It might have been just another harvest festival; you know, fall foliage,
a few pumpkins, and a corn stalk or two thrown in for good measure. But
on Sunday October 4th , this particular harvest festival took place at the
Benmarl Vineyards & Winery
in Marlboro, on a beautiful hilltop
overlooking the Hudson River. And let there be no mistake, the good
folks at Benmarl found a way to put the "fest" back in festival.
Enter Anders Thueson, president of the fledgling
Hudson Valley Blues Society.
When you meet this energetic white-haired elf for the first
time, you get the immediate feeling that you've just entered the eye of
a hurricane. When he winks and moves on, you half expect the growing
winds to usher in Santa Claus himself. But the real gift Anders brings
to any party he helps host is music. "I love to see new people discover
the blues," he told me. "It's never what they thought!"
So, while there was lots going on at Benmarl--hayrides, wine tasting,
crafts, and great barbeque for starters--it was the second annual
"Blues Harp Blowout"
that brought out all the blankets and the lawn chairs. "If
you're down," Kansas City harp wizard, John Paul Drum once told me, "and
you want to stay down and wallow in it, listen to country/western music.
But if you want to feel better, listen to the blues." Sunday, the
enthusiastic crowd that covered the scenic sunny hilltop in Marlboro was
definitely feeling better and better as the afternoon progressed.
Anders Thueson saw to that by booking five great acts, each featuring a
blues harp player.
Left to right: Chris O'Leary, Little Sammy Davis, Steve Guyger, Frank Latorre
First on stage was the Hudson Valley's own, Pat O'Shea & the Eldorado
Kings. Pat O'Shea is one of the finest blues guitarists I've ever heard,
and his popularity among musicians and fans is enhanced by his conduct on
and off the stage. He is a gentleman in every sense of the word; and if
he has an ego, I've never seen it. Pat's paid his dues, and has earned
"frontman" status several times over, but when he hooked up with Chris
O'Leary he quickly recognized a way to enhance his band's audience appeal
by letting O'Leary step out front.
O'Leary's played bass with a number of
area bands, but Pat O'Shea decided to spotlight the young musician's
blues harp and vocal skills; and on Sunday afternoon, O'Leary showed the
audience that he's not only a student of the old Chicago harp masters,
but that he's been doing his homework.
Pat O'Shea and the Eldorado Kings
The next harpman on the bill was Frank Latorre. Guitar slinger Midnight
Slim apparently got caught in traffic, and didn't show up until the set
was almost over, but not to worry. Gentleman Pat O'Shea & the Eldorado
Kings graciously remained on stage to back Frank up until Slim took over.
Latorre's a fine harp player, and his repertoire included several styles,
but it was his rollicking West Coast "jump" blues licks that really got
the crowd involved.
An act called "Mr. Satan & Adam" was due up next. I'm new to the East
Coast blues scene, so I don't yet know many of these guys. As it turns
out, "Mr. Satan" was under the weather, and bluesman, Irving Louis Lattin
came up from NYC to play guitar with harp player, Adam Gussow. Gussow's
style is highly energetic, and he worked in, out and around Lattin's mellow
vocals with great enthusiasm. Irving Lattin's guitar licks were both
smooth and heartfelt, and his vocals reminded me of one of my favorites,
the great Keb Mo.
left: Irvin Louis Lattin|
right: Adam Gussow
Harpman Steve Guyger and guitarist Richard Yescalis took the stage next,
and these guys are slick. They traded licks and vocals with practiced
ease. Guyger knows how to sneak up on an unsuspecting audience. He
displayed his harp tricks one at a time, the relatively germane ones early
on. As the set progressed, he dug deeper and deeper until everyone in the
crowd (Including the folks in the line for barbeque!) was clapping,
cheering, and/or dancing. This duo goes on my "Must See" list.
Richard Yescalis, Steve Guyger
The headliner act was Little Sammy Davis and Midnight Slim, and if you've
ever watched "Imus in the Morning" on MSNBC, you've probably seen Davis
singing and blowing his harp. He is often referred to as Don Imus' "house
band." He's been around for years, and he'd know his way around blues and
R&B wearing a blindfold. His set was a delightful tour of familiar
favorites, and Davis' fun loving style captured the audience from the
outset. When the set was over, Little Sammy and Midnight Slim invited all the
other harp players back up on stage and then led them in a "blowout" jam
that allowed everyone to decide for themselves what style they liked the
best. By the amount of dancing and clapping, I'd say they liked it all
Midnight Slim, Little Sammy Davis