San Francisco Blues Festival

The 28th annual San Francisco Blues Festival was celebrated on two beautiful sunny days, September 23 and 24, 2000, at Fort Mason overlooking the Bay. The kickoff concert was held Friday afternoon at Justin Herman Plaza on the Embarcadero with the Rooster Blues Mississippi Revue featuring Robert "Bilbo" Walker, Sam Carr, and Super Chikan who later appeared at Biscuits & Blues. These rollicking shows got everyone in the mood for the weekend's festivities. Super Chikan is one of the brightest stars on the blues scene and when he does his "chicken" vocal imitations, it is hilarious, but he can lay out some pretty heavy licks on his guitar as demonstrated on "Crosscut Saw." Robert "Bilbo" Walker is a Chuck Berry-inspired performer with his duck walk and guitar gyrations. Ably assisting Walker was the veteran drummer, Sam Carr, son of the legendary slide guitarist, Robert Nighthawk.

Saturday's festival show kicked off with Fillmore Slim & The Blue Mirrors featuring J. J. Malone on organ. Fillmore Slim performed his blues ballad composition "King Boy" which was written during incarceration but got the crowd moving with his down and dirty vocal and guitar style in his upbeat set. The Dynatones livened up the mood with a dynamite horn section consisting of Carl Green on tenor sax, John Middleton on trumpet and Mike Rinta on trombone nattily attired in sparkly shirts and crowd walking through the dancing audience.

Johnnie Bassett & The Detroit Revue featured Joe Weaver and Alberta Adams (who was on my "wish list" of performers to see this year). Bassett is a stunning Jazz-inspired guitarist and smooth vocalist. This outstanding set was a blues-loverís dream. Joe Weaverís soulful sweet vocal style lent a touch of rhythm and blues and Alberta Adams knocked out some expressive raspy vocals. These two still-feisty veterans proved to be ebullient crowd-pleasers in their all-too-short performances.

Shemekia Copeland at twenty-one years old represents the new generation of blues and does she ever live up to her billing! With a magnetic personality and booming pipes, this young woman showed us her sensitivity on the tune "Ghetto Child" which she dedicated to her late father, legendary bluesman, Johnnie Clyde Copeland. Shemekia's resplendent performance reinforced her up-and-coming blues star status.

Joe Louis Walker & The New Allstars featured Billy Branch on harmonica, Ronnie Baker Brooks on guitar, Kenny "Blues Boss" Wayne on keyboards and Alvin Youngblood Hart on acoustic guitar. Walker's vocals and guitar skills were in full force and things just got hotter when Branch started wailing and rocking on harmonica with Wayne right in step on keyboards and sporting a huge feather in his red hat. Brooks got into the mix with his more rockish guitar style. Surely a barn raising set to end the day.

Sunday's show always starts off with gospel to soothe the soul and Roy Tyler & New Directions delivered the genuine thing with a traditional touch. Then it was big band time with the divine Lavay Smith and her Red Hot Skillet Lickers. Roy Gaines and his T-Bone Walker-inspired brand of Texas blues and his acrobatic stage act gave a rollicking performance starting off with his signature tune "Bluesman for Life" which says it all! Elvin Bishop addressed the recent tragedy in his life by thanking his friends and fans for their support. Then Bishop proceeded to drown his sorrows with the blues and his long-time buddy, Little Smokey Smothers, on guitar and vocals. Rod Piazza & The Mighty Flyers performed their contemporary jump blues with Piazza on vocals and harmonica and boogie-woogie keyboardist, Honey Alexander. This first-rate group brought an energy that was contagious and the crowd responded with enthusiasm.

A surprise performance by songwriter and throat singer Paul Pena with Big Bones on harmonica and vocals was a refreshing poignant moment. Pena is battling a life-threatening illness but showed us this day that his spirit is still strong. Koko Taylor brought us back to the blues with one of the highlight performances of the day. Her raw vocal style is distinctive and her title as Queen of the Blues is well-deserved. Of course, she did "Wang Dang Doodle!" Tower of Power gave us a dose of soulful funk with a hot horn section and the fantastic soul singer, Derek Hughes.

Who better to end the day's festivities than Johnny Otis, living legend of rhythm and blues? The revue featured soulful singer Jackie Payne, dynamite Gail "Little Bit" Muldrow on guitar and vocals and vocalist Heather Marie. Barbara Morrison was the headliner vocalist with her jazzy blues style. This dazzling set was non-stop down-home blues delivered by Payne punctuated by Otis' style of rhythm and blues. Otis on piano was resplendent in his formal tuxedo and authoritative in conducting the band and keeping things cooking. Everyone on the lawn and backstage was dancing! This revue was just the greatest!

Producer Tom Mazzolini in his role of emcee introduced a new feature this year by interviewing performers after each set and this was an entertaining and informative innovation. Mazzolini kept the questions simple and got some wonderful responses.

This festival has remained true to the blues even while presenting a diverse program and it is still fan-friendly which is the reason it is one of the best in the world, not to mention that it is the longest running blues festival. And, if you want two days of blues fun, this is the ticket!

By Dorothy L. Hill

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