Together Again: Don Wilcock’s Year in Review

In 2022, artists and fans alike came to appreciate how important music is to our sanity in a post-pandemic reawakening. Our collective muse does more than amuse, and the rush of live concerts proliferated. We all tacitly realized that we’re in a new world, and that culture is a vaccine for our mental ills. 

In 2019, recordings were being marginalized as calling cards used to land bookings for live concerts. Concert prices skyrocketed and CD sales plummeted, as the internet made intellectual property of all sorts (including music journalism) of little or no commercial value in a world where fans could stream their music for next to nothing.   

The pandemic forced the emphasis back onto recordings as the primary means of delivery in an environment where live events had become a game of Russian Roulette. Was Covid a bullet in the revolver of mass gatherings? 

Live music in 2022 was an intense experience for me personally, and for the artists I love. When the masks came off, my favorite acts went back on the road with a repertoire of new songs, a renewed appreciation for their fans, and a reenergized joie de vivre. 

EG Kight

I looked at my friend George and the tears rolled down my face. It was Aug. 22 at the 29th Chenango Blues Festival. EG Kight had just finished a version of “House of The Rising Sun” that put to shame the myriad of versions by The Animals, Dylan, Woody Guthrie, The Weavers, The Chambers Brothers, Nina Simon – the list goes on.  

EG doesn’t usually do the song, but someone in the crowd requested it. The pathos of her rendition cut through whatever cliches that traditional song usually conjures. More significantly, EG was announcing to the world that she was back, after sequestering with her goats in rural Georgia through the pandemic, and the rush of performing again filled her soul with a depth of emotion that she laid on that festival crowd like a mother’s comfort blanket on a cold day in winter. 

Nothing was going to stop her. A monsoon-like thunderstorm blew into the Norwich Fairgrounds, snuffing out the electricity with a vengeance so strong and loud, you couldn’t have heard a gun go off. Gary Porter, EG’s drummer, quipped “This is like Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison” as he stared out into a sea of fans crammed into the tent to avoid the deluge. “You aren’t going anywhere.” 

When the rain let up but the electricity still wasn’t on, EG, her guitarist Kim Wynn, and Gary Porter joined arms and sang an a cappella version of “Angel from Montgomery,” willing the current back into their equipment to do her full set, including songs from her excellent new album The Trio Sessions.  

Diunna Greenleaf

On a back stage a block from the Mississippi River in early October, Diunna Greenleaf channeled the ghost of Bessie Smith as she leaned into songs from her new album I Ain’t Playin’. She invested in them enough energy to convince me she could have done the whole set without a microphone. She attracted one of the biggest crowds outside of the main stage throughout this year’s King Biscuit Blues Festival, and was joined for several numbers by Bob Margolin, one of Muddy Waters’ lead guitarists and a current favorite on the blues circuit. 

I was hosting the main stage at The Biscuit, but made a point of catching her set a few blocks away. Diunna had headlined one of Rory Block’s Chatham, New York blues fests a few years ago. She’d played The Fleet Blues Fest, and her set at the Chicago Blues Fest more than a decade ago had music journalists from around the world lining up to talk to her. 

I waited patiently for her after-set meet-and-greet in the warm Arkansas sun. I knew her well enough to realize something was dreadfully wrong. We hugged. She looked me straight in the eye and told me her sister had died the day before on her, Diunna’s, birthday. That said, she agreed to do a previously arranged film interview with me several blocks away at The Delta Cultural Center. For an hour she bared her soul for a two-camera shoot for the University of Arkansas Pryor Film Archives.  

As wonderful an artist as she is, Diunna has had to balance her career with a personal life that included caring for her mother, and a stint in the Army. She books herself and this month has just returned from Lucerne, Switzerland where she’s treated like a queen to a cold reality. She books herself in a game dominated by a few agencies who tend to sell festivals with several artists on their roster, locking out independents like Diunna.  

She is the poster child for Little Village, a label run by Jim Pugh, former Robert Cray keyboardist and producer. I Ain’t Playin’ is as good as any album put out by major labels or blues indies like Alligator. Diunna, like everyone on the label, pays nothing to record and gets 1000 copies of her product to sell from the stage. 

The album was recorded at Kid Andersen’s Greaseland Studios in California. “We just sort of played songs for each other,” Pugh told me. “She made suggestions. We made suggestions. We sat around in a room and played for each other and came together with ideas. The studio is in a two-bedroom ranch house that’s been completely overtaken with instruments, keyboards and guitars, and there’s not a place to sit. I have to be careful not to knock them right over.  

“We all sat there which is not the traditional way to do that. They usually separate the vocalist or separate the drums. So, we were in the room together. He (Kid Andersen) has a natural way of capturing (us), and there was an attractive level of fidelity that might not otherwise be possible, but it’s spectacular.” 

John Tichy, 2019

The rock and roll professor John Tichy looked at me and asked if I was on assignment or just wanted to be there. I said that, at 78, there’s no difference. He was the guest star at Bill Kirchen’s annual honky tonk show earlier this month at The Hangar on The Hudson. Both Kirchen and Tichy go way back, to when they were students at The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. It was there that they created The Lost Planet Airmen with the late Commander Cody. By its very nature, the dieselbilly music they created on numbers like “Beat Me Daddy (Eight to the Bar),” spills out like a drunk’s whiskey double during last call. That said, their energy works off each other in a lockstep dance that’s perfect, proving on that stage that they’re the best at this style of any in the world. 

My Top Ten Concerts of the Year  

  • Chenango Blues Festival, Aug. 20, Norwich Fairgrounds 

One of the best one-day lineups of any blues festival in the country, from Nippertown’s Misty Blues Band to Chicago’s Nick Moss Band. 

Marty Stuart (photo by Jim Gilbert)

Marty Stuart, Jan. 30, The Egg 

Doing more to prove southern outlaw country music is an American treasure than any artist touring. 

  • Shemekia Copeland, July 28, Music Haven 

Heir to Koko Taylor’s Blues Queen throne, Shemekia previewed her Done Come Too Far album, addressing today’s racial issues. Local artist Matt Mirabile made us wish he performed more, and Mark & Jill showed us why they’ve done so well in Memphis’ International Blues Challenge. 

  • Bill Kirchen, Dec. 3, Hangar on the Hudson 

He took us for a ride in his “Hot Rod Lincoln,” seatbelts not required. 

  • Tinsley Ellis, Feb. 19, Caffe Lena 

Veteran blues rock guitarist who lost his son this year, but not his grit. 

  • Jimmy Webb, April 14, Cohoes Music Hall  

Arguably the best songwriter in the business, he’s just as good a performer.

  • James McMurtry, June 19, Lark Hall 

Son of the man who wrote Lonesome Dove, proving the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. 

  • Gospel Jubilee, April 23, Proctors

A family gathering for hundreds of Christian faithful, getting down.

  • The Golden Oldies Spectacular, April 30, Proctors

Suffering bad laryngitis, Jay Siegel of The Tokens still managed to take us where “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” 

  • ZZ Top, Oct. 15, Palace Theatre 

A too short and anything-but-sweet boogie monster of a show.

Albert Lee

Honorable mentions 

  • Albert Lee, Jan. 15, The Strand Theatre
  • The Weight Band, Feb. 18, Cohoes Music Hall 
  • Cowboy Junkies, March 6, The Egg  
  • Studebaker John, June 5, The Linda 
  • Sue Foley, June 17, The Linda
  • Alan Payette and Wolfgang, July 9, Freedom Park
1 Comment
  1. Doug W Deutsch says

    Nice read.

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