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    23rd Monterey Bay Blues Festival
    Monterey, California USA
    Written by: Nick Running Rocktime Magazine
    Photos by: Nick Running Rocktime Magazine
    ©  cpa 2008 Published as a Collaborative Publishers Associate. Arrangements: PhotoGrafiti.net


    ROCKTIME PRESENTS
    MONTEREY BAY
    BLUES FESTIVAL
    6/27-29/2008
    AT
    MONTEREY FAIRGROUNDS
    MONTEREY, CA.

     
                               Saturday morning, on what should be another perfect Monterey Summer day; a little fog in the morning, giving way to clear BLUES sky and temperatures that are oft taken for granted by coastal residents. It's about 75 degrees at eleven AM when I arrive at the Monterey County Fairgrounds, oh, and that's not fog, it's smoke from the nearby fire in Big Sur. Making for not a perfect day, but it's temperate with a slight ocean breeze, which is nice. Hopefully, we can get these fires put out, and us Californians will be able to breathe easier. People who come here every year were already parked in any spots close to the venue; note for next year: come early! The free parking fills up quick and after that it's $25 or more for close-by parking, there are parking lots on campus and shuttles to the fairgrounds also. I ended up walking over a mile to park for free, it was warming up quick, and the ocean breeze was gone. The smoke from all the fires had been bothering me for days. I showed up at the venue dehydrated, hot, and tired from the walk. Also, I have an interview that I'm supposed to do in about fifteen minutes time. 

                              Needless to say, I'm a little stressed out! So, I find Ron Arcaroli from Photografiti at the Garden stage; he's working out the details for my first interview of the day with Bishop Mayfield. I ask him real quick where the hospitality area with bottled water is, one of the perks of being media VIP, free water. Which is really necessary, because people that are working need to keep hydrated. The free booze is always a plus too, nothing like a well stocked bar in the green room and some free munchies, eh. The water bottles are super classy with the event info and a watercolor picture of BB KING on the label. Very impressive, of course, these are the same bottles of water they are selling for $2.50 to the venue patrons so every one can enjoy the cool water bottles. You can bring your own water and food, but I think most people come to the Blues Festival to take advantage of the food, drink, art and blues schwag that is only available here once a year. I down a bottle of water in seconds flat, and grab one to put in my camera bag, and rush back to the Garden stage where Ron is to introduce me to Bishop Mayfield.

                              I'm all cooled off and starting to feel pretty good, just a little nervous about the interview; and then Ron says, "This is Bishop," gesturing toward this tall stately man. I reach out my hand, and he takes my hand and wraps his big arms around me with the warmest hug I have had in awhile. All of my apprehension melted away as I embraced Bishop Mayfield and we talked for a quick minute, setting up the interview for just after his performance on stage. Bishop opened with "Rock Me Baby," which I have seen Bonnie Raitt do more than a few times, the funny thing is I always thought it was one of her songs. I asked Bishop during the interview, he mentioned a couple of names he thought it might have been authored by, a traditonal song, anyway, not written by Bonnie Raitt. Internet research confirmed that everybody wrote "Rock Me Baby," or at least everybody has covered it. My guess is Muddy Waters is the true author, just a stab at the truth. Bishop dedicated the second song to Taj Majal, it was a jazzy number with Tamas Marius bringing it to life on the saxophone, and brothers Billy Vallaire on guitar and Joe Vallaire on bass, and Jamey-De on drums.

                                 The songs I liked the most were the originals by the keyboardist Tom Lawson, Bishop did most of them, but Tom sang a couple of great tunes in the style of Doctor John. Bishop is an extremely charismatic person who greets everyone with a smile, it was an amazing experience to meet him. We ended up spending a fair portion of the day together, well you know, I did actually have to work between all the fun. I think that Bishop's performance was as memorable as even the big acts that hit the main stage later. There was this completely unforgettable verifiable nuthead that was in the audience dancing right up front, silently serenading all the members of the audience and Bishop. He was wearing about three layers of pajamas and some women's clothes, peeling them off and throwing them on stage as if he were in some weird burlesque show. That didn't seem to bother Bishop at all, he was as smooth as silk singing right through the distraction, but it was obvious from the facial expressions on some people that they were uncomfortable with his antics. The rest of us got a good laugh, and probably a sigh of relief in thanks for our own sound mental health. Bishop Mayfield played a great high energy set, he dedicated his last song, "Unchain My Heart," to Ray Charles and we boogied down in his memory. Anyway, between Bishop's good graces and the crazy guy to make me laugh, the festival was off to a real good start.

                                The interview with Bishop Mayfield was cut short, which I was a little disconcerted about. Although, I didn't really have time to think about it, I had to run immediately over to the Arena (main) stage to cover Teeny Tucker. I had already missed the first part of her time slot, but it was alright because there was a "Whole Lotta Shaking Going on," by Jerry Lee Lewis playing when I came around the corner. That was all I needed to hear, Teeny was busy making fans and I snapped a shot of a couple who were already sold on  Teeny Tucker for sure. Teeny was wearing this beautiful shawl that had roses and peacock feathers in the pattern and tassles and sequins to boot. Later, when I was interviewing her, someone complimented on the outfit and she said, "I bought it here last year from one of the vendors." So, even the artist's come here to the Monterey Bay Blues festival for the food and the shopping. The next song was this smooth slow jazzy thing by Etta James, I thought that one really highlighted Teeny's talent, oozing out this sexy sultry sweet sound, you just got to hear it for yourself. Teeny was an angel, we did the interview right after her set while she was doing autographs, a very gracious woman. 

