A good vibe was in the air yesterday in Marshfield, Massachusetts. The second day of the 22nd North River Blues Festival at Marshfield Fair offered a lot of variety as well as quality music. From the opening act to the headliner, yesterday’s North River Blues Festival, hosted by local blues radio personality Holly Harris, moved along with energy and nary a hitch and that keeping the vibe flowing from noon until past the 8:00 p.m. finale.
Opening act Bag Full Of Blues played mostly all blues material. The Bag Full of Blues trio nailed Albert King with lean, meaning guitar phrasing. Singer-guitarist Alan Qualtieri whipped out sharp, tasteful lines, emphasizing “Crosscut Saw” by making his guitar sizzle. The trio rhythm section of bassist Jim Casey (filling for regular member Russell Shoals Dougherty) and drummer Jim Franklin got to show how deep they can keep a groove in the pocket with “Suzie Q.” Qualtieri impressed with his solo delivery of Tony Joe White’s “A Rainy Night In Georgia.” His voice and guitar were all he needed to bring that song to three dimensional life. The trio showed more of their chops with “Baby, Please Come Home To Me” before their crowd pleasing, roots flavored take on Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.” Bag Full Of Blues handled well Jimmy Vaughn’s “Just A Little Bit” before getting snappy and feisty with Willie Dixon’s “One Way Out.”
Side stage band Sam Gentile And Basic Black were on hand to provide music while the main stage bands were setting up and breaking down. Basic Black had invited New England’s popular blues singer Lisa Maria and Lil’ Rhody keyboardist John Juxo along for the merry ride into a plentiful offering of blues styles. Later in the day, Rhode Island guitarist Nik Sevigny played some smoking hot guitar phrases that captured a lot of attention and gained a lot of applause. Lisa Marie’s svelte, raw croon and Juxo’s swirling, flaring organ work wrapped itself well around a bump of groove. Lisa Marie got raspy to manage “My Baby’s Got It Going On” with a lively accordion line from Juxo. Gentile’s colorful, tuneful lead guitar part was nice and thumpy and New Orleans flavored. Lisa Marie and her gang also made Jonathan Edwards “Shanty” sound more bluesy than ever. A shuffling take on “Satisfies My Soul” lulled one into its bulbous groove. Gentile revealed his plaintive soulfulness singing “Crosscut Saw,” unleashing his fiery, greasy lead guitar phrase, a lead line plum with bluesy notes within twisty intervals. This line up came back later on to do “Make Some Money” and “Rock This Place.”
Out of town man Tim Gartland is a Boston to Nashville transplant received warmly by yesterday’s festival crowd. His tune “What The Blues Look Like” was a hefty dose of cool. “Little Shine” was purty and melodic. “You Gotta Learn” offered a thick, zesty harmonica line. It’s hard to describe Gartland’s vocal. It’s deep, sonorous, but, at the same time, it’s chirpy and rich. Listening to him laying his voice over his contemporary blues tunes was a treat for the ears. Gartland had guitarist Pete Henderson paying out slide notes like nobody’s business. Emotive guitar lines and peppy piano melody were especially fine on Jimmy Roger’s “Walking By Myself” as it traveled a mosey beat. “What Kind Of Love Is That” gave Gartland room to play a zig-zagging harmonica line that spiraled in bright intevals. Gartland’s “My Phone Said We Talked Last Night” is a swaggering song that made the most of that blues tradition, the accusatory song.
Next up on the main stage was the hugely popular Chris Fitz Band. Fitz and his boys opened their set of aggressive blues with his anthem theme “Freedom,” belting and chugging it out until Fitz set free his incendiary phrase. “No More Tears” found the rhythm section punching it out like boxers underneath Fitz’s raspy delivery. Mr. Fitz and his rhythm boys went into some tunes from Fitz‘s latest solo album Basement Musings. A full length disc of music that Fitz hadn’t usually played live before recording it, he‘s plugging the new material, which received a good review on BillCopelandMusicNews.com, at his current live shows.
