Recap of 2010 Top-Shelf Festivals
" Crawfish, Pocono, Montreal, Tremblant, VT. & Crescent City "
Bob Putignano

See review in

2010 was a very good year with a lot of the festivals I had attended offered talent that was outstanding, the producers ran their events professionally, and perhaps most importantly- the fans showed their support and were rewarded with first-class performances.

Crawfish Festival

Chronologically speaking my first 2010 festival was at the Crawfish Fest put on by Michael Arnone in NJ. Michael Arnone's twenty-first edition of the Crawfish Fest was another outstanding celebration of mostly Louisiana musicians. This year's lineup featured: Taj Mahal, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, George Porter Jr. and the Runnin' Pardners, The Stanton Moore Trio with Anders Osborne, Mem Shannon, Papa Grows Funk, Jeffrey Broussard, Rosie Ledet, Galactic, Marcia Ball, Kenny Neal, Railroad Earth, The Campbell Brothers, The Iguanas, Joanne Shaw Taylor, Terrance Simien, and others. So, needless to say, with another stellar lineup and mostly great weather it's no wonder that Mr. Arnone was more than pleased by the turnout and of course the powerful performances.

Anders Osborne sat in with the Stanton Moore Trio which also included the very talented Will Bernard on guitar, but for the most part this unit meandered in jam band fashion and failed to capture my attention. It was also unfortunate that Mr. Bernard was offered limited solo time. A far better performance was given by George Porter's Runnin' Pardners, a five-piece unit consisting of guitarist Brint Anderson on guitar, Michael Lemmler on keyboards, Khris Royal on saxophones, Terrence Houston on drums, and the legendary George Porter Jr. on bass. For me the highlight of their set was a Meters tune that Porter said was never played live. Man, oh, man these funkster's really grabbed the groove and held it tight, especial Porter Jr. whose bass swirled toward outer space. For download samples of other Runnin' Pardners tracks, checkout: Taj Mahal worked within the limits of his trio and gave a very good account of himself, but did not possess the dynamics and color he does with his Phantom Blues Band.

But speaking of dynamics, the Dirty Dozen fired strong and at full throttle as they marched through a high-speed set that lasted nearly two hours. From my perspective the Dirty Dozen are the finest horn band in the land, and when you realize that this immensely talented horn section has been in tact since their inception (other than Big Sam, now of Big Sam's Funky Nation), each and every horn player was there at the beginning of their time for the Dozen.

They have a telepathic sense as to where they might take their music and can improvise live and on the fly - delightfully so. Additionally, this world class band has no airs, are very accessible to all of their fans and is a must see for me to catch in performance whenever I can. I wish I could tell you what Efrem Towns told me about what BP stood for but it's inappropriate for this column, but I loved Jay Leno's take: Bad Polluters! For other DDBB updates click:>Here's to the twenty-second Crawfish Fest. I will be looking forward to the 2011 edition. In the meantime, keep checking :> for updates.

The Montreal Jazz Fest (outdoor events free)

One would think that after thirty years that the Montreal Jazz Fest would continue to expand its prowess? I am happy to report that this year's edition is yet another strong chapter in its now legendary existence.

Those who are not familiar with the fabulous city should investigate, as even without Jazz Fest going on, there are an abundance of reasons to visit this ultra hip and very cosmopolitan city. Great restaurants, outstanding architecture, and a superb cultural mix of their population make Montreal one of the most exciting cities to visit worldwide. Now add to this roux Jazz Fest and you will be smiling throughout your time in southern Quebec. During the current global economic downturns it's also important to note that there are hundreds of high-quality free concerts that are available at multiple venues throughout this fine metropolis

I was fortunate to observe the last three days of this Festival International De Jazz De Montreal, and was amazed how much wonderful music I was available to report upon. My first stop was a free performance by Ontario based JW Jones who delighted the crowd with an extremely high-powered performance that was not only a tour de force, but was also professionally executed and exceedingly entertaining. The highlight of JW's set was when each member of his four piece band all took turns on different instruments that eventually culminated with three band members picking away on JW's guitar. Many artists should take a page from Mr. Jones well choreographed set, as I often find many performers our more focused on themselves and not as conscious as they should be with fans in attendance. Speaking of such, the UK based Matt Schofield followed (who I hear spends a good deal of time in the Toronto area,) and while Mr. Schofield has grown since the last time I attended his 2007 set in Montreal, but he does not possess the much needed charm and stage antics such as a JW Jones, and others achieve and learn from the road. Nonetheless Schofield has matured as a player, and his guitar playing energy was (at times) fascinating, his trio was also tight, yet in the end I found his entire set to not be very compelling, or memorable.

