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 !

” Who’s Holdin’ ? ” – Springing the Blues 2014

Festival takes: Springing the Blues, Jacksonville Beach, FL April 4-6, 2014

Betty Fox on the Blues Lounge stage Saturday afternoon

Who’s holdin’ ? Betty Fox poses the question on the Blues Lounge stage Saturday afternoon.

The first weekend of April on the First Coast brings Florida’s largest free outdoor festival to the oceanfront stage in Jax Beach with Springing the Blues, three days, 45 hours, and 22 bands worth of live music. Check out this venue:

The main Seawalk Pavillion stage lit up in 2013.

The main Seawalk Pavillion stage lit up in 2013.

Saturday notes:

The surfers like to say that Locals Rule, and on Day Two of the fest, Jacksonville’s Corbitt Brothers and Tampa’s Betty Fox provided the highlights from the inland Blues Lounge stage near Jax Beach City Hall. STB books several bands to play sets not only on the main Seawalk Pavillion stage on the dunes a mere clam’s toss from the waves, but the tiny Blues Lounge a block inland, where you don’t need VIP access to walk right up and cheer the band, shake what your mama gave you, or chat up the artists between sets. The western stage also typically features local and lesser-known artists hoping for the exposure that might be a tipping point, as well as sponsor George’s Music’s Featured Artist chosen from tapes and auditions. A special treat this year was the Blues Brothers-bedecked Fletcher High School band, playing a jumpin’ set of brassy R and B under the stage name Uncle Johnny’s Blues Machine. Props to the STB for giving a spot to these young musicians in front of a spirited crowd!

The kids are alright! Fletcher High School band rocks the Blues Lounge stage!

The kids are alright! Fletcher High School band rocks the Blues Lounge stage!

When we saw the Grateful Dead-themed blanket on the artists’ merch table and the hippies setting up their gear, it could only mean that Jacksonville’s own Corbitt Brothers had won the Featured Artist award and would soon be blasting their unique brand of blues from the unconventional guitar/harp/sax/drums lineup. Newsome and Isaac Corbitt embrace their North Florida musical  heritage with Allmans jams, Skynyrd attitude, and straightforward blues philosophies cast in a Southern accent. Isaac’s mastery of the blues harp evokes Ricky Medlocke’s long intro to Blackfoot’s ” Train, Train “, and at times conjures Blues Traveler’s John Popper, but the younger sibling has his own style, moving easily from leads to rhythm to backing fills, such that the bass is not missed. Brother Newsome leads the band on guitar and vocals, with the material ranging from Johnny Cash’s ” Folsom Prison Blues ” to Skynyrd’s ” Ballad of Curtis Lowe “.

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Newsome and Isaac Corbitt take the blues down South!

With each song, the crowd at the tiny Blues Lounge stage grew larger, until the aisles were packed with standees and fans surrounded the sound booth. Several veterans and STB staffers insisted they’d never seen any band get that kind of response at the venue, prompting the hosts to promise that the Corbitt Brothers would play the main stage next year, after the crowd had insisted on a third encore from the boys!

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Newsome and Isaac squeezing out squawks on their own ” Chicken Pot Pie Blues “

While camped out on a blanket just outside VIP at the Main Stage enjoying a fine set from local blues rockers Woody and the Peckers, festival veteran Sweet Jane had tipped me off to get to the Blues Lounge by 3pm to see Betty Fox, who had wowed everyone in her Main Stage set earlier. While seeking a tad of shade at the Blues Lounge after the Corbitts,  a young woman passed by wearing an aqua sequined dress she’d been poured into, and I wondered if she’d been told to dress for a club. After all, it’s 85 F and we’re in Jax Beach, where many attendees opt for trunks or a bikini and sandals.  Silly me, that was Betty Fox! After graciously greeting fans and posing for photos, the sassy chanteuse took the stage to belt out song after song of club-style R and B, backed by a tight 3-piece band of Matt Walker on guitar, Barry Williams on bass, and Sam Farmer on drums that supported her incredible vocals without stepping on her lines.  Betty elegantly shifted volume and tempo, all the while charming the crowd with her engaging demeanor and chatter. Highlights of the set included her own ” Goodbye ” and ” Who’s Holdin’ ? ”

Foxy

Don’t get too close, boys, she’ll pin yer ears back!

