steve Cropper, is co-author of over a dozen unforgettable hits such as “Dock of the Bay,” “In the Midnight Hour,” “Soul Man,” “Knock on Wood,” and “Born Under a Bad Sign.”

Local Talent Opens
As always, the Chesapeake Bay Blues Band crams regional talent into an all-star blues band. The band plays the opening set on Saturday’s show at about 11am after a
Local favorite Deanna Bogart, top, funk and soul icon Isaac Hayes
rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” by Hyattsville native, singer-guitarist Cathy Ponton King. This year’s local lineup features Edgewater guitarist and singer Dean Rosenthal as bandleader and coordinator.

A proud third-generation resident of Woodland Beach in Southern Anne Arundel County, Rosenthal named his tune “Hoodlum Beach” for the old working class neighborhood he comes from. Hoodlum Beach makes a great blues residence, but if neighborhood gentrification continues, he may have to move.

Rosenthal, who has played locally since 1975, is known for his good humor and musicianship on his National Steel and other guitars, the harmonica or the dobro. A fine singer, he is considered one of the best slide-guitar players in the region.

Middle-aged fans remember his tamer work of the 1980s in Wheatley Dean. He later hit harder with the blues sound, keeping it fresh with local collaborations with such artists as Jay Turner, Meg Murray and Mary Byrd Brown. His 2003 self-produced release Skeleton Keys is a retrospective of the years 1987 to 2002, a sort of local blues history.

A beloved player and consummate professional, Rosenthal is a fixture at the Blues Fest and loves playing with the older blues greats. “I had a picture taken with Hubert Sumlin,” Rosenthal says. “He’s the one who came up with all those great guitar licks for Howlin’ Wolf. I have it on my nightstand. I’m gonna take it back to the festival this year and try to get him to sign it for me.”

Rosenthal also loves playing in the all-star band.

“It’s a big treat for me,” he says. “The first year they asked me to play with my band, I went and played with the Resophonics.” He was asked to organize a battle of the bands the following year, something more appropriate to high school kids than professionals. He came up with a workable alternative that has become tradition.

“The second year I said I’d call five or six name players from other area bands and put together one band,” he says. “That worked really well, and the crowd really loved it. Some of these people play these kinds of festivals all over the world. They just happen to live in the area.”

The Line-Up

Saturday, May 21

11:00am Chesapeake Bay Blues Band
12:15pm The Nighthawks with Rev.
Billy C. Wirtz
1:30pm Mavis Staples
3:00pm Canned Heat
6:30pm Isaac Hayes

Sunday, May 22

11:00am Melanie Mason Band
noon Jimbo Mathus & Knockdown
1:30pm Shemekia Copeland
3:00pm Dr. John
4:45pm Delbert McClinton
6:30pm Booker T and the MGs
On stage with Rosenthal this year are Cathy Ponton King; nationally known singer, keyboard and sax boogie woogie-blusion player Deanna Bogart; jazz and blues tenor sax player Ron Holloway; organist Tommy Lepson; Nighthawks drummer Pete Regusa; Junkyard Saints accordion player Brian Simms; singer-guitarist Linwood Taylor; and Hubcaps bass player (formerly with the Nighthawks) Jan Zukowki.

The Nighthawks have been entertaining crowds in the D.C. area for three decades in literally thousands of shows, since the band was founded in 1972 by harp player Mark Wenner and guitarist Jimmy Thackery. Current and former band members are always showing up on the Blues Fest stage.

This year the Nighthawks are the second band in the official festival lineup with the Rev. Bill C. Wirtz on keyboards. A churchman by name only, Wirtz generally heaps a good deal of irreverent comedy along with his music.

New Orleans boogie master Dr. John.
Another locally grown music act begins the show on Sunday. Poised for stardom, the D.C.-area Melanie Mason Band is garnering plenty of press for its strong suite of original and classic tunes. Mason is a singer, songwriter and guitarist who excels as a solo acoustic player (as she did on her second album) and as a rousing electric player. Winner of the 2003 D.C. Blues Society International Blues Challenge and other awards, she shines with her group featuring Sam Goodall on bass and vocals and El Torro Gamble on drums. They were joined by Tommy Lepson on keys for her recent third album, Live at Blues Alley.

Making a Festival
Who would want to take on so much work? The festival was conceived by producer Don Hooker for two reasons: “One,” he says, “I wanted to find a way to use my talents and the talents of my staff to raise money for charities rather than just writing a check at the end of the year. Number two: the East Coast needed a major blues festival.”

