Springing the Blues 2016

Festival Takes- Springing the Blues, Jacksonville Beach, FL April 1-3, 2016

Samantha Fish

Saturday night headliner Samantha Fish

Blues fans across the South know that the first weekend in April brings the nation’s only free oceanfront blues festival to Northeast Florida. STB has managed to cobble together a fine lineup of talented bands every year to the perpetually blighted end of Beach Boulevard, where the ocean breezes caress the food vendors and kitsch hawkers within earshot of both the Main Stage and the smaller inland Blues Lounge. This year’s fest brought expanded VIP seating up front, a return of the perpetually headlining Lee Boys, and an adjusted artist schedule that had bands on both stages starting and finishing simultaneously. The latter brought much grousing from the hardcore attendees, who bemoaned the lost opportunity to check out artists in both venues, and the pleasures of constant music from one stage or the other. With three days of music, some sampling is usually required, and our intrepid reporter weighs in with some highlights from this year:

Friday night

Opening night brought a strong lineup including area standout Toots Lorraine and Traffic and STB first timers Sean Chambers Band. Toots plays jazz and blues standards to great effect, and her voice holds up well in both the large and small stage settings.

Toots Lorraine and Traffic

Toots Lorraine and Traffic

Blues rock was next on the menu, with the Sean Chambers Band blowing up the Lounge stage with their mix of originals ” Full Moon on Main Street”, ” You Gotta Help ” and          ” Here and Now”, along with genre standards like Willie Mitchell’s ” Come to Papa ” and a rather obscure Alvin Lee ( yes, he of Ten Years After and the incredible ” Coming Home” in the Woodstock movie) track ” Choo Choo Mama”.

Sean Chambers Band

Sean Chambers Band

For many fans, Friday night belonged to festival favorite Selwyn Birchwood, the guitar whiz tasked with opening the fest from the Lounge stage. By the time his set was over, many fans followed him to the Main Stage, where he held the crowd with a tight set of originals ” Hoodoo Stew ” and ” Pick Your Poison “. His lap slide playing was especially tasty, and he left the stage to enthusiastic applause. We caught up to Selwyn later at the merch tent, where he was checking the inventory of CDs, shirts, and glasses.

Selwyn Birchwood

Selwyn Birchwood checking inventory at the merch tent.( Photo by AussieGirl )

Which brought to mind the best way to support the artists: buy your CDs at the show and send the money directly to the artist. Many times when CDs are pressed the artist is given a number of complimentary discs to sell or distribute, and these are usually what’s seen at the merch tent. Don’t put that big box store between the artist and your purchase!

Saturday afternoon/evening

After a thunderous morning storm the clouds cleared over Jax Beach, making way for sunshine over the crowd during sets from Kim Reteguiz and the Black Cat Bones, the Parker Urban Band, and Eryn Shewell, who delivered a great cover of Lowell Fulson’s blues chestnut ” Little By Little”.

Eryn Shewell

Eryn Shewell onstage and on the big screen

The VIP section in front of the Main Stage was still not jammed by late afternoon, but a blistering set from Toronzo Cannon pulled fans from the food and ” arts ” ( we’ll use that term loosely here) plaza to their folding chairs in VIP and their blankets and canvas chairs for the hoi polloi in back. True to form, the hard rocking Samantha Fish served up a rock-flavored set of arena-friendly blues tunes, including selections from her 2015 release  ” Wild Heart “. The Kansas City star showed why the Blues Foundation has nominated her for their 2016 Best Contemporary Female award.We hope she wins!

But for Saturday night, the best action was at the small Lounge Stage, where the Corbitt Clampitt Experience appeared at 6:40, just as the sun was setting on the Fest. They were shortly joined onstage by comrade John Parker Urban, and the twin-lead guitar lineup quickly jolted the crowd with a tight set that at times reminded older fans of the halcyon days of the Marshall Tucker Band. Although Urban was initially buried in the mix, the sound booth made adjustments and the band pushed through on numbers like Pinetop Sparks’ ( notably covered by BB King ) ” Every Day I Have the Blues “.

Corbitt Clampitt with Parker Urban

Corbitt Clampitt with John Parker Urban

The band’s rousing finale of Dave Mason ( no, Joe Cocker didn’t write it, though his version is the best known)’s ” Feeling Alright ” brought two terrific singers to the packed stage ( come on guys, introduce them! ) and the crowd to its feet. The band has a strong local following and the rocking ensemble feel to the rolling tune had fans loudly singing and dancing along.

Corbitt Clampitt Experience with John Parker Urban

Corbitt Clampitt Experience with John Parker Urban and ladies

Had the fest ended there for the night, few would have complained. But despite the tough act to follow, national blues fest veteran Mr. Sipp ( a nod to his Mississippi roots) skipped onstage in his red lowtop Converse Chuck Taylors to cap the evening with his engaging presence and professional delivery of rocking blues, notably his own ” I Hit the Jackpot “.

