Last night, the second night of the 23rd annual North River Blues Festival at Marshfield Fair was another successful event produced by south shore booker, promoter John Hall. At a time when blues artists are scrambling to find venues, when blues attendance is down, when blues societies are becoming increasingly irrelevant, it’s good to know someone can still put on a humdinger of an event.
Everything at yesterday’s event ran like clockwork. Every artist was on stage at the right time, and there were no issues with the sound equipment. Host Holly Harris was on time, watchable, and likeable. She also got to stretch out a bit as everything was moving ahead without any foul ups.
The most impressive thing, though, was the line up of artists. National acts like Southern Avenue and Nikki Hill Band closed out the show with a bang, offering up forceful interpretations of gospel like soul and driving R&B. I’m talking about the kind of music that draws almost everyone in attendance onto the dance floor with its energetic grooves and hooks.
Opening act Johnny C & Double D’s offered up tasty guitar and harmonica licks as most attendees were arriving for the day’s events. “Let’s Work Together” was one in which this band got to showcase their country fried blues notes. “Natural Ball” found the C &D’s five piece outfit playing a strong, cruising speed rhythm that made everyone want to move to it. The band went into some funky blues with “Walkin’ The Dog.” The lead guitar line was sharp, like a knife, while retaining some juicy tension. The C & D’s handled, with equal aplomb, the shuffle blues “Sugar Coated Love” before whipping out a respectful cover of the late Lazy Lester’s “I’m Itchy,” pulling a chicken scratch sound out of their guitars and harmonica. To illustrate the timeless point that The Rolling Stones are a blues band that stretched into other genres, Johnny C & Double D’s offered the danceable “Miss You” from the Stones’ late 1970s era. The band was tight and snappy over Douglas Banks’ drum work. This band also got plenty of mileage out of Champion Jack Dupree’s “Shim Sham Shimmie” and Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Eyesight To The Blind.”
Next up, on the side stage, was Basic Black featuring Sam Gentile. Gentle was looking good on stage, having just recently received a new kidney from and a donor. This guitarist pealed off one set of exciting notes after another during “Further On Up The Road” and “Pretty Baby.” The Basic Black drummer kept things bouncy, fun, and motivating during “Are You Around.” Gentle and his Basic Black outfit could play a down tempo joy ride with the kind of deeply felt blues that needs to belted at the microphone while the lead guitar cries out the melody. In a following side stage set, Gentile called Ms. Toni Lynn Washington up to the stage to add her own special crooning style to the Marshfield event. Before being spirited off to another gig, Ms. Washington, in addition to a few other fine numbers, gave a fine performance of “Mellow Down Easy.” Her svelte blues croon rode the bouncy rhythm of the tune with fine style.
Tyler Morris, the 19 year old leader of his Tyler Morris Band and Vizztone recording artist, showed the crowd what it feels like to be in the audience when someone like Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn, or Eric Clapton were make their initial appearances. No exaggeration. The kid is really that good. He and his band mates Craig Rawding and Jesse Williams made “Willy The Wimp” leap out the loud speakers with appropriate throb in the groove and electricity in Morris’s bossy guitar chords. Yet, Tyler Morris Band scored the most points with the Marshfield crowd when they played choice cuts off of Morris’ latest CD Next In Line. Marked by fancy lead guitar and or eruptions of deep guitar notes and throaty vocals, the group continued to draw ews and ahs out of their audience. Mid tempo was about as laid back as the youth lead band got yesterday. Even at a slower, jaunty groove, the four piece emitted oozing lead guitar, earthy boom vocals, and a nice chunky groove. It was still nice to see Morris and his band mates tackle the classics. The Jimi Hendrix Experience “Fire” was one that gave them a chance to show how locked into a groove they are. Once there, something triggers Morris’s ability to match the Hendrix speed and dexterity. At one point, the Morris finger work was so intense, I thought he might set his six string ablaze. A Tyler Morris original titled “This Ain’t No Fun” indicated how well Morris has learned from his idols. Its aggressive blues had that Hendrix-esque ability to weld multiple genres into one cohesive sound.
My favorite act of the day was Sonya Rae Taylor and her husband Ryan Taylor, both being lead guitarists and both capable of shooting off fireworks with their six strings. Mrs. Taylor blew the roof off of the outdoor stage with her opening move. She began with a huge guitar sound of crunchy chords and sizzling high notes to announce her song “Noose Around My Neck.” Her husband Ryan Taylor was a perfect foil, the couple firing heavy notes off of one another. Sonya Rae Taylor sang her tune “Sticks And Stones” with a sassy lyrical finesse amidst Jordan Gravel’s greasy organ flourishes and a thumping groove from drummer Lee Fish. Taylor and her husband played a flashy melody line packed with jumpy, twitching notes that seemed to have a life of their own. Special guest backing vocalist Bethany Beatrice added a lot of vocal texture to the choruses and other verses when she joined Sonya Rae Taylor on tunes like “Blind, Crippled, And Crazy.” Biting notes from Sonya Rae Taylor and greasy notes from Ryan Taylor made for a speedy dish. With super support players and adept backing vocalist, the two knocked “Crazy” out of the festival grounds. Sonya Rae Taylor eventually whipped out a feisty version of “Further On Up The Road.” Her slappy chords provoked an effusion of slippery organ notes. She soon resumed her center stage command with a
smoldering lead line. Her original “Where I Belong” jumped out of the gate with her snappy guitar dynamics. Her vocal narrative, meanwhile, traipsed over the landscape of sound with girlish aplomb. Her voice is young, silky, free, unlimited. She is one of those talents who can let her voice, chords, and melodies ride on, like a magic carpet, a guitar goddess who shines with a six string in her hands. Eventually, husband Ryan Taylor played his own blues joy line and he showed why the two are a match made in heaven. It became hard to decide which Taylor to watch. Both were whipping out feisty, frisky licks that created a whirlwind of blues, rock, and R&B. Just when the audience thought this pair and their band were over the top talent, like when they played a jazzy take of “Manic Depression,” they whipped out interesting versions of George Lowell’s “Sailing Shoes” and George Harrison’s “Drive My Car,” leaving the audience with something even more amazing to remember them by.
Nikki Hill was a fine national act to begin the final third of the North River Blues Festival. Her stomping R&B style shined on “It’s My Heart. Her ability to sing over a marching beat and forceful guitar progression on “Isn’t She” was nothing short of amazing. Her breadth, depth, and width of R&B influences were brilliant pronounced on “End All Wonder.” Southern Avenue closed out the night after acing tunes like “Flipped, Tripped, and Fell,” “What Did I Do,” and “I’m Gonna Be All Right.” Boy, could lead singer Tierinii Jackson hold a vocal note, making it sound like an entire choir was coming through her pipes. She and her band mates moved it on stage with a seamless flow of energetic rocking soul. She lead her band into a medley of Aretha Franklin tunes, making a special impression with the bumpy funk of “Rock Steady.”
Another North River Blues Festival has come and gone. But, with organizer John Hall’s management skills intact, and he’s still a spry young fellow, relatively speaking, this annual blues event will likely continue for at least another ten years. Long live the North River Blues Festival.