Thanks to the good graces of Brother J. C. Rice, I got to go to the Clearwater Sea Blues Festival this year at Coachman Park, in Clearwater, Florida. I suspect J. C. had ulterior motives, in that he might’ve hoped that by inviting me and Wolf, our drummer, that we would steer the band in more of a Blues direction. If that was ever part of the plan, it was a brilliant strategy.
We had excellent seats. Third row, at just to the right of center. So we got the full effect of the performances. If anything annoyed me, it was the habit of many of the people in front of us, in the first and second rows, to look over their shoulders at the huge video screen that was put up for the benefit of the folks on the lawn behind us. I kept thinking that the performers are ten feet away from you, and you’re looking at the video screen?
The day started with local keyboard great, Lee Pons. He did a great job. Man, you have to respect a man who’ll walk out on stage and do a solo show in front of thousands of people. That takes balls, and Lee acquitted himself well. I’m going to get out to one of his local club gigs soon.
Next on the bill of Lazy Boy & the Rockers. I hate to admit it, but they didn’t show us much. Not that there was anything particularly wrong with them. They’re a local staple in the Clearwater area, so they must be doing something right. I suppose more than anything, we were just sitting there thinking that we could do better (and wondering if we might be able to get on the bill there next year). Listen to our version of “The Sky Is Crying” and tell me what you think.
Next was Ana Popovic. I’d heard of her before, and have to admit that she hadn’t made much of an impression. I mean, I knew she could, but I wasn’t so sure that a lot of her appeal was that she’s beautiful (I think the word is “hot”). But after hearing her live, I have to say that my estimations were wrong. She played searing Blues guitar like and old troubador, and could hold her own on stage against even the greats like Warren Haynes and Eric Clapton. If anything annoyed me about her show, it was her bass player, who was very animated. Not that there’s anything wrong with being animated, but the guy was just over-the-top with it. At one point, I told Craig, J.C.’s son, that the bass played was thrashing around like he thought he was playing with Slipknot, not performing in a Blues band. I could see the guy working with a choreographer. I wondered if he used to work for Cirque du Soleil. Honestly, I can’t tell you what kind of bass player he was (though it did register that he was pretty good) because all I remember are the antics. Not that I watched him a lot. I guess when you’re on-stage with Ana Popovic, that’s the only way you can get noticed.
After that was the mighty Walter Trout. I can honestly say that I wasn’t real familiar with his music. But I damned sure am now. Holy crap, what a guitar player. So much of the emphasis on guitar shredders has been afforded to the likes of the Joe Satriani’s and Steve Vai’s of the world that it’s just refreshing to become familiar with a searing hot Blues player like Walter Trout (I know, I know… decades after the fact). With all due respect to Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Derek Trucks, it’s quite possible that the mightest Blues guitarist who ever lived is Walter Trout. People like Robert Cray had best just stay off the stage if Walter Trout is playing. Cray would only get hurt. Needlees to say, I enjoyed Walter’s set.
Afterwards, J.C. wanted to get Walter Trout’s autograph, since he’s a big fan. J.C., Wold and Craig headed out. At first I didn’t go with them, figuring I was too cool and jaded to stand in line to meet somebody. But I decided to use the porta-jon and wandered first over to the area where people were standing in line to meet Walter Trout, where I hooked up with the boys. When we got up to the front of the line, J.C. introduced himself, and Walter Trout said, “Hey, you’re my Facebook buddy” (to J.C.’s astonishment). J.C. had left a comment on Walter Trout’s Facebook page telling him our band would be in the third row, and Walter had remembered. I shook his hand and told him we appreciated it. He was just a great, warm, genuine person. In the end, however mighty Walter Trout might be on guitar, what impressed me most was that last part. He’s just a wonderful person, and made us feel like we mattered to him.
The day closed out with the legendary John Mayall. What an honor, to have the opportunity to see thie man in person. As much as I enjoyed his set, though, and as much as I was humbled to be in the presence of a man who is a living link to the iconic Blues greats of old, I couldn’t help but think that nobody follows Walter Trout. Mayall’s band was rock solid and I enjoyed his set. It’s amazing how well John Mayall’s voice has held up. The man is in his 70’s. But after Walter Trout’s incendiary set, I found my mind wandering a bit. It could have just been from Blues overload, or the fact that we’d been there for over six hours before Mayall took the stage. But by then I was sort of looking forward to wrapping it all up.
If I had any real complaints about John Mayall’s set, it was his bass player (I sense a recurring pattern here). He was a young man who struck me as someone who’d been schooled by Victor Wooten. His solos reminded me of the flashy stage-craft techniques of Wooten, and they got a good crowd reaction, but within the songs themselves they guy’s playing was safe and unimaginatative. Boring, really. He played little more than what was needed and never seemed particularly engaged. Root notes and a few walking riffs. He struck me was a bored kid stuck in college Masters class who really just wanted to be outside throwing his frisbie around. Sure, when it was his turn to solo he stepped up and shot off all the fireworks, but he mostly seemed like he suffered through the songs just to get to his solos. I don’t think he served John Mayall well at all, and, in my opinion, I don’t think he earned his paycheck. Like J.C. said, the kid didn’t seem to realize that he was playing with a legend. If John Mayall ever needs a bass player who’ll play the songs, he can always give me a call. I might not do the flashy solo with all the Victor Wooten stage bullshit, but I guarantee you that the songs will groove better.
In closing, about all there is to say is that I had a great time. I got to hang out with the guys and experience some great music. Thanks so much to J.C. Rice for the invitation. It was also fantastic to go as a band. I think we were all inspired. If nothing else, it gave us a glimpse of our own potential. Hopefully next year we won’t be sitting in the audience, but will be on the stage, kicking ass. Although, if Walter Trout is playing nexy year I’m not sure I want to be anywhere near that stage. That man takes no prisoners.
- Lee Pons
- Lazy Boy & The Rockers
- Ana Popovic
- Walter Trout
- John Mayall