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I think I might have said this last year, but this has to have been the best Thirsty Ear Festival ever. A mighty time, as the fokies used to say.
I was filling out the survey yesterday and, while I had a zillion or so suggestions for acts to get for future festivals (The Waco Brothers, Irma Thomas, Los Tigres del Norte, Peter Case ....) I couldn't really think of anything to write under the category "What are we doing wrong?" Later I thought, "More trash cans around the festival grounds," but that's about it.
Like I said about the Saturday show, there seemed to be more people than ever this year. That trend continued Sunday and that's a good thing, though like I was telling Mike Koster (strongman and president for life of Thirsty Ear Festival), if this keeps up, soon people will be grumbling about the "good old days " at Thirsty Ear when the crowds weren't such a problem.
But until that day, here's my favorites from the Sunday line-up:
Dave "Honeyboy" Edwards: I don't know whether he really
was there the night Robert Johnson was murdered, but he was a lot closer to it than I was, so I won't argue that here. One thing for sure, he's probably the last of the old Mississippi blues masters performing today, maybe the last one standing who's played with Son House and Charlie Patton back in the old days, and he's still a joy to hear and behold.
Listening to Honeyboy sing and play (accompanied on harmonica by his manager Michael Frank) made me imagine what it must have been like to hear this music played at parties and back porches in rural Mississippi in the '30s. Honeyboy was joined late in his set by guitarist Louisiana Red (a relative youngster, in his '70s who'd performed at the festival on Saturday), jamming like a couple of old friends. Sometimes the songs meandered a bit, and I'm still not quite sure why he played "Catfish Blues" twice, but Hells bells, he's 91 years old!
Hazel Miller: Like T. Broussard & The Zydeco Steppers on Saturday night, this soul belter from Denver was one of the big surprises of the show. That's been one of the real joys of Thirsty Ear in recent years. Last year I discovered soul singer Earl Thomas as well as blues stomping' Tarbox Ramblers. It's the "big names" that draw people in I suppose, but it's these lesser-knowns who can deliver that make the festival a real treat.
Hazel, who has some association with Bighead Todd and the Monsters -- and said she used to have a band called Hazel Miller & The Caucasians -- plays a basic funky soul blues. There were some covers (Aretha's "Chain of Fools") and several I didn't recognize, which I'm assuming are original. But she branched out some, doing a Latin-tinged number followed with a jazzy version of the standard "Don't Get Around Much Anymore." And her between-song patter was hilarious, especially when she talked about BOB, her "Battery Operated Boyfriend." She had the audience in the palm of her hands from the first song.
Bone Orchard: Chipper (pictured left with mandolin) was the utility man of this festival. Besides his own electrifying set with his band The Feast Friday night, he did a second-stage set accompanied by Kim Treiber and one with bouzouki-man Roger Landis. And on Sunday night he played a high-charged set with a Taos band Bone Orchard, led by Dan Pretends Eagle (pictured here with banjo) who also plays with The Feast, and singer Carol Morgan-Eagle.
They romped through a fine folk-rock cover of X's "Burning House of Love," a version of "Pretty Polly" (Dan called this chestnut the "Johnny B. Goode of folk festivals") which featured Chipper on some pretty psychedelic guitar; and an incredible folk gospel of Michael Franti's version of "Wayfaring Stranger."
Dave Alvin & The Guilty Men: It just doesn't get much better than this folks. Alvin's performance has reduced me to pre-teen gibberish:
And in my own language: BITCHEN!
The Guiltys were joined by none their than Chris Gaffney of the Hacienda Brothers (pictured at left with accordion) who opened the set before Alvin emerged with a song about Albuquerque. My only complain about the whole set is that Alvin should have let Gaffney sing "Volver, Volver."
Alvin's songs relied heavily on tunes from his latest album West of the West -- "Redneck Friend," "Surfer Girl," "Between the Cracks," and Merle Haggard's "Kern River," (which Greg Brown also sang the day before. But some of my favorite songs he did Sunday were from his previous album Ashgrove -- "Out of Control," a classic Alvin tale from the American underbelly, and the title song, which not only is a tribute to the blues greats he used to see as a teen in L.A. , but is an affirmation of his purpose as a musician -- raising ghosts on the stage.
Goshen: Grant Hayunga and the Palmer Brothers Jim & Bill (the male half of Hundred Year Flood) are energetic enough to follow Dave Alvin and original enough to take you to another dimension. The group played an intense set which featured old songs and some from an upcoming album.
How can you describe Goshen? This is what people who condemn the blues hear right before they die and go to Hell. Grant plays slide guitar, Bill does keyboards (that sometimes crept merrily into Addams Family territory Sunday) and Jim drums. Last night he was pounding like a madman. What a great way to end the festival.