Winter Blues Fest
It was quite the deal — very different from other blues festivals I’ve attended in Des Moines. Those were held in the Court Avenue district, with bands performing either in an outdoor venue (the summer version) or in various bars throughout the area (winter version).
For a winter venue, the Marriott worked great. You can park your car anywhere downtown and access the hotel through the skywalk system, thus staying warm the entire way. The CIBS did a good job of scheduling the acts so you would watch one set, then when the band took a break you could go to another room and another group would be in full swing. Of the four bands I watched, each was unique in its blues style and performance, from soulful to hard rocking to sleek and stylized to full-on boogie.
We started with the Lil’ Slim Blues Band, the 2011 Blues Society of Omaha blues challenge winner. The lead singer had a great voice and was an amazing lead guitarist. Of the four, this band was probably the truest “blues” band and definitely my favorite.
Moving on, we went to the Dubuque Room to see Eddie Turner and the Trouble Twins, an unlikely name for a band made up of three of the most different-looking guys you could imagine. Perhaps the name was supposed to be ironic. The lead singer, Eddie Turner, had the most unusual hair style I believe I’ve ever seen. It reminded me of one of those dogs at the American Kennel Club dog show that looks more like a sheep than a dog. He was sporting lots of bling-y jewelry and a deep voice. When he was on lead vocals, the band was more rock than blues. But switch over to the drummer on lead and you got a completely different, much more bluesy sound. The drummer, wearing vintage sunglasses and a beret, looked more like a poet or an English prof but, man, he could wail on the harmonica (while still banging on the drums).
The third band, Connie Hawkins and the BluesWreckers, was a finalist in the 2011 Kansas City Blues Society Challenge. A six-piece band, Connie shared lead vocals with her husband. My favorite performer in this upbeat group was probably the keyboardist, an older guy with a hat and a very happy attitude.
The blues played late into the night, but I only managed to see one more band before allowing the ringing in my ears to send me home at 10:15. The last band, The Candymakers, was made up of considerably younger musicians and provided the slickest-looking (i.e., black suits, red shirts, and black ties) performance of the evening. More jazzy than bluesy at times, the Candymakers (winners of the 2011 Iowa Blues Societies Blues Challenge) featured a saxophone player and a mean lead guitarist.
The Candymakers gave me a little hope that this musical style might live to see the next generation. All other indicators pointed to the opposite, however. Most of the other musicians I saw were middle-aged or older (some much older), and the majority of the audience was 40 and over. I’d like to think that blues transcends all age groups.
I should mention the other six bands that performed last night (and probably into this morning while I was soundly sleeping): Rob Lumbard, Bryce Janey, Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials, Bob Dorr and the Blue Band, Javier and the Innocent Sons, and the Bob Pace Band.