Escaping the rains that plagued last year’s event, HeatherFest22 went off with out a hitch last Sunday afternoon. With Racky Thomas again serving as Master Of Ceremonies and leading the side stage action, HF22 moved forward with a fantastic mix of blues, R&B, soul, and funk. The lineup of outstanding bands performed during that day of positive vibes that sprang from charitable giving and patriotic reflections on the anniversary of September 11 as well as from a stirring speech from a local police sergeant. HeatherFest, essentially, is a backyard barbeque with a stage set up for blues bands with representatives from local charities on hand to donate to.
The event was named HeatherFest many years ago by friends of Heather McKibben, the blues fan who organizes and hosts the yearly event at her Norton, Massachusetts residence. McKibben has a backyard big enough for this event and she has the heart and soul and tremendous organizational skills to pull it off. She welcomes anybody and everybody who loves good blues, other good people, and has a spirit of generosity toward charities.
Toni Lynn Washington, one of the few remaining members of her generation of R&B singers, went up on stage to do her thing. “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King was just one of the classics she made her own with her inimitable style and spirit. Her vocal, Jack Daniels smooth, rode that familiar lyrical melody line like a velvet glove over a polished rail. TLW called up her fellow blues chanteuse, Diane Blue, to cover the Bobby Bland classic “Nothing You Can Do” with classy elegance. Blue’s harmonica line carried itself as freely as the breeze buffeting HeatherFest with its cool, welcoming air. The duo also tackled Nina Simone’s “I Do.” Blue’s svelte croon combined well with Ms. Washington’s raw, raspy lady like elegance, giving the tune the free, floating jazzy feeling it needed. It was Toni Lynn Washington who received this year’s Keeping HeatherFest Alive award. Ms. Washington was recognized for participating in all most all of the HF events over the years and for her strong performances at each.
Harmonica mama Cheryl Arena came up next and mesmerized the crowd with her vocal delivery on “It’s Obdacious,” a Buddy Johnson number from the 1940s. Guitarist Pete Henderson made an excellent backing vocalist for Ms. Arena. Classy piano from Tom West brought one back to yesteryear on “Don’t Roll Those Bloodshot Eyes At Me.” It was a familiar treat as the lyrics rolled off Arena’s lips and into the clean, breezy air. Henderson’s lead guitar lines were sweet, brittle, and tender on “Low Down Dirty Shame.” Arena made her harp line bounce with soulful joy over that Junior Wells number with soulful, grease notes. Johnny “Blue Horn” Moriconi joined her band on stage for “Big Bad Handsome Man” for some sterling work before Peter Henderson finessed the lyrics to “Nickels And Dimes.”
Side stage entertainer Racky Thomas, when he wasn’t doing Master Of Ceremony duty, sang a whole bunch of old time blues and roots numbers at this event. “Ain’t Nobody’s Business,” “John The Revelator,” “Mary, Don’t You Weep,” and many others poured out of Thomas’s soul, went through his microphone, and out his amps into that welcoming crowd of blues fans and charitable citizens. Thomas had his friend and long time musical collaborator John Juxo on hand. Juxo’s accordion wept alongside Thomas’s Resonator notes and vocal assertions, adding its own Juxonian flavoring and texture.
Another local favorite, Cheryl Aruda, went up on the HF stage to play with an all star cast of regional notables. Aruda’s smoky, raspy vocal wrapped itself around everything going on in each song she went into. She has a strong musical personality, especially when she’s performing live and she tends to dominate all the elements in a tune. She wrapped her voice around grooves with her sense of rhythm and timing, humming with the rhythm section. She also cooed with the upper register instruments, giving melody lines an extra heavy duty layer of notes. With a plethora of horn players backing her, Aruda had to use her pipes at full strength to match all of that firepower. And she did. Her throaty roar was always on the surface of her numbers. She also took it down low a few times
for breezier numbers, riding the vocal melody lines with bluesy verve and sultry vocals, as she did with “Long Gone Baby Girl.” Aruda called TLW back up for a duet on “Take It Up With My Baby.” It was a perfect blend of soulful vocals. Moments later, Aruda and Eddie Scheer turned the oldies pop song “Love Is Strange” into a sweet confection with their voices riding the smooth changes that made up that number.
The next main stage band was a novelty act Brothers In Harmony featuring John Moriconi and Brian Templeton on lead vocals. The band, all dressed up in dark blue suit coat and ties, played classic soul numbers like “Can’t Keep A Good Man Down,” “Faith Is Your Steering Wheel,” and “He’s Gonna Get You” with slick, polished style. Their R&B grooves, harmony vocals, lead guitar, and horn work made each of these numbers go over well with the HeatherFest22 audience. Moriconi and Templeton were perfect gentleman on stage, constantly giving each other room to shine before coming together like brothers in harmony on choruses and verses. They and their band mates also whipped up a lot of fun with those old soul numbers.
Chris Fitz came on stage next with his powerhouse blues sound. Fitz’s voice has matured over the years into a whiskey smooth timbre. That vocal quality served him well during his set opener “Downtown Train.” His rendition of Eric Clapton’s “Further On Up The Road,” which he’ll be performing with a national touring group celebrating The Last Waltz concert film, went over big. Fitz also played some of his huge arcing guitar lines at HF, showing he’s still thee monster guitar player in the New England blues scene. Fitz pulled out his older song “Freedom” that made a great anthem in the HeatherFest22 September 11 event. Closing out was the hard driving funk guitar master Evan Goodrow. Goodrow augmented his set of originals like “It’s OK For Girls To Dance With Girls” with classics like Prince’s “Kiss” and James Brown’s “Sex Machine.” Performing like a true blue eyed soul man, Goodrow finished the official line up with an incredible party vibe as things were wrapping up at the end of the night.
Another HeatherFest has come and gone but based on the turn out and great vibe from last Sunday afternoon, many are likely already looking forward to next year’s event.