                               I was going to take a half an hour to get something to eat and drink, but I ran into Bishop Mayfield just outside the arena stage in front of the backstage bar, otherwise known as the "green room." Which is ironic, because it's the only place you can get a drink without any green, you just can't beat free. Anyway, Bishop is ready and willing to finish the interview, so we sit down right there on this little curb and finish our taped conversation. Bishop is dressed out of his traditional African robe and is now wearing black jeans and a t-shirt. He suddenly looks like the definition of a California boy, I have to admit I was incredibly shocked when he said he was sixty-three years old. After hanging out with Bishop and his companions for a while, finishing the interview, I had no time for myself. I turned right back around into the Arena and found Bonamass already on stage tearing up the stage with ear-splitting rock and roll. This is when I really start thinking about the history of the venue. My friends, this stage is the same stage that Jimi Hendrix smashed and burned his guitar on at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. Right there with Joe Bonamassa's guitar whining out the blues rock, you could squint your eyes and almost see Jimi up there with his face all aglow frome the flames leaping off his smashed pile of a guitar. Back to the present, Bonamass is on stage, gutiar, bass , drums, and keyboards a tight unit with no frills, just blowing rock and roll. Joe is wearing black shoes, black pant, white shirt, and a smile curling off the edge of his lips, the music sounds like Black Sabbath blues or something, I like it. Then, the next song sounds influenced by east indian scitar music or sometingof that nature. Joe plays a broad range of influences into his music, this is clear to me, but I liked it all. I have to say that out of all the artists present over the weekend, Joe Bonamassa impressed me the most, having never seen him before gave him a slight edge up on Taj Majal. I got the notion he's from the south, because at times, I thought he sounded like Widespread Panic, some Government Mule in there too, he's just got that southern guitar sound in him.

                            Finally, I gets me a little times to m'self, and straights to the green room I go, and lo and behold there 'ees still some free food left, you're getting the idea," I likes free." I chow down real fast and get a quick drink from the bar and have no time to get over to Henry Butler on the Garden stage. He's already on stage when I get there, and I was just in time to catch Otis Redding's classic, "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay." That was very nice, it sounded so sweet and a breeze wafted through the heat right then. Still, I'm a little tired, a little hungry, and a little thirsty, so I head back to the green room to clear my head and have a little time to myself. Most of the stress of the day is gone, the interviews are over and I'm really looking forward to Susan Tedeschi coming up later in the evening. Before you know it, I have to go because CJ Chenier is on stage a few minutes early. I was taken completely by surprise to find a black man with an accordion on his lap. I thought only white people had the willingness to completely humiliate themselves by playing such an atrocious instrument in front of other people. Let's face the music, folks, the accordion is an instrument that belongs in a closet, or maybe a casket, or a museum, like many other dead and defunct items from the past. I can't even count the times I was at a Grateful Dead show and Bruce Hornsby would buzzkill the whole show by pulling that damn thing out. I figure you're probably getting the idea I don't like accordion in my music. Alright, let's give CJ his fair dues, I'm sure he's paid his dues playing dat 'ting. He did sound pretty good though, for someone playing an accordion, the rest of the band was totally rocking out. The washboard player was in the zone, playing out these snake shaking rythyms like I never heard before, it was unreal. I give the CJ Chenier band an A+, despite the existence of accordions; I still liked the show, hence the grade comes on a curve. Let her rip Mr. Chenier, and don't be afraid to show anyone your accordion.

                          Susan Tedeschi, you can say that again, "Susan Tedeschi,"I had no idea, ok , I kind of had an idea, but that idea became written in stone after I heard her play. She sounds a lot like Bonnie Raitt when she sings, but with a sound all her own. People I know have been talking her up for years, Susan Tedeschi, Susan Tedeschi, now I know why they wouldn't shut up about Susan Tedeschi. She does wail, that is some good stuff. She dedicated the third song to James Cotton, but she played a Buddy Guy song. She's got a jam she played later that was a little reggae, a little blues, with some Terrapinish riffs in it. I would spend money to this performer, a great show not to be missed. Well, I always save the best for last, and the MBBF Board of Directors followed that sentiment; knowing full well that Taj Majal was going to knock the socks off the crowd, and we'd be dancing on our bare feet. Yeah, it was on! My work was done, nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile, and dance, dance, dance. Taj brought that smile out like a snakecharmer, by the third song, woosh, I was feeling lighter than air, and off come the shoes! I boogied down, my arms and fleet flying around and around in concentric circles. I spun myself right into the ZONE, the crowd melted away as Taj's guitar took contol of my mind, body, and soul. Complete bliss is the only way to describe it. The evening was cool, and the hippies came in droves from out of the masses to catch one of our favorites; we all grabbed the empty wide open spaces and filled them with the blur of bodies, dancing tirelessly to the that sweet sound that only Taj Majal can give us. Reminiscient of guitars gone by, like a warm summer night vanished in the past, Taj jammed. We rejoiced in what we still have to hold on to, and thanked the Taj Majal trio for bringing us on home.

    NICK RUNNING 

     


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