By Mike Roberts
Mother Lode News
The 2010 edition of Coloma Blues Live! raised the bar for the countys premier outdoor blues festival, with the strongest lineup yet. The 2,500 sun-baked and generally well-behaved revelers loved the music from bottom to top.
The early season festival has been climate challenged in years past, and the tardy spring of 2010 had organizers worried about another cool, or even wet one. But the days only climate concern turned out to be keeping the 2,500 or so attendees hydrated.
Saturday became a scorcher before opener Shane Dwight had flexed a pec, the sky a vision of uninterrupted, bright pure blue, the perfect ceiling for a perfect day to soak up some great blues beside the American River.
The early arriving crowd must have heard that last years opener, Laurie Morvan, stole the show. This year, versatile Bay Area beefcake blues rocker Shane Dwight took the stage first and immediately made the day even brighter. His power trio brought a loud, lean sound that was a perfect accompaniment to Dwights gun slinging guitar chops.
The result was a delightful mix of jumpy roadhouse originals and recognizable blues standards. The tattooed, tank-topped Dwight was spontaneous and genuinely funny between songs. The already sweltering crowd on the Henningsen Lotus meadow loved him.
Morvan and her expanded band followed, charming the audience with her Cafe Boogaloo set of raucous blues rock. The clear-eyed math teacher wrapped her lean frame around that Fender Stratocaster and pranced the stage like an estrogenized Mick Jagger, adding her own collection of rock and roll grimaces, hair-flying head shakes and unabashed open- mouthed gawps.
In Good Girls Bad Girls, Morvan crooned I try to be a good girl and do every thing my momma taught, but I think all the good girls are just bad girls that aint been caught.
Morvans mother, Rita King, was on hand, and assured a steady stream of well wishers that her daughter was never a bad girl, simply a free spirit.
Betsy Montgomery, a 39-year-old mother of two from Folsom, asked Morvans parents to sign one of their daughters CDs. Shes just so inspiring … I see her up there and I feel like I could do something like that.
You can! exclaimed Morvans father, Bud King. Its never too late. She was a secretary, an electrical engineer, and a teacher before she decided to do this.
Veteran blues rocker Coco Montoya followed Morvans explosive set with his own, more subtle pyrotechnics. Montoya has become the familiar, gracious uncle of the West Coast blues scene, averaging over 200 tour dates each year. Montoya took the stage in Lotus and quickly demonstrated why John Mayall chose him to follow Eric Clapton in the Bluesbreakers.
Charlie Musselwhites bad posture, the result of a life spent bending over a harmonica microphone, and his humble grin, say it all about the veteran Chicago Blue blower who was born in Mississippi and grew up in Memphis.
In a thoroughly entertaining set of harmonica fueled jump blues that featured Musselwhites Mississippi-bred vocals, he took us back to his Chicago roots, playing Strange Land from the groundbreaking 1967 album that ignited the 1960s blues revival, and made him a counterculture hero.
The refrain nobody knows me … Im just a stranger in a strange land might have been true when he was wandering the South Side of Chicago in the mid-1960s, but Musselwhite has since become a familiar voice to blues fans around the world as one of the last active performers to play with legendary Chicago bluesmen Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Howlin Wolf and Big Joe Williams.
An appreciative audience heard Musselwhite croon Im just a bad boy in your town tonight, but wasnt too concerned about any mischief the grandfatherly figure might create.
Headliner Robert Cray became a true blues superstar in the late 1980s with his steamy blend of soul and blues. He crossed over into the mainstream, selling millions of albums and pumping new life into an art form that saw its audience dwindling.
Crays recent efforts have retained his precise, song-serving guitar stylings, his tight, firm-faced band delivering his hybrid soul-blues with surgical precision.
His new material continues Crays exploration of amour-gone-sideways, each song a subtle, purpose-built creation engineered to tug at the heartstrings.
The uber-shy Cray was clearly uncomfortable on stage, staring directly into the bright late afternoon sun. But the Lotus audience who came to see him hung on every note. He rewarded them with his late 1980s hits, including Right Next Door, with its sultry, self-absorbed refrain, Because of me, and the type of catchy turn-of-phrase that made him a superstar, Im such a strong persuade r… She was just another notch on my guitar.
The 2010 Coloma Blues lineup was filled with stellar musicianship from bottom to top. It included enough Stratocaster calisthenics to keep the rockers from nodding off, without relying on set after set of larger-than-life guitar gymnastics.
Richard Burleigh, who books many of the same artists each August at the Sonora Blues Festival, was on hand, and talked about the difficulty of assembling a modern blues lineup that sells tickets and stays true to music.
Transplanting an art form that was born in smoky nightclubs onto an outdoor stage at noon can be challenging, he agreed. We have to punch it up with the blues rock acts, he said. But theres always room for the masters, like Charlie Musselwhite and these versatile young guys like Shane Dwight, who are such great performers that they just leave you feeling good.
Despite repeated warnings from the stage, about 10 attendees suffered heat exhaustion. One was hospitalized. By midafternoon, a breeze was coming up off the river, cooling the meadow, and a spray of thin clouds softened the early season sun.
Event coordinator Mary Carrera credited the over 200 volunteers for making the day a success. She called Coloma Blues Live 2010 the best show yet; the best music, the best weather and the best crowd.