An arsenal of 800 volunteers — including 100 from Hooker’s retail servicing software company, ADS — helped Booker launch the first Blues Festival in 1998 at Sandy Point’s East Beach. “We expected 1,000 people to 1,500,” Booker recalls. “We got 13,000 — in 40-mile-per-hour horizontal winds.”

“We were overwhelmed the first year, “ he says. “But we learned a lot.”

That was a good thing. The next year, 22,000 people came. By then, the park had moved the venue to the larger South Beach, which looks out on the Bay Bridge.

Grammy award winner Delbert McClinton
Getting the Blues
If you don’t like the weather, wait a few minutes. Weather is always in question during May in Maryland. Despite years of hardy party-going patrons, the festival hit on hard times in 2002. A rainy, chilly morning dampened ticket sales at the door. Festival-goers shivered, me among them, wearing a hat, jacket and boots over long pants and shirt.

By afternoon, crowds were happy, slathering on sun-tan lotion and soaking up the music along with the rays. The headliners were phenomenal. There were close to 10,000 people in Sandy Point, but not close enough. Each day’s numbers must break that minimum for the non-profit blues organization to fund the four participating charities. Booker canceled the festival in 2003 to lick his wounds and regroup.

Cathy Ponton King (top) and The Nighthawks .
In 2003 and 2004, Hooker presented smaller blues events. The first, at the P.G. Equestrian Center in Upper Marlboro, did not do as hoped, despite top talent including Koko Taylor. In 2004, Hooker moved his festival to Red Eyes Dock Bar, which reached capacity.

Moving back to Sandy Point raises the ante; this year, Booker’s company, ADS, has teamed up with sponsors including Budweiser, Comcast, Take One Video and United Rentals.

It Takes a Village
Over the years, Hooker’s non-profit organization has raised $600,000 for charity. Each year, four charities split the take after expenses have been met.

Benefiting this year are Special Olympics of Maryland, We Care and Friends of Annapolis, the Johns Hopkins Cleft & Craniofacial Children’s Center and, for the first time, the USO of Metropolitan Washington.

Special Olympics of Maryland has benefited from the Blues Festival from the second year. Based in Linthicum, Special Olympics runs a year-round sports training and competition program for Maryland’s children and adults with mental retardation and closely related developmental disabilities. The non-profit serves 10,000 people a year with the help of hundreds of volunteers, including coaches for the athletes, who come from across the state to play in events including winter and summer games. A few of the athletes will go on to compete at the national or international level.

The four beneficiaries do far more than accept a check when the festival closes. “It’s a team effort,” says Tom Schniedwind, who plays the added role master of ceremonies for the festival. “What we do is recruit and manage a ton of volunteers for the event.”

We Care and Friends — known for its annual Thanksgiving Dinner and Christmas Toy Drive — has also benefited since the beginning.

The Johns Hopkins Cleft and Craniofacial Center in Baltimore helps children with anomalies of the brain, skull and face. Providing care to hundreds of children yearly, the center has experts in such areas as speech pathology, dentistry, orthodontics, genetics, audiology, otolaryngology and plastic surgery. It serves children from all over the world with medical care and emotional support.

Booker T. and the M.G.s.
The United Service Organization of Metropolitan Washington is chartered by Congress to meet the human needs of the nation’s armed forces. But in helping some 50,000 people annually, USO gets no funds from federal, state or local governments, instead relying on fundraising events like the Blues Festival.
Getting There

Bring low-backed folding chairs, hats, sun-tan lotion, jackets for wind or rain, shoes and socks. Add a change of shorts and sandals for when the sun comes out.

$60 for one day; $85 for two with advance discounts. Children 10 and under free. Free parking and shuttle buses from Anne Arundel Community College or limited VIP parking at the festival site ($5): Ticketmaster or www.bayblues.org.

~ About the Author ~

Paula Anne Delve Phillips was not blessed with a good blues name like “Little Polly,” “Little Annie” or even “Big Annie.” But her maternal grandfather, Chester Clark, had a perfectly good blues name and hailed from Mississippi, a bona fide bluesland. He changed his name to Clarkes, moved North to Winnipeg and passed for white, dashing his granddaughter’s potential for a career as a blues singer.

She was consequently forced to become an arts promoter and writer. Her last story for Bay Weekly was “Footworks: Stomping a Folk Ballet of America’s Many Rhythms” [February 17, 2005].

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.