Words and pictures by Duane Clawson
As these reviews I write can attest, 2013 has been my blues year. I have come to appreciate the music even more from covering these shows but what is even more impressive are the people associated with blues music. Everyone involved with blues music in and around St. Louis, from the musicians to the fans have been overly accommodating to myself and MTC. So for that, I would like to thank you all! This year’s installment of the Big Muddy Blues Festival took place over Labor Day weekend at its usual location, Laclede’s Landing in St. Louis. The Big Muddy production team stuck with the same winning formula as years' past, two smaller stages located at Morgan and Lucas streets and the big stage located at Lucas and 1st streets. Now that I’ve given you a geography lesson, let’s grab a knife and a fork and dig in to the meat and potatoes of this festival: the music.
First off, a couple of challenges had to be dealt with head on; my lack of sleep, and the last gasp of summer’s heat. On my way to cover the first day of music my car’s thermometer reminded me it was 103 degrees outside! Arriving fashionably late, I caught the midway point of an act from St. Louis locals, Bible Belt Sinners. As you will discover from reading this article, musical diversity was reigning supreme at this year’s festival, and the Sinners gave you just that with their rock-a-billy sound and look. The heat also nearly claimed its first victim as Sinners' lead singer, Miss Molly, had to seek shade and have a seat during the bands, dare I say, hot set. Needless to say, during this first day of coverage, I did not move about the festival too much due to the oppressive heat. I will tell you the side stages were filled with many local favorites, Aaron Kamm & The One Drops, The Trip Daddy’s, Big Mike Aguirre, and Marquise Knox, just to name a few.
After a quick tear down of the main stage, it was time for some St. Louis music royalty to take center stage in the form of Billy Peek. So you ask who is this Billy Peek? Well, his resume includes guitar playing stints with Chuck Berry and Rod Stewart,so that should let give you some insight as to what Mr. Peek is capable of. Billy Peek brought the Big Muddy crowd to its feet with his classic “Can a White Boy Play the Blues” and a rousing cover of “Johnny B. Goode”; both of these songs could also be considered a tribute St. Louis-styled blues music. Billy Peek gave the already hot stage a proper priming for an adopted St. Louis musician, and one that I have reviewed on a couple of occasions, Anthony Gomes. Gomes, always a pleasure to watch perform, stayed true to form by sizing up the Big Muddy attendees and then letting them have a dose of good old dirty blues. Anthony appeared to be on top of his game as this was his first time playing Big Muddy and proclaiming he had desired to do so for the past ten years. Gomes' set was so good in fact it brought rain; well maybe it was the storm front that was rapidly approaching from the southwest. The heavy downpour and the lighting strikes sent people scrambling for cover and shortened Anothony's set by fifteen minutes. There was a brief concern the festival would not continue but it appears God is a music fan and after an hour and fifteen-minute delay, it was on with the night’s headliner, Reverend Horton Heat.
As I mentioned earlier, musical diversity was in bloom this weekend and the Reverend was one its biggest, brightest flowers. One would probably not consider the Reverend’s music blues-based but as I have found out through covering blues music, blues fans really like and embrace all types of music. Early in to the Reverend’s session, it was plain to see he had already gained some new fans, as many left their chairs in the VIP section to stand along the barricade to take in all the Reverend was offering. This was my third time witnessing the Reverend live and I will tell you this show went to the top of my list. The Reverend showed off his stand up bass skills as he and Jimbo switched instruments. Jimbo played a pretty mean guitar as well. The Rev also produced a surprise guest, Deke Dickerson. Deke writes for Guitar Player magazine and owns one of the worlds more exotic guitar collections. I also might add he is a pretty darn good guitar player as well. Mr. Dickerson sat in with the band for a couple of songs while the Reverend and Jimbo assisted Deke by taking turns playing one of the two necks of his custom made double-neck guitar. Unfortunately due to prior commitments, I would have leave a party in progress but all reports confirm the Rev’s show got better as the night went on.
