Baton Rouge Blues Fest: In Rain, Shine, and Frigid Temperatures
Not often are we scared away from a little in climate weather down south. With hurricanes, snow, sweltering days, and everything in between sometimes-sandwiched into one week, Louisiana sees some changes that can be described as erratic at best. There is always a back up plan.
(All images by Nicole Sergent, check out the full gallery here)
Baton Rouge Blues Fest 2018 saw some torrential rains on day one. With onslaughts of storms that canceled other fests across the state (see French Quarter Fest), the show went on. Persistent blues aficionados had the privilege of seeing acts perform at local oyster hub Jolie Pearl. Jam-packed and full of life, the venue was at capacity as musicians performed in the intimate setting. Due to weather restrictions, this reporter was unable to visit the show, but heard from fans that the bands were kicking despite the weather.
Day two was a much friendlier setting for music. Chilly temperatures but high sun produced an absolutely lovely day for a music festival. The day started out with a thin, but dedicated crowd. DJ Swamp Boogie spun some hits, building the anticipation for what was to come. Opening up on the Swamp Blues stage was Sundanze Howie, featuring lead singer Weldon Dunston, a seasoned musician who has been performing musically since he was a ripe 17. His band the Young Lions put on an energetic set rich with talent and layers of music. This artist continues to contribute to the rich tapestry of Baton Rouge’s blues scene as he performs around the area almost nightly-be sure to check out on of his sets.
The day rolled forward with a soul scraping performance by Terry ‘Harmonica’ Bean. This legendary musician is demonstrative of age serving artists well. Beyond his clear penchant for composition, Terry ‘Harmonica’ Bean brings about a rare skill: masterfully playing two instruments simultaneously in performance. When Terry hit notes on his harmonica while wailing on his guitar, listeners were carried to Mississippi, where his blues hailed from. With pieces full of heartbreak and mournful woes about women, Terry surely evoked a little feeling from any one lucky enough to catch his set.
Troy Turner brought audience members to their feet with his group’s distinctive sound influenced by classic rock. His high-energy set packed areas around the stage full of music fans, dancers, and audience members from all walks of life. Turner’s sound that incorporated more elements of rock, kept toe tapping and bodies moving. Mid set he asked audience members what they thought about Jimi Hendrix, then proceeded to break into one of many guitar solos. This artist’s rowdy set brought life to an audience needing to get on its feet.
In between sets local favorite Kenny Neal made a call for audience members to support his charitable efforts in donating guitars to local students. Neal has been a long time supporter of Kids Rock the Nation, offering up signed guitars and monetary support for the organization. Be sure to check out the cause here.
Returning to the tradition of Swamp Blues, which the Baton Rouge Blues Festival aims to preserve and promotes, Lazy Lester hit the stage. This writer may or may not visit the festival annually just to see him perform. Full of entertaining anecdotes and a fiery spirit unfettered by age, Lester’s harmonica performances and almost mush-mouthed vocals are worth writing home about. Being a fan, this author wrote a full piece on the talented artist (found here).
A pleasant surprise broke across the Swamp Blues stage when piano legend Henry Gray performed. The living legend was slated to perform on Saturday until weather cancelled all performances that day. Baton Rouge was in for a real treat as he was helped onto stage. Despite his frailties, Gray put on a performance to remember. The seasoned musician brought life to the piano, putting on an electric performance. His fingers danced across the keyboard with such vigor, jaws dropped. After his brief set, Gray graciously autographed posters and memorabilia at the merch tent. His age showed in these interactions as Gray audibly spelled his name out and constantly was reminded of what year it was. Good natured and content, the artist signed fans posters and shirts, seemingly unaware of the talent he just unleashed on the stage. Gray is no stranger to putting on a great show, this author has written a short piece about his career and contribution to swamp blues here. The whole performance was reflective of just how powerful memory, music, and audience connection can be.
Jimmy ‘Duck’ Holmes snuck onto the stage after Gray exited. Performing some of his own work, he crooned out songs about troubles and women-the topics of choice for blues artists. After several solo songs, Terry ‘Harmonica,’ Bean, joined Jimmy and Alabama blues musicians The Dexateens for a serious jam session. The set felt a bit like a garage concert, with moments that seemed improvised and loosely held together permeating the performance. It was easy to get lost in the music with so many talents with a wide range on stage at once. Any audience member with the slightest affection for blues couldn’t help but be engaged with such an eclectic collective of performers.
There were many other musicians featured at the Baton Rouge Blues Fest including Samantha Fish, Chris Thomas King, The Subdudes, Harvey Knox, and more. . If you are looking for an educational festival featuring truly talented performers, a relaxing audience, multiple stages, a variety of vendors, and dedicated organizers, we will see you at the Baton Rouge Blues fest in 2019.
The spirit of blues music is found today in every bit of modern music. From the birth of rock, to modern R&B, the blues has left an imprint across almost every genre. It is arguably one of the most important genres of them all. We should work our hardest to preserve blues talent and support the scene. Please support your local blues musicians and support the Baton Rouge Blues foundation (found here) to keep the blues alive. We wouldn't have the music we have today without it