Thursday, August 23, 2007

All Hail Chris Johnson and The Deep Blues Festival!

First of all I want to thank Chris Johnson from the bottom of my heart for putting together The Deep Blues Festival and for allowing me to play a part in it.

I've been home from the Deep Blues Festival for a few days now and I can't remember the last time i've been involved in something where after all was said and done and played and drank I rehashed every moment in my mind for days. Hell I'm even losing sleep thinking about it all. I've played in bands for about 30+ years and I can't remember ever playing a gig that had this kind of band to band to fan comraderie. From the biggest names to the newest to the weirdest it was just some kind of dingdang love fest goin' on. All the musicians may have been there to play but every musician there was also a big fan and/or friend of most of the other acts. By the time it was over there was no and/or. Everybody was a fan AND a friend. Sure this was a first time fest and kinda low key on the national register but all the musicians at the DBF were completly accessible to the part 'cuz most of them were out standing in the rain watching everybody play just like the rest of us were. Did I say rain? Oh hell yes it rained. Woke up saturday morning at 7am after spending friday night listening to the brilliant Rev.KM Williams jam with Washboard Jackson, listening to the amazing one,2,and 3 string lowebow master Mr. Johnny Lowebow hisbadself, as well as the the one man band wunderkid Smokestack then going to the hotel and drankin' and talkin' to Chris Cotton and his gal pal til 4a. Saturday morning was like winter in Florida and early fall anywhere else. Cold, cloudy and windy. As I left St. Augustine I mentioned to my wife that i'd for gotten my flip-flaps and she suggested we stop and buy some. Damn good thing we didnt bother. It rained all fkn day from about 9am til around 9pm. Cold slanted unenchanted rain. Thank God my ol' Pal Mutt had a xtra rain coat. My ol' cowboy boots had holes in 'em but the rest of me stayed no worse than slightly soggy. But enuff of the damned weather. Let's talk about the music. First of all the sound crew did a fantastic job. Every band/artist sounded excellent! Two stages side by side allowed one to set up as the other played with virtually no down time or lame MC jokes between acts. Speaking of MCs the gentleman from KFAi (sorry I didnt get his name) did an excellent job (and by all reports the radio station was hyper supportive of the whole thing!). I'm gonna try and give you a rundown of each of the acts. Forgive and correct me if I get something wrong. It was a long beautiful day. First up was a one-man band that goes by the name of Smokestack and The Foothill Fury. Straight outta Dahlonega GA he drove all the way up to Wisconsin and he rocked one of the main tents as folks arrived. Sooper nice guy and fine musician as well with a really cool ass set up...he's got this hi-hat stand with a couple drum sticks hooked up to it that play the snare. Gotta see it. First to hit the stage was another one-man band Johnny Lowebow. He rawked hard on his quiver of lowebow guitars and towards the end of his set was joined by the utterly loveable yet insane Washboard Jackson on what else but washboard which ended in Johnny literally rollin' around on the stage in a one-string feedbacked frenzy. He set the bar at least as high as i'd hoped for. Johnny was followed by The Rev. KM Williams. Brother Williams had come up from the Dallas area and loaded us down with a big heap of trancy Texas Hill Country Boogie. He was joined by his main man Washboard Jackson who proceeded to get down on the drums bare frkn handed. It was beautiful. Up next was The Birddogs, a band that was new to me 'cept for seeing the poor bastards trying to get their truck goin' at the hotel that morning. They drove all the way from their home town of Pontiac Michigan for this gig. When you hear a band announce from the stage "This is a T-Model Ford song" you know damn well it's gonna great. And they were. A three piece + a tambourine player they were heavy yet melodic with a psychedelic tinge and burly North Mississippi groove sensibility. Another deadly one-man band was up next and that man's name is Mr. John Schooley. While every band was fabtastic there was just something about Schooley that made him a real high light for me. While all the one-man bands were stunning Schooley just had his sht down to a powerful evol science. He totally embodied the ghost of Hasil Adkin's and The Cramps' adopted demon love child. Brimstone Howl hail from a dirty ultra mega power garage some wheres in my wife's hometown of Linncoln Nebraska. One of the fine bands representin' the awesome Alive Record Label stable that day and they did not disappoint. Tight as hell and lookin' good they rocked out hard and all the ladies from the food tent poured out to dance and check 'em out. So should you. Next up was Mr. Chris Cotton. Cotton called me friday afternoon before I left for the airport to ask if i'd play drums for him. Of course I said yes inspite of my lack of practice and having never played with Cotton before. But we talked about it at the Hotel late friday night over a bottle of Beam (thx CJ!)and he and his girl went over the songs he was thinking about doing. Then we went over them again in Chris Johnson's truck with Cotton and his gal in the back seat and me keepin' time on the console btween the seats. Then we played. Everybody said it sounded great and I know Cotton played brilliantly as usual. Another high point of my day...and life! One of the most talked about bands (after their performance) was Radio Moscow. The new drummer of one month is excellent and I look frwrd to hearing him after he's been with them for six months. Another band from Alive Records. If any band could have controlled the weather it would have been these guys. Stunning. William Elliot Whitmore should have been next but he got lost or something for a half hour or so. Instead we got to hear Elam McKnight jam with Rev. Williams and Washboard Jackson. They were amazing. Elam hill funk met The Reverends hill boogie and shook hands. The rest of us shook our asses. Hillstomp took over the place next and everyone that I talked to about them agreed that it's one thing to hear their cds but quite another thing to see and hear them in real life. The rain actually stopped for a few minutes out of respect. Hillstomp's boogie is so tight and so ferocious that I was kinda surprised when I met them that these nice unassuming fellow northwesterners were the ones raising such a terrific wonderful racket. William Elliot Whitmore finally found the fest and unleashed his banjo on us all. He was well worth the wait. Tremendous player and excellent singer and songwriter. Moreland and Arbuckle were next and did beautiful job as the link between a somewhat more traditional blues and the rawkin' dirty fkdup punkass blues of a bunch of the other artists. Nicer guys you'd have a tough time finding. Aaron Moreland guitar is muscular and nimble and Dustin Arbuckle's harp playing and vocals were first class all the way. Another of the talked about outfits at this year's Deep Blues Festival was Left Lane Cruiser. LLC is a brand spanking new adition to the Alive Records roster and to think we knew them back when. They were high on the list of bands that folks I knew wanted to see (including me) and they did not disappoint in the least. Another duo they threw their thing down hard,funky and sexy til folks were dancing shoeless in the mud. They had a really powerful dirty North Mississippi Hill Country influenced sound and were a real thrill to see and hear. This is another band (of many!)that I can't wait to see again. Another artist that I just plain LOVE to hear played next. He's Mark "Porkchop" Holder. His solo cd is wicked and live he's even better. Porkchop has gotta be one of the funniest guys I have ever met and one of the sweetest. He likes to play around home mostly (Chattanooga)but I hope I get the chance to see him again soon. A brilliant and moving guitar and harp player and a wonderfully soulful singer. When Mark says "I can play it. I can make you feel it. I can. I was born in the country and raised up in town. I'm natural born able to shake'em on down." he ain't lying. Sweet Velvet C is better know as Chet from Thee Immortal Lee County Killers. But not fer damn long. Chet set the bar for the evening with a sick stylin' set of greasy ass blues backed by a drum machine and his own humungous personality that spilled out into the mud and rain and weirdly clouded black night sky. I HEART SWEET VELVET C. Up next was Mr. Elam McKnight . Elam and I have been virtual "friends" online for years but it was nice to see, like every single person I met at The DBF, that he's just as cool in real life. Elam was another of the duos and was utterly badass. He's got the North Mississippi vibe down but it's totally infused with his own thing. Amazing and powerful performer. His drummer made me sick. He's one of those young guys that has loads of technical skills but he doesnt let that get in his way of gettin' down on it. Wicked. Black Diamond Heavies were up next and they are so diabolical and wrong. Come on! Who the fk ever heard of a two piece made up of keys and drums? Well if you ever get the chance to hear them (and you will cuz they tour non-stop) their sound will slap that attitude right down into the mud where it belongs. Along with yr jaw. Coolest thing for me about seeing the BDH again was checking out the look on the faces of people like the guys in Hillstomp who hadnt heard them before...a look that said OH SHT! They've been stars since I first saw them when Mark "Porkchop" Holder still played with them every and time i've seen them since they've gotten just head spinningly better. I'll be seeing 'em again the end of September. Following the BDH was a man that must be called co-Headliner out of respect as well as outta the fact that he totally mesmerized every damp boggy bastard that was left standing. Mr. Robert Belfour was a gentleman in every sense which to my mind might be difficult to be considering how long he hung out in his purple suit and rain gear before his slot. A living legend everyone was completely reverential as he played and he was well worth the wait. He played and sang beautifully and i'll always cherish the fact that I got to finally see him. Last but sure as hell not least was Mr. Scott H Biram. To my mind Scott Hiram Biram sorta kinda embodies all the The Deep Blues as a "scene" or style is and stands for. Scott's love of real serious old time blues/bluegrass/country...and metal is unmistakable. It's his ability to combine all the music that he loves so much into one cohesive thang that makes what he and all the other artists that played the Deep Blues Festival, so special. Scott's gig was boss and he seems more comfortable than ever in his spot. You NEED to go out of yr way and see him. Each artist/band was different but each had a passion for music history and in particular music that is played by people that are like them. People who play without consideration to hits or fireworks or fashion or any other sort of bullsht. As our friend Keith, who is a professional promoter whose company Hillgrass/Bluebilly works with many of the Deep Blues Festival's artists says on his company's myspace page "We ain't no fuckin' around." That sums up every artist at The Deep Blues Festival.
Will there be another Deep Blues Festival next year? Let's hope so. Inspite of the weather this was one of the best musical/cultural/personal experiences of my life.
One of the greatest things is seeing so many of the volunteers who were mostly much older than the artists(except for Mr. Belfour)coming up to the artists and to Chris Johnson and myself and saying that they were moved by the music. Can you ask for more?