As the rain clouds formed, we had to leave due to the only downside of STB; the Saturday night sets always conflict with the Final Four. For one night, March Madness trumps live blues!

Sunday notes

Though many in the crowd were drawn out by the closing Lee Boys, who were well known from last year’s fest and for opening at the Florida Theatre for the Tedeschi-Trucks Band, the highlights of the day were clearly the emerging talent of Mama Blue and the return from a 5-year exile of Eric Steckel.

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Mama Blue casts her spell from the Main Stage!

That big voice from Mama Blue evoked Billie Holiday, Etta James, and even Aretha as she rocked out classic blues and R and B, all the while chatting up the crowd and working the VIPs who staggered to the stage for a closer look. Her own ” Breakaway ” ( ” my divorce song… he liked it, though! ” ) and another original,  ” Leave the Light On For Me”, showcased her golden pipes and powerful delivery. Hopefully this showcase gig will open doors for Mama Blue; look for her in your town!

Mama Blue

Local fave Mama Blue reaches for more!

At the tender age of 11, Eric Steckel released his first CD, and a year later was being introduced by John Mayall at the Sarasota Blues Fest as the youngest guitarist to ever appear onstage with the Bluesbreakers ( whose alums include Clapton, Page, and Mick Taylor). His apparent influences include Stevie Ray, Hendrix, and Bonamassa, and his set included a lyrically shifted but thinly veiled riff on Jimi’s ” Let the Good Times Roll ” from ” Electric Ladyland “.

Eric Steckel

Eric Steckel shreds the blues

The set was breathtaking fast and hard rocking, with little patter between songs and lots of soloing by the agile Steckel. His flying fingers and rockstar moves quickly won over fans new and old, most of the latter recalling that he had blistered the Main Stage four straight years prior to the recent hiatus.

Steckel rocks STB

Doesn’t this look like fun?

Before ceding the stage to the Legendary JCs, Steckel brought down the house with a long closing solo that evoked Eddie Van Halen’s ” Eruption “, and showcased his quick-reacting band . While the blues reveres old hands and spirits, the next generation of players will be responsible for introducing the genre and carrying it forward. This grinning young man will be part of that!

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Yes, Eric, we’re amazed, too!

Many  thanks to the STB for another amazing lineup and smoothly run festival!– Nanker   ” Not Holdin’ ” Phledge

Ginger's Place

We told ya it was Jax Beach, not Palm Beach!

 

 

 

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

Shane Dwight

Show review – Shane Dwight at Mojo’s Kitchen, Jacksonville Beach, FL 11/30/12

( Our rambling man Phledge slips back to Gator Country – as Molly Hatchet used to say- for some ribs and blues on the run! – Ed.)

Shane Dwight at Mojo's Kitchen 11/30/12

Shane Dwight at Mojo’s Kitchen 11/30/12

Having played both stages at the renowned Springing the Blues festival several times, and hosted the raucous afterparty at Mojo’s as the jamleader/ MC, Shane Dwight has quite a local following on the First Coast, and he took the stage to a warm welcome on Friday night. Sending out props to STB promoter Sam Veal ( ” Always looking to help out musicians..” ) for having schlepped a drum kit to Mojo’s to help out in a pinch, Shane and his band lit into a string of blues/rock standards, reaching often into the Stevie Ray Vaughan catalog for classics like  ” Texas Flood ” and  ” Pride and Joy”. Shane can sling with the best, and his voice is strong enough to carry the tunes and weathered enough to credibly reflect the lyrics. Regrettably, we couldn’t stay long enough for his crowd-pleasing Hendrix covers ( what’s that about Hellhounds on my trail?), but the sight and sound of the powerfully built guy wearing out the Fenders was like one of Stevie Ray’s ” Cold Shot”s to the face, propelling us off into the Northeast Florida night.

Shane cookin' in the blues Kitchen!

Shane cookin’ in the blues Kitchen!