A much older veteran (Ben E. King) wins my surprise favorite performance at this year's Jazz Fest. Why? Well right from the first notes this crack band cranked, it was obvious that this was not going to be an oldies show of favorites. First up came "Let the Good Times Roll" and Ben E. and the band were immediately in the pocket. Next were some jazz standards that at times strained Mr. King's voice, but I have to admire this multiple Grammy winner for evolving his game. Speaking of Grammy winners, I quickly noticed that it was the great Randy Brecker on trumpet, and than noted that the sax playing Javon Jackson (who has several solo recordings credited to his name, and also tours with Dr. Lonnie Smith and Les McCann,) was also in the horn section! Ben E. also mentioned that this very same band were also employed for new recording, so expect yours truly to be following up "Heart & Soul" which will be released in September on the Canam record label. Ample solo space was provided to both Randy and Javon, and to band leader/arranger Jon Mayer on piano. Ben E. performed the classic "My Funny Valentine" and delighted the crowd with not only his vocalize, but with his honest on-stage command. Of course the big hits ensued, but they were tastefully rearranged, and given new life. This was not your typical greatest hits concert, and I for one was very impressed with just about every facet of Mr. King's excellent showing.

Viva la difference, as day two led me to two very diverse shows. First up was George Clinton's P-Funk Funkadelic, where the opening band from Toronto "God Made Me Funky" was the near perfect opener for Mr. Clinton's legendary funky assault(s.) Attending a Clinton mob band set is often a religious experience, (at times there were as many as twenty performers on stage,) and I must add that they are all very talented and bombastic! Multiple remembrances were also called out to Garry Shider better known as Diaper Man, who passed about two weeks prior to this Montreal performance. Long story short: want funk? This is it. Though I have to say that after about forty-five to sixty minutes into their set, I found it a bit repetitive and the other problem I had was that the sound in the room was far too loud. Next stop, the eye-catching Ana Popovic for a free show, the Serbian beauty who now hails from Holland, served up a raw energy high powered set that held the crowd in the palm of her hand. Ana has come a long way since her early USA performances, has been a regular on the festival scene, and has found a solid home at Electo Groove Records.

And now for the finale, The Big Easy made its way to Montreal, inclusive with a nearly hour long Mardi Gras like parade on Ste. Catherine street, with floats brought in from New Orleans. After the parade the rising star Trombone Shorty and his band-mates set the funky Crescent City vibe, that lead to one of the originators and grandfather of Louisiana funk, Mr. Allen Toussaint. Toussaint's band was ultra-tight, and even though this performance was mostly a greatest hits offering, it never dulled or seemed cheapened, the arrangements and solos were all updated and spirited. Of particular note the sax player who goes by the name of "Breeze" was spot-on throughout, also of note clarinetist extraordinaire Don Byron also sat in. By the way on previous nights in Montreal, Mr. Toussaint was also featured in his Bright Mississippi band, and in a solo performance. Speaking of Toussaint's solo outings; if you have not seen- just go; it's a delightful stroll down Allen's incredible long list of classic tunes that is usually recited in an intimate venue, and it's a gas to observe Toussaint's amusing story telling throughout. By the way this festival ending performance was free, and I could not think of a better way to wrap up this edition of the Montreal Jazz Fest. I am also digging how Montreal and New Orleans seem to be musically falling in love with each other's strong cultures, which to me seems so very natural, both cities are so unique, and there's no other places in North America like Montreal & the Big Easy, encore performances please

So there you have it, special thanks to the entire staff at the Montreal Jazz Fest, who always makes my visit so very special. And to Hugo Leclerc, who hipped me to Toussaint's sound-check, which turned into a mini party/four-five song set, that took place long before the huge crowd filled the streets for that very memorable finale!

