LIVE: Chenango Blues Festival, Norwich, 08/20/2022
Many Shades of the Blues
Based on the lineup, my expectations for the 29th Annual Chenango Blues Festival in Norwich, New York seemed almost impossible to fulfill. In some ways, they were too over the top to believe. In one specific case, EG Kight‘s rendition of “House of the Rising Sun,” had me in tears. Overall, the event about a two-hour drive from the Capital Region almost singlehandedly makes up for the fact that a market the size of our 518 has a huge hole in it in terms of offering a major blues festival the size of the lamentably long-gone Fleet Blues Festival more than a decade ago.
EG Kight’s performance and the show-must-go-on circumstances of her set present one of the most fascinating stories in all my years of reviewing. The Nick Moss Band featuring Dennis Gruenling was s powerful a representation of poster-war Chicago blues. It was mind-bendingly explosive but as tightly controlled as any of the shows I saw by Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters or Koko Taylor between 1965 and the ’90s.
Misty Blues (along with Mark Tolstrup and Jill Burnham) are the best ambassadors of what our region offers the world in the blues genre, and their opening set – always a tough spot to try and grab an audience just settling in – was the best I’d seen in several years at Chenango.
Annika Chambers, The Altered Five Blues Band, and Teresa James & The Rhythm Tramps each presented slight variations on contemporary electric blues designed to whip a large festival crowd into what passes in today’s mass market blues world as call and response. “Are you having a good time, Chenango?” “Yeah!!” Jimmy Vaughan as I expected was the biggest disappointment. Like Edgar Winter who makes no pretense of copying his late brother Johnny’s style, Jimmie, the older brother of Stevie Ray Vaughan, has always been much more traditional than the explosive charge of Stevie. But almost 30 years after Stevie’s passing and years after leaving the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Jimmie’s retro-R&B sounds tired when competing against the young Turk talent he faced at Chenango. In fairness I have to admit I walked out four songs into his set which ran an hour and a half behind schedule by the time he came on at 8:25. The thought of facing all the construction on Route 88 coming home after nine hours of continuous music between two stages made the thought of sitting through any more of Vaughan seem untenable.
Some high points of the day
A monsoon-like thunderstorm a little after 4 p.m. created a din so loud in its pelt on the tent stage that it was hard to hear the person standing next to me. Gary Porter, EG Kight’s drummer, quipped “This is like Johnny Cash in Folsom Prison” as he stared out into a sea of fans crammed into the tent to avoid the deluge. “You aren’t going anywhere.” The pops as the electricity went out twice before EG sang a note could be heard above the pelting rain. She, Porter, and guitarist Kim Wynn joined arms and sang a chorus of “Angel from Montgomery” a cappella before the electricity finally came back on.
EG did songs from her current album The Trio Sessions, one song from an upcoming release, and a version of “Midnight Rider” that rivaled Gregg Allman’s original. She announced that she’d had a request to do “House of The Rising Sun” and wasn’t sure she could remember it. The pathos she brought to that Animals hit from the ’60s will be burned in my brain to my last breath. Originally, a folk song about a prostitute’s lament, it was changed by Eric Burden to a male point of view to avoid censorship. EG sang the original version playing acoustic guitar that was electric, sharing licks with Wynn.
Nick Moss has worked off and on with harp player Dennis Gruenling for years. Both of them have a fine-tuned ability to mix classic Chicago blues with a rock attitude a bit like hearing The J. Geil’s Band’s Magic Dick trading licks with Chuck Berry circa 1956.
Gina Coleman’s vocals with Misty Blue are almost baritone in their depth allowing her to pull off Howlin’ Wolf’s “Spoonful” on the last set sounding remarkably like the original. the band did several songs from their latest album One Louder. This six-piece band has so fine-turned their sound that they come off sounding like a nuanced smaller unit.
The Altered Five dedicated their song “Take Me To Three Forks” to Robert Johnson. This mid-west band is most original in its lyrics that include lines like “If you don’t go away, she might come back”. Their standout number was “Charmed and Dangerous.”
Acoustic guitarist and vocalist Corey Harris with fiddle player Cedric Watson arrived late and were only given a half hour in the tent. Close your eyes and you could imagine you were in rural Arkansas on The Mississippi River circa 1940 with Alan Lomax recording.
Annika Chambers is an Army vet who played in Army bands around the world. Her current band is celebrating their third anniversary and did the title song from their upcoming album Good Trouble LP due out in October on VizzTone. At times this high-kicking singer seemed to try too hard to pull the crowd in, but she’s got some life experiences that will do her in good stead in the future.
Promoters Eric and Pam Larsen are geniuses in pulling rabbits out of the hat. Rain storms, late arrivals, and other last-minute hang-ups they handle with finesse for a seamless day of great blues music.