My Ithaca College jazz improvisation (yes, that was my major) and guitar instructor Steve Brown once told me that Ė and I quote Ė thereís good music and thereís bad music, and a good musician can tell the difference. Iím not sure if he actually coined the phrase (he did hang out with jazzster Miles Davis way back when), but itís one Iíve often used myself over the years. Thankfully, Iím not quite as opinionated these days Ė at least when it comes to music Ė yet in this case, itís undeniably applicable. And with soul-rocker Eric Lindellís kick-off of the Chenango Blues Associationís Summer Concert Series on Thursday, I think youíll find it hard to argue with me on this one.
To put it mildly, this yearís line-up of performers Ė not to mention Blues Fest itself Ė is one for the ages. The best part? I get to write about it ... all of it.
Iíve known the various members of the Chenango Blues Association for most of my life, the majority of which has been spent right here in Norwich. And while I canít say Iíve agreed with every band and performer theyíve brought in over the past 19 years, I will say theyíve hit the mark far more often than theyíve missed. From Anson Funderburgh and Sam Meyersí unforgettable performance at the first-ever Chenango Blues Fest to Guitar Shorty, the Honey Island Swamp Band and Marcia Ballís at last yearís (the 18th annual), these dedicated individuals, year after year, put some serious work into whatís become one of Chenango Countyís most well known events.
This year, however, is simply mind blowing.
Eric Lindell, the Glenn Miller Orchestra (how awesome is that), Nathan Williams & the Zydeco Cha Chas, J.J. Grey and Mofro (more on them later) and Ė returning once again Ė New Riders of the Purple Sage, will all take to the stage over the next month or so. And thatís just the Summer Concert Series (which is free, I might add). Blues Fest itself will feature some serious talent as well, with Gina Sicilia (whose stock is definitely on the rise in blues circles), the Honey Island Swamp Band (some of the nicest guys Iíve ever met), guitar sensation Ana Popovic, legendary harmonica player James Cotton (played with Muddy Waters) and (wait for it) the North Mississippi All-Star Duo.
As Steve Brown (and probably Miles Davis too) would say ... I can dig it. And it all starts tomorrow. Six weeks of musical bliss (at least for yours truly), great jams and Ė my favorite part Ė a chance to interview each and every one of these artists, most of whom Iíve been listening to for years. What can I say, Iím giddy.
Lindell, whom I spoke with over the phone with on Monday, is one of bluesí and soulís most impressive new artists (he first hit the scene in 2006). His voice, songwriting and guitar playing is Ė beyond any shadow of a doubt Ė some of the best Iíve heard in the last five or six years. On top of that, heís one of the most down-to-earth, friendly guys you could ever meet, a truly respectable combination, to say the least. And thatís Ė by far Ė my favorite thing about covering Blues Fest for our Hometown Daily Newspaper Ė interviewing, meeting and ultimately befriending these fantastic musicians who make the Blues Fest and Summer Concert Series so memorable.
Which leads me to the Glenn Miller Orchestra and J.J. Grey and Mofro. Now donít get me wrong, Iím excited for each and every performance this year, I really am. However, when I heard these two acts were coming to town, letís just say I jumped up and did myself a little happy dance.
Thanks to Don Burke Ė who first introduced me to the genre as a young lad during my tenure at Norwich High School Ė I have a true appreciation for good jazz. And Iím a (much) better musician because of that fact. Experiencing the Glenn Miller Orchestra is something Iím truly looking forward to (and you should be too). Itís an opportunity to witness a piece of jazz history, one of our countryís original forms of artistic expression.
And J.J. Grey and Mofro, if youíve never heard of the band, will blow your socks off. If these guys donít get you up out of your seat, shaking it for all youíre worth, well, I have little hope for your musical soul. I was introduced to these guys by my best friend and musical compatriot, Mr. Tozer, whose opinion Ė when it comes to good music, at least Ė I hold in the highest regard. To think that, in just a few short weeks, this band will be set up in West Park, throwing it down, is almost more than I can handle.
And yes, I really am that excited. What can I say, itís just that time of year. Blues Fest, the Summer Concert Series and the little slice of music heaven both events represent. Does it get any better than this?
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