Mr. Sipp

Mr. Sipp

Mr. Sipp and red Chuck Taylors

Mr. Sipp and red Chuck Taylors

 

Sunday afternoon

Perhaps the loveliest day of the Spring graced the fest on Sunday, and the locals came by bikes, skateboards, and sandals to the oceanfront venue to close things down. The fest was headlined again by the popular Lee Boys  a funk and gospel band based out of Miami. The band plays in the Sacred Steel tradition that arose out of the House of God Church. Having seen them several times, we opted for the Lounge stage, where  we were treated to a fine set from Jarekus Singleton, highlighted by a great version of William Bell and Booker T. Jones’ R and B classic ” Born Under A Bad Sign “, popularized by Albert King and Cream.

Jarekus Sigleton

Jarekus Sigleton ( photo by AussieGirl )

But this fine set was merely a warm-up for many fans’ Main Event of the fest, an appearance by local hero Conrad Oberg, who rose from Jacksonville arts magnet Douglas Anderson School of the Arts to become an international blues figure, with over 4 million worldwide YouTube views.

Conrad Oberg waiting during Jarekus Simpson set

Conrad Oberg waiting during Jarekus Simpson set

Born profoundly prematurely and blind at a pound and a half, Conrad overcame huge obstacles to learn keyboards from age two until given his first guitar at age ten. Five years later he played the Hendrix-style National Anthem at the Woodstock Reunion! His appearance at STB continues his touring in support of his 2013 release ” Spoonful “.

Conrad Oberg

Conrad Oberg ( photo by AussieGirl )

Conrad’s set featured many tunes from the ” Spoonful ” CD, including Willie Dixon’s title cut ( famously covered by Cream on ” Wheels of Fire” ) and Dixon’s ” I Just Wanna Make Love to You” ( the Foghat version is well known to classic rock fans ). Conrad started slowly, seemingly warming to the crowd, before tearing it up on ” Mojo Mofo “, Doug Sahm’s ” She’s About A Mover “, and Robert Johnson’s ” If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day “. During extended solos, he would drift into well-known riffs from similar tunes, tossing P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri’s ” Secret Agent Man ” into the Ventures’               ” Pipeline “, and Led Zep’s ” Heartbreaker ” into the White Stripes’ ” Seven Nations “. Wisely choosing familiar rock-influenced blues tunes for the mostly pre-Millennial crowd, Oberg seemingly peaked with scorching versions of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s ” Texas Flood” and the Allmans’ ” Whipping Post ” . But the finale was another surprise: a reprise of Huddie ” Lead Belly ” Ledbetter’s ” Black Betty “, hewed closely to the 1977 rock version by Ram Jam.

Conrad Oberg onstage

Conrad Oberg rocks ” Black Betty “

While not what anyone would consider ” blues “, the covers of these rock standards showed their somewhat obscured blues roots, verifying McKinley Morganfield’s conclusion that ” the blues done had a baby, and they named the baby Rock and Roll “. Call it what you want ( as Junior Wells says ), Springing the Blues delivered again.

 

Many thanks to our roving correspondent Nanker Phledge for this report !

See You At the Blues Fest! Springing the Blues– Jacksonville Beach, FL 4/5-7/13

The Seawalk Pavilion Main Stage on Friday night in Jacksonville Beach. Yes, those are palm fronds and the mighty Atlantic Ocean in the right margin!

The Seawalk Pavilion Main Stage on Friday night in Jacksonville Beach. Yes, those are palm fronds and the mighty Atlantic Ocean in the right margin!

” I’m gone back down to Florida…where the sun shines damn near everyday” – Muddy Waters

For more than twenty years, the arrival of spring in Northeast Florida is heralded by the Springing the Blues fest on the first weekend in April at this oceanfront venue. The format has all bands save headliners and local openers playing not only the main stage pictured above, but the smaller West stage a block inland, where you don’t have to buy a VIP badge to stand or sit within spittin’ distance of the band. Having thrown in with the hoi polloi eons ago, it was my pleasure to eschew the daily surcharge and dodge Mr. Sun’s rays with the Eighth Avenue sailors, bikini-clad teens, professed former surfers, and Westside Tush Hogs on Budweiser who are all drawn to this open-container deadzone at the  end of Beach Boulevard and the start of the Atlantic Ocean at this time every year like keg-seeking lemmings.For one weekend a year, it’s hard to get arrested in Jax Beach!

Friday night was highlighted by the Parker Urban Band, an eight-piece ensemble led by the formidable chops of guitatrist/bandleader John Parkerurban, and fronted by twin lead singers Myrna Stallworth and Juanita Parkerurban. John whipped the band through a string of originals ” Chicken and Rice”, ” Writing a Letter” , and ” Heroes Journey” ( John is ex-USMC and Semper Fi ), as well as funky covers of Tower of Power’s  ” What Is Hip?” and The Meters’  ” Just Kissed My Baby”. The sax, keyboards, and blues harp additions to the lineup delivered a broad, forceful sound that melded blues, jazz, and funk to great effect.

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Parker Urban Band at STB 2013. John is center stage, with Juanita and Mryna on the wings.

