Local Legends Strut Their Stuff at Lake George BBQ and Blues Fest

2021 Lake George BBQ and Blues Fest

It was billed as the Lake George BBQ and Blues Fest, not the Lake George Blues and BBQ Fest. The emphasis was on the barbecue with blues functioning almost as background music. But the music on Saturday afternoon, August 14th, gave me flashbacks as intense as those I have from Vietnam: powerful, vivid, and so real I almost forgot where I was.  

George Boone, Matt Mirable, and Sly Fox and the Hustlers are all acts I mentored, the first two as founder and president of The Northeast Blues Society going back almost three decades. Sly Fox and The Hustlers is an act I reviewed regularly in the Saratogian and Troy Record. That seems like yesterday, but Sly reminded me the group’s genesis goes back a decade. 

george boone
Photo by Robin Murray

I remember the night George Boone walked into The Grogge Shop in downtown Schenectady dressed to the nines, complete with a dark suit and a handkerchief in the breast pocket. The Northeast Blues Society was presenting Jimbo Mathes, a Mississippi mainstay whose national rep was built around his time with the Squirrel Nut Zippers.  

Boone was out for blood. Between sets by Mathes, Boone jumped up on the bar and strutted his stuff, knocking over drinks and splaying the crowd with soaring slide guitar licks coaxing the strings with an empty beer bottle. Boone had earned his stripes touring the world with Phillip Walker, a Houston blues stalwart best known for his 1959 hit “Hello My Darling.” But he was and still is, a Schenectady legend. 

“Nobody loves me except my own sweet mother, and sometimes I think she’s jiving me,” he sang backed by his childhood friend Raoul Bowman on bass. Part Wes Montgomery jazz, part Memphis strong string master, and part rock wa wa guitar juggernaut, Boone treated his two sets Saturday as two almost continuous songs. He built the tension like a roller coaster ride, gradually climbing, climbing, climbing and then free falling through a spiraling descent into a crescendo finish. 

The further into each set he got, the more energized he became, prowling the stage like a wolf on the hunt, growling out bits and pieces of iconic blues songs like “Rainy Night in Georgia,” “I Just Wanna Make Love to You” and “Spoonful.”  

I flashed back to Memphis in the mid-90s when George performed on Beale Street as our entry in the Blues Foundation’s International Blues Challenge. Hobbling across the stage in a cast that ran halfway up his leg broken in a motorcycle accident, he got tangled up in “Dock of the Bay,” running over his allotted 20 minutes, assuring that he wouldn’t make it into the finals. I traveled with the band to Memphis in two rented Grand Prixes, driving home nonstop through a snowstorm with George at the wheel in the lead car for 15 hours straight.  

He’s a gunslinger, and when he sang early in his first set, ‘I’m gonna play my music until the day I die,” he wasn’t kidding. 

Matt Mirabile was a child prodigy. Most Sunday nights his mother would bring him into the Blues Society’s Sunday night jams starting when he was 14. He already was a virtuoso, bending strings like B.B. King. Now long since a grown man, he performed Saturday with a crack band fronted by Allison Jacobs on vocals. A svelte blonde woman with a bubbly personality, she turns into Ma Rainy on stage, sensual, and bawdy. The transformation is almost as drastic as Jeckell and Hyde. On The Stones’ “Honky Tonk Woman” she revised the lyrics with “I’m a honky tonk woman” who “laid a VIP in New York City.” 

Mirabile’s playing is eclectic almost beyond belief. From a spot-on rendition of Slim Harpo’s “Hip Shake Baby” to “Black Cat Bone,” from rockabilly standards to “Natural Born Lover,” Mirable is a master of tone, vibrato, and sustained string sting. Another amazing performer who never made it into the finals in Memphis, his standing there made me suspect that there may have been a southern bias among the judges. That said, I’ve been a judge at the IBS including a stint in the finals sitting next to David Fricke of Rolling Stone. So, go figure. 

slyfox lg

Sly Fox and The Hustlers in a decade have evolved from a crack Chicago blues cover band into the contemporary equivalent of The Clash, especially in their high energy stage antics. Other than a medley of blues standards “Down, Down, Down” and “Back Door Man” early in their set, capped by their local hit single “SUNY Girls,” the quartet’s presentation was akin to a bluesy heavy metal barrage fronted by the charismatic Sly Fox who wore a Johnny Cash t-shirt. 

Tommy Love did a harp cameo on “Let It Roll,” and new to the band guitarist Zak Young handled lead vocals on a version of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” dedicated to the people we’ve lost in the pandemic. 

Halfway home on the Northway, George Scism, my friend and right-hand man through the years with the Northeast Blues Society, asked me if I’d come down yet from the show. I gave him one of those looks that says, “What, are you crazy?” 

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