The eighteenth annual Monterey Bay Blues Festival celebrated the "Year of the Blues" with a big dose of soul. The weekend turned out to be warm and sunny for the faithful who make their "blues" pilgrimage to this three-day party.
Opening the Friday evening program, the Average White Band set the tone with a soulful set but the best was yet to come with the appearance of The Temptations (photo at right). This legendary group with their stylish, coordinated choreography, polished showmanship and flashy wardrobe delivered a rousing show with some of their biggest hits including "My Girl" and "I Wish It Would Rain." It was surely memory-time for most of the audience who responded with great enthusiasm to a compelling performance.
On the Garden Stage, the J. C. Smith Band performed a high energy set with J. C. Smith (photo at left) on lead guitar and vocals. The band included Julian Vaught on tenor saxophone, Oscar Meyers on trumpet, Billy Pruitt on bass and Niklas Nordstrom on rhythm guitar.
Mae Jackson (photo at firht) tore it up on the President's Stage with her stylish stage presence and great vocal range. Jackson's performance put her in the category of the "new phenomenon on the block" in her first appearance at Monterey which no doubt will ensure her return.
Another newcomer to Monterey, Lisa Carr, performed on the Garden Stage assisted by the Dynamic Four, a sensational band who perform regularly at the festival. Carr's eclectic set included "Pride and Joy," "Carr For Sale," and "Tell Mama." Carr's sassy delivery and strong intonation proved to be a hit with the enthusiastic audience.
Saturday's performances on the Main Stage began with the winner of the Second Annual Battle of the Blues Bands, vocalist Karen Tyler. The competition is held in November in the effort to showcase new talent who are rewarded with a spot on the Main Stage at the Festival. Lonnie Brooks (photo at left) rocked the Main Stage with his hard-driving contemporary blues set. Brooks concluded his show crowd-walking through the sun-drenched audience. Charlie Musselwhite, the 2003 winner of the W. C. Handy Award for Blues Instrumentalist-Harmonica, was awarded the Monterey Bay Blues Artist of the Year Award after his performance.
On the Garden Stage, the Bay Area Blues Society Caravan of All Stars, racked up the energy with leader Ronnie Stewart (photo at right) on lead guitar. Wylie Trass delivered a wonderful version of the tune "Stand By Me." This band was a crowd pleaser with their solid delivery of blues standards.
Soul vocalist Freddie Hughes (photo at left) was featured on the President's stage in one of the best sets I have seen him do in a long time which even had me up and dancing. Hughes proved his mastery of soulful rhythm and blues on this occasion with his immaculate phrasing and polished delivery.
Barbara Morrison on the Main Stage was absolutely flawless in her fantastic set. This lady delivers her blues with Jazz dominating the background especially on her opening tune "I Love Being Here With You." Morrison's unique vocal style and exquisite phrasing were evident on "Don't Touch Me." The piece de resistance was when Sista Monica joined Morrison (photo at left) on stage in a tear-jerker duo performance. Sista Monica is on the road to recovery after a major bout with a rare form of cancer and this tribute to her and her courage was a highlight of the weekend.
Willie Clayton (photo at right) closed out the day's festivities on the Main Stage with a performance that encompassed soul, blues and an Elvis Presley imitation. On the tune "You Send Me," Clayton displayed a good command of falsetto vocalizing. Clayton's version of "Drowning In The Sea of Love" was bluesy soul at its best. Although I thoroughly enjoyed Clayton's distinctive vocal style, it was distressing to see a mass exodus by the audience.
Sunday proved to be a day of gospel extending well into the day. Endurance (photo below) at the Garden Stage kicked it off with the spiritual message. This group of young men gave a stellar performance and, as usual, had the audience clapping, shouting and dancing. Then on the Presidentís Stage, the W. D. Gospel Singers (photo below) continued the journey. This Sacramento-based group delivered gospel with a blues groove on the tunes "My Time Ain't Long," "A Change Is Gonna Come," and "Something On My Mind." The spiritual trek continued on the Main Stage with the performance of the Blind Boys of Alabama , quintessential gospel. This legendary group performed a rich assortment of classic and contemporary spiritual songs including "Take Me To The River" and "Soldier." It was a memorable show which concluded with vocalist Jimmy Carter (photo below) being lowered from the high stage out into the audience where he was escorted preaching and testifying through the thrilled crowd.
W. D. Gospel Singers
On the Garden Stage, Teeny Tucker, daughter of the late Tommy Tucker, proved she got the blues genes. Accompanied by a great band featuring dynamic guitarist Sean Carney, Tucker radiated warmth and dazzling vocal skills. Tucker and Carney are an incendiary twosome with their stage antics. Tucker's rendition of "Million Dollar Secret" was saucy and she proved that she can do some good Etta James, too. But this young performer has a style unlike any other. On "I Was Dreaming," Tucker exhibited her phenomenal vocal talent on this soulful slow blues tune. Undoubtedly we will be hearing more from this talented young vocalist who made a great impression on the Monterey audience.
Al Green (photo at right) represents the ultimate in soul. Monterey embraced Green like no other and he rewarded the audience taking them down memory lane. Dressed in a white suit, Green was resplendent. Green's soulful delivery is still phenomenal. Green wowed the crowd with "Everything Is Gonna Be All Right," "Take Me To The River," and threw roses into the audience while singing "Let's Stay Together." When Green sang "Love and Happiness" the Monterey crowd erupted with unbridled enthusiasm. This was the unequaled performance of the festival.
The eighteenth Monterey Bay Blues Festival will be remembered as a testament to soul and certainly the best of that genre was represented. The task of presenting a festival on the level of Monterey is awesome and the Board of Directors has again done a great job of keeping it creative and relevant.
by Dorothy L. Hill
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