HeatherFest 23 brought a day of good music and charitable causes to New England blues fans. For those in the blues community who still don’t know, HeatherFest is an annual backyard party/blues music festival behind the spacious home of Norton, Massachusetts resident Heather McKibben. McKibben lines up several blues each year, requests a $25 donation on the way in, and allows charities to set up tents and kiosks on one side of her tremendously huge back lawn. Yesterday, a woman named Sara Tagget from a suicide prevention group, Katrina Tagget Memorial Foundation, made a stirring speech about helping others who may be in despair. The foundation was named after Tagget’s daughter who was lost to suicide in 2008.
Blues singer Lisa Marie and her musical partner John Juxo warmed up the HeatherFest crowd with several roots-blues numbers, including “Get Naked” from Juxo’s masterful new album Long Distance Driver. Throughout the day, the side stage would be filled by people like Boston’s veteran keyboardist Alizon Lissancae, a duo of Chris Fitz and Steve Dineen who sang an eerie “Death Letter Blues,” fiddler Ilana Katz Kata, and the inimitable Mr. Nick.
Master Of Ceremonies Racky Thomas opened event officially by introducing a group of young blues-rock musicians called Tyler Morris Band. It was a breath of fresh air, as this group had never played at any of the previous HeatherFests.
Morris, the guitarist and the band’s namesake, jumped right in frenetic slide guitar playing for “Statesboro Blues.” Another explosive guitar phrase gave way to “Willie The Wimp,” complete with bluesy, drawling lead vocals from Colby Geaber. They spanked Cream’s “Badge” out of their amps after swinging into the blues gem “Tore Down.” Morris and his boys also tackled the Aerosmith arrangement of “Walkin’ The Dog” as well as Aerosmith’s own “Mama Kin.” After a wild guitar solo, Morris lead his band into a brisk rendition of “Bony Maronie.” For a group who all looked to be under 25, they certainly had their set list loaded with hits from days gone by. They are one of the better local New England blues acts spawned during the generation that grew up listening to hard rock before they had ever heard of the blues. We’ll likely be seeing a lot more of these youths in the not too distant future.
The second main stage act Perfect Example Revue was also a new, first time addition to the HeatherFest roster. Dressed in black pants and black t-shirts with their band named embossed in bright white lettering, this nine piece outfit dove into several R&B classics. Drawing about half the HeatherFest crowd dancing on the lawn in front of the stage, Perfect Example Revue’s interpersonal chemistry allowed for plenty of smooth musical changes, suggesting they are classically trained players or maybe even jazz musicians. “Ride Sally Ride” was just one blast from the past that they knocked out of the ballpark. “This Is How We Do It” was another tool the group used to keep people on their feet. Lead vocals and harmony vocals were a treat for the ears as Perfect Example Revue knew how to keep their voices swirling around an
undeniable groove. Perfect Example Revue had their way with “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now,” boasting a shiny keyboard melody, high harmony vocals, and a rhythm section that knew how to lock into a groove. Drummer Gary Washington is the son of Boston’s famed blues and R&B singer Toni Lynn Washington, an 80 year old singer who has been gracing HeatherFest with her performances for years.
Speaking of Ms. Washington, she was the next singer to take the main stage to sing the blues. Her take on “Mellow Down Easy,” “If You Love Me Like You Say,” “Every Day I Have The Blues,” and “I Feel Bad” came off with the smooth vocal charm this octogenarian is known for. Her voice seemed to float in its own space even as it was in perfect sync with the pro players on stage with her. It’s difficult to describe Ms. Washington’s sweet, earthy timbre but she does wrap her voice around those lyrics like a velvet glove fitting snuggly to an elegant hand.
Another special treat for the HeatherFest23 crowd was Kit Holliday’s first appearance at the event, under her own name, in nine years. Singing lead vocals and fronting the band, as opposed to her usual role as backing singer for others, gave us all a reminder what she has to offer. With Jeff Buckridge on lead guitar, Holliday belted in true bluesy fashion, her vocal full of feeling and power. She finessed “You’ve Got To Earn It” like nobody’s business. With backing vocals from her friend Lydia Harrell, Holiday would belt it out loud or present timeless lyrics with a husky, whispery delivery. She coaxed a lot of feeling out of Magic Sam’s “Easy Baby” before managing tunes like “Your Thing
Ain’t No Good” and “Same Kind Of Thing” with restless, R&B style purring.
Racky Thomas came back to the main stage to present his own outfit to the crowd. The Racky Thomas Explosion had a variety of instrumentalists on the HeatherFest stage, each injecting the numbers with a variety of colors and tones. Delta Generators, now fronted by the ubiquitous Brian Templeton, turned in a set of high energy blues, with greasy slide from Charlie O’Neal. Having Templeton as their new lead vocalist was another new twist on the HeatheFest line up. It worked towards keeping things fresh.
I had to hit the road at that point, but the several audience members remaining were certainly enjoying their time in McKibben’s backyard.
HeatherFest 23 was a day of solid blues entertainment. With the new twists of adding Tyler Morris Band, Perfect Example Review, and a Kit Holliday Band, McKibben insured her HeatherFest fans that they’d enjoy another of her annual events. C’mon people, let the good times roll.