Saturday was a gorgeous day in Jax Beach, with high 60s temps, a mild ocean breeze, and a huge turnout of fans who responded with indifference to the recently elected mayor’s cornpone Beaches Welcome sellout to the Chamber of Commerce and pimping of local merchants. Mayor, I know Fland Sharp, and you’re no Fland Sharp! But back to the music.

Perhaps the  Saturday crowd favorite was the Austin-based Peterson Brothers Band, featuring the teenaged sibs Alex on bass and Glen Jr. on lead guitar, offering Stevie Ray-style Texas blues with some R and B flavor on tunes like ” If You Love Me Like You Say”. The kids managed to stir both the VIP-ringed Main Stage and the more intimate West Stage with their poise, proficiency,  and enthusiasm. Sure, a sixteen-year-old lacks the gravitas to sing most wisened blues lyrics, and you have to chuckle to hear a teenager croon, ” I know the rules; I’m not a fool “, but these kids kids appear to be speaking their minds and playing from their hearts, and I’ll take that at any age. Go see them before it gets expensive!

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Glen Peterson, Jr. and Alex Peterson at STB 2013

The West Stage was still cookin’ from the Petersons when the Cedric Burnside Project began laying down the classic Hill Country Blues of Fred McDowell, Junior Kimbrough, and Ced’s grandaddy R.L. Burnside. The stripped-down lineup of North Mississippi natives Ced on drums and vocals with Trenton Ayers on guitar evoked memories of the fine sets at STB by Cedric and Lightnin’ Malcom, who was last seen on bass with the North Mississippi Allstars. Cedric’s powerful drumming and choices of crowd-pleasing tunes like ” Po’ Black Maddie” and ” Goin’ Down South”, coupled with deft ringing slide from Trenton, made for a compelling groove in the Florida sun that had young and old shakin’ ’em on down.

Cedric Burnside and Trenton Ayers, Springing the Blues 2013

Cedric Burnside and Trenton Ayers, Springing the Blues 2013

A tough act to follow, no doubt, but shredmaster Damon Fowler  was undaunted, leading his band through originals and covers on slide, lead,  lap steel, and dobro. The Brandon, FL native traffics in roots rock, swamp boogie, and slide blues, and fired off a hot set with originals ” Sugar Shack”, ” You Go Your Way”, and an unexpected inspired cover of Merle Haggard’s ” Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down”.

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Damon Fowler Group on the West Stage at Springing the Blues 2013. That’s Damon on lap steel, natch.

Sunday brought blazing sun and summer-like temps to the fest venue, and the promise of headliners The Lee Boys and the influential late 60s guitarist Kim Simmonds and Savoy Brown. But first, some fast, nearly psychedelic trippings from New Yorker Dave Fields, who evoked Hendrix, Trower, and the recently departed Alvin Lee, as well as more jazz-influenced players like Bonamassa and Trucks, in his wildly received sets on the Main and West Stages.

Dave Fields, West Stage, Springing the Blues 2013

Dave Fields, West Stage, Springing the Blues 2013

Fields wowed even the hardcore devotees with his tuneful runs and melodic fills, peaking with a choppy version of the Booker T./ William Bell classic, ” Born Under A Bad Sign” and a masterful crescendo  on his instrumental, ” Lydia “, from his new ” Detonation ” CD.  And later at the merch tent, Fields was so open and unguarded that he admitted to family from Palatka. I begged him not to admit that around Floridians!

Typical pushy New Yorker; Dave Fields stalks remaining unbelievers.

Typical pushy New Yorker; Dave Fields stalks remaining unbelievers.

Kim Simmonds lead his power trio onstage to welcome applause; many of the boomer dudes in the audience had talked of having Savoy Brown LPs among the stacks in the garage or somewhere of equal irritation to their spouses. Simmonds played a set of 1967- 1970s Savoy tunes on amplified accoustic guitars, noting that the sound of those early rock tunes seems to ring true without electrics, including Charles Brown’s ” Black Night” and my personal fave, ” Shot In the Head”. Simmonds shifted to electric on newer blues-based material in the second half of the set before closing with a spirited uptempo     ” Rollin’ and Tumblin’ ” that I suspect would have moved McKinley Morganfield himself. That’s the great thing about the blues; anything that’s out there is fair game for anyone to play, or even make Their Own. Heck, Muddy ripped that ” signature tune”  from Gus Cannon’s Jug Stompers’ 1928 ” Roll and Tumble Blues”, so there’s no tellin’ how far back some of these songs go.

Having seen the great Lee Boys twice at STB and from the front row opening for the Tedeschi-Trucks band last winter at the Florida Theatre, I felt no remorse in passing on their rollicking set and making one last swing through the food booth midway as I walked to my car for the Ride Back Across the Ditch ( that’s the Intracoastal Waterway for you townies!). The sun was setting on Florida’s largest free outdoor music festival, but never on the blues.

———————–  Your humble Northeast Florida correspondent, Nanker ” Next stop, Waneefest ”  Phledge