My Ithaca College jazz improvisation (yes, that was my major) and guitar instructor Steve Brown once told me that – and I quote – there’s good music and there’s bad music, and a good musician can tell the difference. I’m not sure if he actually coined the phrase (he did hang out with jazzster Miles Davis way back when), but it’s one I’ve often used myself over the years. Thankfully, I’m not quite as opinionated these days – at least when it comes to music – yet in this case, it’s undeniably applicable. And with soul-rocker Eric Lindell’s kick-off of the Chenango Blues Association’s Summer Concert Series on Thursday, I think you’ll find it hard to argue with me on this one.
To put it mildly, this year’s line-up of performers – not to mention Blues Fest itself – is one for the ages. The best part? I get to write about it ... all of it.
I’ve 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 can’t say I’ve agreed with every band and performer they’ve brought in over the past 19 years, I will say they’ve hit the mark far more often than they’ve missed. From Anson Funderburgh and Sam Meyers’ unforgettable performance at the first-ever Chenango Blues Fest to Guitar Shorty, the Honey Island Swamp Band and Marcia Ball’s at last year’s (the 18th annual), these dedicated individuals, year after year, put some serious work into what’s become one of Chenango County’s 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 – returning once again – New Riders of the Purple Sage, will all take to the stage over the next month or so. And that’s 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 I’ve 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 – my favorite part – a chance to interview each and every one of these artists, most of whom I’ve been listening to for years. What can I say, I’m giddy.
Lindell, whom I spoke with over the phone with on Monday, is one of blues’ and soul’s most impressive new artists (he first hit the scene in 2006). His voice, songwriting and guitar playing is – beyond any shadow of a doubt – some of the best I’ve heard in the last five or six years. On top of that, he’s one of the most down-to-earth, friendly guys you could ever meet, a truly respectable combination, to say the least. And that’s – by far – my favorite thing about covering Blues Fest for our Hometown Daily Newspaper – 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 don’t get me wrong, I’m excited for each and every performance this year, I really am. However, when I heard these two acts were coming to town, let’s just say I jumped up and did myself a little happy dance.
Thanks to Don Burke – who first introduced me to the genre as a young lad during my tenure at Norwich High School – I have a true appreciation for good jazz. And I’m a (much) better musician because of that fact. Experiencing the Glenn Miller Orchestra is something I’m truly looking forward to (and you should be too). It’s an opportunity to witness a piece of jazz history, one of our country’s original forms of artistic expression.
And J.J. Grey and Mofro, if you’ve never heard of the band, will blow your socks off. If these guys don’t get you up out of your seat, shaking it for all you’re 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 – when it comes to good music, at least – 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, it’s 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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