The Tremblant International Blues Festival Impresses - Again (Free)

How many Blues festivals are you aware of that run for ten days consecutively? The Tremblant International Blues fest does and is chock full of world class Blues-based artists. Plus over the two weekends of Saturdays and Sundays the music flows non-stop for twelve hours (1:00pm-1:00am) at various stages and venues, and there's no charge for any of this! Yes, you heard right It's all for free. I would be remiss if I didn't mention that this all takes place in a very picturesque mountain village where the cool winds blow, and it's just about a ninety-minute car ride from Montreal and about eight hours from the New York City area.

On the first night, Monster Mike Welch opened the festival in fine fashion with a delightful set that was only hampered by a misty rain. Welch's keyboard player Julien Brunetaud (from France) was also a pleasant surprise on piano and some driving B3. Both Welch and Brunetaud obviously have a lot of admiration for each other trading off solos without either one trying to overburden their tasty solos and also added color with their rhythmic support when each artist stepped out to solo. The rain subsided when Canadian born Anthony Gomes and his very fine band took to the stage. Gomes proved to be an excellent crowd pleaser with excellent stage presence, powerful vocals, and explosive guitar. Gomes is also very soulful, and funky, and it was great to see Anthony doing what he does best, that is playing Blues-based music again! All in all, this was a neat way to kick off the festivities, and good thing it wasn't a late night as Saturday & Sunday's schedule was full and deep with talent.

My first stop on Saturday was checking out the Australian Mason Rack whose grungy approach echoed George Thorogood. In fact Rack also covered Thorogood and other self-penned tunes that captivated his audience. Over at one of the main stages Monster Mike was at it again, this time with Julien Brunetaud as the leader. Julien's set was a bit jazzier and gave more opportunity for Brunetaud to show off his vocal skills. Welch fell in the pocket extremely well, and it was good to see Mudcat Ward on bass, too. Nice set from this French/American collaboration that worked well for a Saturday afternoon delight.

A little later the tireless Welch was found sitting in with the Canadian Joe Murphy. Murphy hails from Halifax, plays guitar, harp, and sings, and obtains a keen appreciation of Chicago blues music, expectedly and once again Monster Mike fit in like a glove.

At the VW main stage the thirty-two year old Kenny Wayne Shepherd band roared, and delivered one of the best Blues-rock shows I have seen in quite some time. KWS and his band were enjoying the large Canadian crowd, and made note of the very pretty Quebec ladies in the crowd. With that said, their thirty-minute-plus encore started with Slim Harpo's "I'm a King Bee,' segued into Peter Green's "Oh Well," which was rip-snorting, intensely energetic and captivating. Eventually the band (sans Kenny Wayne) left the stage, and Kenny mesmerized yours truly and the crowd with an improvisational guitar exploration that eventually morphed into "Voodoo Child, Slight Return." Typically I am not a fan of Hendrix covers, but this KWS band version worked extremely well for me, and for the crowd who was begging for more. (By the way, Roadrunner/ Loud & Proud Records recently announced the signing of four-time Grammy nominated, American Blues/rock guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd to a worldwide, multi-album deal. Shepherd is working on his Roadrunner/Loud & Proud debut projects, which include his first live album and a new studio album.) All in all, this was a two-hour set that I suspect ran longer than expected. So by the time I ran over to the other main stage at Place St-Bernard I only got to see part of the closing number by Sherman Robertson (who sounded great) but was too brief to report on. Sunday's highlights started with John Nemeth's solid set of a mixture of Blues and soul where it was good to see Bruce Bears on the keyboards. John's entire band displayed sharp skills throughout their performance. Nemeth is an interesting performer who seemingly has a bright future, especially with his soul repertoire, which is where I feel he excels and stands out with a unique signature sound. Guitar master Roy Rogers was outstanding in his trio configuration, Roy and his small band rarely disappoints, and this performance was particularly strong. Roy showed no signs of slowing down from his recent physical episode, and delighted the crowd with his dazzling guitar work and raw (yet very tasty) energy.