A huge Thank You again to Chris Johnson and to all the artists.


  1. wow. thanks for this ricksaunders.

    e'vrybody knows i wish i coulda been there - and god knows i'm gonna do my best next year.
    my best then and now to ev'rybody that performed and made the effort to get there and see/hear it go down.

    the utmost respect to chris johnson for taking on this labor of love - and seeing it through to the bitter, rainy end. a righteous dude to say the least. i sure hope he realizes how important it was, what he did, and i hope and trust we will get to experience the 2nd Annual Deep Blues Festival.

    i know my experiences with Hillstomp. Left Lane Cruiser, Elam McKnight, Robert Belfour, etc. thsi year have been amazing and I hope to share the stage with them again soon. Maybe even at next year's DBF.

    thanks again for the insight and review, and keeping the rightfully deserved exposure on chris, DBF and all the bands and fans that participated.

    jay martin
    DJ HWY 7
    portland, or

  2. At least it rained so it wasn´t totally perfect...Maybe next year... /pEr

  3. Thanks for posting this Rick. At least now I have a taste of what I missed.

    Looks like Chris did an incredible job in pulling this off, weather be damned.

    Sure do hope there's another one of time, I'll just drive my damn self out to Wisconsin, instead of trusting some anonymous pilot to screw it up.

    Linked to your post over at LiveBluesWorld too...just spreading the word.


So...leave a comment already. What?