One thing I can tell you for certain is that Paul E. Benjamin knows how to throw a party!! The 23rd North Atlantic Blues Festival consisted of 10 acts over 2 days of back to back to back talent. The cost of admission so reasonable that you couldn’t have seen a single act for the price of ten. Paul runs a tight ship, he is master time keeper to ensure acts are on and off the stage as per the lineup scheduled. Nothing runs late, nothing goes over. This festival ran like a well-oiled machine. Absolutely everything was top notch, from the volunteers (huge shout out to all of them) to the merchandise vendors (only high quality) to the food vendors (catering to every dietary need one could imagine) to the sponsors (I think I counted twenty)!
Saturday’s lineup consisted of Blues Caravan, made up of Ina Forsman, Layla Zoe and Tasha Taylor, Toronzo Cannon, Daughters of Rhythm and Blues featuring Rhonda Ross and Carla Cooke, Quinn Sullivan and John Hammond with Bruce Katz.
Blues Caravan kicked off the festival in style. Each of the ladies (Ina Forsman, Layla Zoe and Tasha Taylor) did an individual set showcasing
their new music and then a set together that was over the top fun. I loved them both individually and together. I also got to sit and talk with them briefly and the sense that i got is that they were all thrilled to be performing there. They also each have new releases out individually and you should you absolutely go in search for them and buy them. And then much to my surprise I look up on stage and who is playing lead guitar for them? None other than Laura Chavez who in my humble opinion is one of the best lead guitarists in the industry. Most of you will remember her as Candye Kane’s long time guitarist.
Next up, straight outta Chicago, was Toronzo Cannon. I had never seen him live before and I will say without hesitation that he is going to be
the highlight of every festival that books him and his band. Everyone knows I’m a sucker for my Chicago blues and he does not disappoint one bit. His guitar skills together with the way he interacts with the crowd, not to mention his vocals, all top notch. Meeting him was great, he is a true gentleman and a truly nice guy. Very giving of his time to his fans. I can’t say enough about Toronzo, he just emits such a great vibe and I hope our paths cross again real soon.
I unfortunately, missed most of the Daughters of Rhythm and Blues featuring Rhonda Ross and Carla Cooke. They are not the only ones I missed because at some point or another one has to eat. I did, however, meet Rhonda backstage and chat briefly about her being the child of both Diana Ross and Berry Gordy and how I recognized a lot of her mother in her in the way she connects with the crowd.
Quinn Sullivan, well he has grown up a lot since I first saw him, now 17 years old and I would match him up against any guitarist out there, I mean ANY! His lightning fast fret-work, his spot on vocals, all I can say is he is out there making Buddy Guy proud! www.quinnsullivanmusic.com
I had to leave the festival at the time that John Hammond came on as my ride had to leave but I’m sure he and Bruce Katz, keyboardist personified, put on a great set.
Then it was off to see The Juke Rockets Blues Band, my friends who were so gracious as to lend me a place to lay my head and shuttle me back and forth to the festival, and talk about crowd pleasers. I was in and out of the jams being played after the festival and this band stood out to me as the only one to fill a dance floor.
Sunday morning was soggy to say the least, the skies opened up and it poured but since this was a rain or shine event, Alexis P Suter Band went on as planned sharply at 11am and it rained pretty much for her entire set. If you have any doubt about the power of music, check this out, as Alexis was finishing off her set with her powerful version of Let It Be, the skies parted and the sun came out. Call me crazy but I do not think it was coincidence either. It is always a treat to see Alexis, her stage presence is like no others and her message is clear, peace, love and the power of prayer. As the rain stopped pouring down instead it was the eyes in the crowd filling up with tears to her rendition of Let It Be. As I panned the crowd I noticed a whole lot of emotion in the fans I do have to admit my eyes were not dry either.
Mike Zito and I have waited a very long time to meet in person and it finally happened. What a super nice guy and tremendous performer. I cannot put into words how much I enjoyed his set. We hung out back stage watching the other performers and I got the sense he was in awe of one in particular……Ronnie Earl. I asked him if he was going to go up and play with Ronnie and he said “only in my dreams” and I told him I had the feeling he was going to ask him up. A couple of songs into Ronnie’s set he waves Mike up and Mike looked behind him to make sure it was him that Ronnie was talking to, he couldn’t get his guitar out of his case fast enough. It gave me so much joy to watch one of Mike’s lifelong dreams come true and watching him and Ronnie together was super special. www.mikezito.com
Johnny Sansone’s Deep Mud Review featuring Big Chief Boudreaux and John Fohl was another act I was only able to catch a little bit of but his Louisiana style, expert accordion and harmonica playing wowed the crowd from where I was standing way in the back of the crowd. I managed to get back up to the stage to get a little bit of him and the every pleasing Big Chief Boudreaux.
With a lineup like this its super hard to pick out your favorite performances because they are all SO good. Having never seen Ronnie Earl and The Broadcasters featuring Diane Blue was a special treat for me. Ronnie has been on the scene over 50 years but had somehow has managed to escape me seeing him. From the first note he hit on his guitar until the last, I was mesmerized, this guy is the real deal folks and his playing is smooth as silk. Whether he sits to play or stands, whether he sings or just plays that guitar of his or whether he turns it all over to his band, it is nothing but the sweet sound of the blues. As luck would have it at the end of his set he looked at me side stage and flicked me his pick. Color me happy!!! www.ronnieearl.com www.dianebluemusic.com
Then came Elvin Bishop, I’ve not seen him since the early 80s and waited all day to meet him, get a photo op and tell him how much I dig him but he sneaked on stage left while all others the entire two days did just the opposite. I was thrilled to see him and listen to him, it brought me WAY back to my early days as a blues lover and as luck would have it, after about 2 minutes of filming, my camera died.
It was time to leave again so I had to watch the jam on stage with Elvin, Ronnie, Mike and others walking up the hill backwards. This is the kind of festival that makes you feel right at home, all of the performers were kind enough to exit the stage and sign CDs and give photo ops to their fans, even after being on the sweltering stage for 80-75 minutes. I was told it was only this hot in Rockland maybe four days a year, well folks, we got two of them!
An added bonus and special treat for me was that Mick Kolassa accompanied by Darren Jay Fallas, played in between each set and seeing and listening to Mick is always fun to me. www.mimsmick.com
I’d like to thank Paul E Benjamin for having me as his guest and giving me full access. The idea was that I would shoot video and upload it on the spot so fans all over could see it as it happened and could maybe get a sense of what it was like to be there but as luck would have it, T-Mobile wouldn’t allow it so I leave you with the video and stills I shot and invite you to attend next year’s festival because as I said in my opening, Paul E Benjamin knows how to throw a party! I know I’m going to do my very best to be there next year!!!
None of this would have been possible without the generosity of Carlene Thornton Perkins of the Juke Rockets and her husband Luther. Just being able to hang out, which I rarely get to do with my artists, was really cool. Thanks so much for making me very much at home, thanks for the kayaking, the lobster feed and for your hospitality
Peace and good blues to you all
The Blueswoman aka Lori Graboyes