“Cold Shot Jimmy” featured Fitz whipping up a thin, sharp riff before turning it into a burning, smoldering phase. Another original, clearly inspired by Tom Waits, “Down Bound Train” let Fitz move stealthily through dark tones and shadowy lyrics with a sly vocal. Fitz’s melodic line oozed forward with a touch of mischief in its carefully picked notes. An especially powerful song from Chris Fitz Band is “Medicine For The Blues” from a previous recording. His rhythm section, bass guitarist Dave Kendarin/drummer Dan Bunge got to play some intricate and mighty solos. After bass solo and drum solo, Fitz came back in heavy, playing his guitar with the fluid, blaring force of a horn. Fitz got a lot of mileage out of “Crown Of Thorns” from his Electric Church Blues CD. It came to life on the strength of Fitz’s monster size phrasing and the mountainous groove beneath him. His bluesy vocal moan hit the soul’s soft spot as he crooned heartily of betrayal and heartache. Acknowledging his Hendrix t-shirt, Fitz closed out his set with his tribute to Mr. Jimi, “Foxy Lady,” a custom made tune in which he ignited its bonfire guitar parts.
First headliner, Laith Al-Saadi, a finalist on The Voice television singing competition show, proved he was one of the coolest artists to ever grace that reality drama. His voice and lead guitar were heaping mounds of good sounds on the festival grounds for several minutes. His vocal a throaty growl, his guitar phrasing on fire, he stood head and shoulders about his contemporary blues fellows on the national scene. Mr. Al-Saadi had no trouble coxing the Jimi Hendrix arrangement of Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” out of his voice, guitar, and soul. Al-Saadi and his band mates did justice to “Born Under A Bad Sign” by playing it large and in charge. His own song “How It’s Going To
Be” went even further at showing how well he can arrange other people’s music as he segued into parts from other songs from famous guitar heroes. “Baby, I’m Gone, Gone, Gone,” “Ophelia,” “If You Love Me Like You Say,” and “Whipping Post” received his lush vocal treatment as well as his monster size guitar riffs and line.
Headline John Nemeth And The Rhythm Room Horns closed out the North River Blues Festival with a bang, a dancing bang. Nemeth and his band were accompanied by the three present members and two former members of Roomful of Blues for a wider treatment of Nemeth’s usual blues and R&B material. Nemeth‘s new original song “Under The Gun” was just one of his numbers in which the plethora of horns augmented well the flow of Nemeth’s voice. Local keyboardist Bruce Bears was part of Nemeth’s ensemble last night and he was a fine addition, especially when the band went into Wilson Pickett‘s “Funky Broadway.” Back into his own material, Nemeth and friends cruised through his “Rainy Day” with a purposefulness to their soulful expression. They made us feel it. Nemeth and friends dove into their rootsy blues treasure chest and dug out “Country Boy,” complete with Nemeth’s trademark sharp harmonica toots and his bands scratchy, fibrous blues. Things got even more fun when Nemeth and his company went into the title track from his latest CD “Feeling Freaky.” The number moved with a joyful bop. Also from the new album “Long Black Cadillac” boasted pretty, forlorn melodies, emanating from the keys and horns, that made it a joyful treat for the ears, those tuneful melodies moving in interesting intervals. “The Magic Touch,” the title track from Nemeth’s
2007 release, brought the band back to their old rock and roll influences, with enough beats, compliments of drummer Danny Banks, and lot of old time changes that made it fun to dance to. Nemeth and his on stage cohorts had just about everyone in the audience on the dance floor by the time they decided to let the show end, as they were playing on their own time schedule by then. Nemeth knows how to close out a big show. He hasn’t failed yet and he wasn’t about to lose steam last night. In fact, with Danny banks drumming up a storm of danceable beats and fills, Mr. Nemeth could’ve kept the crowd dancing until sunrise if it weren’t for local laws and ordinances in Marshfield, Massachusetts.
Festival organizer John Hall has pulled off yet another exciting North River Blues Festival. Hall can always be counted on by New England blue fans to offer a variety of quality bands and for keeping it fresh each year, as he never seems to favor any one particular artist and only occasionally brings back a local favorite. The attendance was strong all day, from opener to headliner. Enthusiasm was visible throughout the day. One can only mark the calendar for next year’s North River Blues Festival at Marshfield Fair.