Day two started off much the same way as day one did, fashionably late but twelve degrees cooler at a balmy 91. On day 2, I would find it a little more bearable to stroll the grounds and catch a few of the sights and sounds on Laclede’s Landing. First off, I ventured to the main stage to take in a little of St. Louis’s Robert Jordan and the Funky Dragons. Robert Jordan and the band were doing justice to a few R&B covers and Mr. Jordan was a treat to watch on stage as he could have been likened to James Brown, minus the splits of course on a hot day in the STL. Taking a break from the main stage, I ventured over to catch another St. Louis institution, Jimmy Lee Kennett and his band, on the Morgan Street stage. I had heard that Jimmy Kennett could play the guitar but that was an understatement, it was more like he made the guitar his bitch. Jimmy is an annual invitee to the Stevie Ray Vaughn tribute show in St. Louis and after hearing him play guitar it was apparent why he is continually asked to play the show. Strolling the festival one gets a sense of community from the restaurants and bars located on the Landing. Employees from competing establishments, talking and laughing throughout the day while providing great food and beverages to the blues music fans.
Back at the main stage, I found myself taking in yet another St. Louis native, the Jeremiah Johnson Band. Jeremiah and his band have been on the rise lately as they have been receiving airplay on Sirius XM’s Bluesville Channel. Many of the late afternoon crowd had come to see Johnson's Band and was appreciative of this local talent's skills and showmanship. As the Band left the stage to a standing ovation, I did not move an inch as I did not want to miss the next blues legend, Mr. Walter Trout. BBC Radio One places Trout number six on a Top 20 list of all time great guitarists. How’s that for legend status? Walter has playing credits include gigs with John Mayhall and Canned Heat. Walter was rehabbing a bit on this night from some broken ribs but still gave St. Louis one heck of a show. Our friend Anthony Gomes sat in with Walter and his band for a song. Walter gave a silent compliment to Gomes by letting him take over lead guitar duties as Walter took to playing the harmonica from a chair, getting up briefly to examine Anthony’s guitar playing and give a nod of approval. Walter’s set was a bit short due to his rib injury so this allowed me time to stroll up Lucas Street and hear the closing notes of the talented and local Tony Campanella Band.
Tony is another local guitar force to be reckoned with. Playing each gig with the upmost compassion, Tony puts on the same energetic show for a crowd of fifty or a thousand, leaving everyone in a pile of smoking ruble when finished. I should also mention that the blues music fans were doing a great job of supporting the local economy as the Landing’s bars and restaurants were packed as the evening progressed. Alright, one more trip to the main stage and I am done. David Clayton-Thomas was chosen as the closer and keeping the festival on track with the musical diversity theme. Clayton-Thomas was quoted as saying, "People like me don’t retire; this is what I was put here to do” and he is living proof of that quote at age 71. Clayton-Thomas could easily retire with a history of forty million albums sold, induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, and his composition of “Spinning Wheel” for Blood Sweat & Tears, has been enshrined in the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. As David stepped on stage you could see the sparkle in his eye and the festival audience was magically transported back to 1968. While covering all the hits of Blood Sweat & Tears, David intermingled stories of his nearly fifty years of performing and some of the famous people he had met as a struggling musician. Sadly, some left early and found Clayton-Thomas not to be their cup of tea but many stayed to reminisce with some great music from the 70’s. In researching this article, I came across some criticism of the festival for having headliners like David Clayton-Thomas and Reverend Horton Heat. The explanation from festival head Emily Kochan was simple, the goal of booking these two acts was to broaden the appeal of the festival and that Emily, is a great goal!
I’d like to thank Emily Kochan for allowing MTC access to the Big Muddy Blues Festival and all of the volunteers that work so hard to put a great festival together! Pictures of the festival are below:
Bible Belt Sinners
Reverend Horton Heat
Robert Jordan and the Funky Dragons
Jimmy Lee Kennett
Jeremiah Johnson Band
Contributed by Duane Clawson
Big Muddy Blues Festival @ Laclede's Landing, St.Louis, MO Reviewed by Scott Rowe, Editor on 2:00:00 PM Rating: