Monday, August 8, 2016

I've had the blues...

But nothing like the blues I enjoyed August 6th at the Port Townsend Acoustic Blues Festival!!

I was fortunate enough to share them with a new friend and we walked from venue to venue after a lovely Thai dinner to hear some awesome performers.

The first on the list was Jimmy 'Duck' Holmes who plays an old battered acoustic guitar in the Bentonia school style of country blues. 

Jimmy 'Duck' Holmes in the Key City
Theatre in Port Townsend, WA.
Think of Jack Owens and Skip James and Henry Stuckey. 

Think primitive, dirt-down grit, folks blues. 

The feeling is key, and there were plenty of feelings about no-good wimmin and good or bad likker with some humor worked in.

Nothing fancy about the way Holmes delivered the goods.

But his white hair and skin stretched tight over old bones told the audience he knew what he was singing about.

We got front row seats and it was pure delight to watch him provide us with all the range of emotions that the blues can render.

The next venue was Standing Room Only in the Cotton Building for Corey Ledet on the accordion and Chaz Leary on the washboard presenting some Creole/Zydeco tunes which just got your feet moving, I don't care how little dancing you might do.

Ledet was born in Texas but eventually moved to Louisiana as his love of Zydeco pulled him in. You can hear the roots of his work and his mentors: Clifton Chenier, John Delafose with Wilbert Thibodeaux and The Zydeco Rascals.

Leary makes the washboard seem so easy, but he has received international recognition in acoustic country blues playing with a huge variety of bands like the New Orleans Nightcrawlers, The Iguanas, Tuba Fats, Royal Fingerbowl, the Jazz Vipers, The Palmetto Bug Stompers and Washboard Rodeo. 

Corey Ledet & Washboard Chaz Leary in the Cotton Building.
I had a chance to play the washboard with a group of Cajun Zydeco women performers last year in Port Townsend and I loved the rhythm of it all. Watching Leary made me realize how much farther I need to go to be even a little bit more proficient.

The American VFW hall was on the way back toward the theatre so we stopped in to hear Wendy DeWitt playing boogie-woogie and blues as if her pants were on fire and she needed to get the next measure done before calling the fire department!

Wendy DeWitt with Kirk Harwood, Dean Mueller and
Orville Johnson or Mark Graham.
There were lots of folks dancing and it was pretty loud, no places to sit to watch easily, so we opted to return to the theatre to catch the last bit of music from Steve James, but really aiming for the closer, Guy Davis.

We later wished we hadn't missed all of James' performance because his slide guitar was totally pro and no surprise because he is a recording artist with instructional books, DVDs and on line lessons of the cornerstone blues in the style of Bo Diddley and Howard Armstrong.

But Guy Davis didn't disappoint, either. With his six and 12-string acoustic guitars and his harmonica, he told us tales we might not want to hear but we couldn't stop listening, like his newest song "Sweetbelly," (not yet recorded but sure to be a hit) about a little gal who grew up thinking women were paid for by cigarettes.
Guy Davis, blues musician, teacher, song
writer, author and actor, gracing the stage
at Key City Theatre in Port Townsend.

Davis has been on major television and radio shows and you can tell that the influence of Blind Willie McTell and Fats Waller were not wasted on him. The son of Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, this musician, teacher, songwriter, author and actor gave us his all, right down to the work song about a man who "done gone."

Stories in song you didn't want to hear, but
couldn't stop listening to the end.
I was sitting next to an Australian engineer, name of Bandy, who works in Papua, New Guinea, but who had taken his vacation by coming to the NW to participate in this Centrum workshop and performance event.

Bandy said that Davis was an "exceptional teacher, pushing everyone to reach a little higher, dig a little deeper," and he was pretty thrilled to have come away with improved skills on his own guitar and harmonica.

I am so glad I was able to enjoy this evening of music and storytelling, because that is what the blues is about... telling stories; some good, some bad, some happy, some sad, to a collection of musical beats derived from different locales, the Delta of Mississippi, the Ozarks, the Piedmont and others.

Just last year I delighted in Maria Muldaur's visit to Port Angeles, sharing the roots of her creative life in folk and blues. It seems to be a theme in my own life with the Seeger family introduced at the Woodstock Country School in Vermont carrying me along its own river of discovery with this current group of artists. Great evening. Wonderful companionship. Remarkable performers. Does it get any better than this?


  1. You seem to have a good handle on the blues and its roots. Good for you! Check out Vance Gilbert (My Bad & other songs). He and I fly free flight planes together and frequently introduce each other to others as "my brother".
    Annoying Mouse

    1. You can thank your older brother for introducing me to Muddy Waters as a toddler... and your exploration in photographs of Leadbelly contributed, too. I will check out Bro Vance...