I was really looking forward to seeing Les Dudek but found his concert to be lackluster. A lot of this is attributed to the limits of performing as a trio, which lacked color and depth, and I found Les' set not very memorable. Dudek covered Dickey Betts' "Ramblin' Man" from the Allman's "Brothers and Sisters" recording that Les actually played on, that I found to be uninspiring, and considering Dudek's impressive list of sideman credits (Steve Miller, Boz Scaggs, Maria Muldaur, the aforementioned Allman Brothers Band, and others,) I had expected a whole lot more.

So there you have it, another impressive edition of the Festival International Du Blues De Tremblant, their seventeenth year. May there be many more. This world class Blues fest is definitely worthy of much more attention considering the depth of performers assembled by Brian Slack of the Montreal Blues Society, and the beautiful setting of Tremblant.

A road trip to this festival would be a worthwhile investment of your time, and once again; there's no charge. For more information checkout: Special thanks to Public Relations and Communications Supervisor Station Mont Tremblant - Intrawest Catherine Lacasse who once again made my stay at Tremblant another very memorable visit, and for bringing me back for another year, thank you Catherine!

Pocono Blues Fest*
Diversity and A Rare Lineup Highlight A Perennial Favorite

Wow, nineteen years for Michael Cloeren's Pocono Blues Festival where the diversity of performers is always key. You can count on a mix of straight blues, rocking blues, soul, gospel and zydeco music to make this festival a favorite. Plus, Mr. Cloeren takes astute care in importing many musicians and bands that don't often get the opportunity to perform in the Northeast region. Nice! This year's lineup follows previous years' ideology. Artists deserving more attention included Johnny Rawls, Johnnie Bassett, CJ Chenier, Chick Willis, and Alabama Mike. From the Gospel side The Campbell Brothers and especially Mavis Staples made strong impressions. Zydeco was mostly represented by CJ Chenier whose band rocked on mightily.

Soul representatives (Mavis fits this category all too well, too) included Roy Roberts, Barbara Carr, AJ Diggs, and Theodis Ealey. The Thunderbirds also rocked, though I was not overly impressed with Kim Wilson's lengthy harp solo which lasted nearly ten minutes. A little jazziness was on display by the Joe Krown Trio with the Crescent city legend Walter Wolfman Washington, and Russell Batiste. All in all, this festival offers a wonderful smattering of various roots/blues based music. My top three favorite performances came from Johnnie Bassett and his entire band, the Joe Krown Trio, and Mavis Staples. It's been far too long since I have seen Johnnie Bassett perform. In fact the last time I saw Bassett was at the Pocono Blues Fest several years ago. He looked and sounded fantastic and is one of those rare musicians that can mix an in-between jazzy fat tone with his blues. Bassett was dead on, the band was ultra tight, and they performed tunes from Johnnie's previous recordings and his latest The Gentleman Is Back on Sly Dog label, a division of the jazz label Mack Avenue. It was also sweet to hear Johnnie say that a follow-up recording is in the works. It should be out late this year or early next as there was a long gap between Johnnie's last disc and his previous. Bob Porter whose liner notes gracefully adorn Bassett's latest CD tells me that Basset plans to play in Europe this year. Good news, indeed.

The Joe Krown Trio with Wolfman Washington and Russell Batiste was the surprise performance of the weekend for me, as they jazzed it up with a strong soul-funk groove coming from Mr. Krown's B3, dynamite and (at times) explosive drumming from Batiste and some of the best guitar playing I've ever heard coming from Walter. The Wolfman was definitely on the prowl with his vocals and guitar offering some of the most cohesive playing that I've ever heard from Washington. This trio has grown leaps and bounds from their only release Live at the Maple Leaf in 2009. Their interplay was outstanding, and I only hope to hear a fresh new recording from these perennial veterans from the Crescent City.

I've written about witnessing Mavis Staples three times in the last year or so, and every time I see this new updated version of her band, I walk away with a huge smile on my face. Seeing Mavis perform is always a religious experience, so what could be better than seeing her close out the main stage reading in hymnbook fashion on gorgeous Sunday afternoon at the Pocono's? Nada! Staples was in a fabulous mood and really looked like she was thoroughly enjoying the vibe of the audience, often leaning over to touch and shake hands with her fans. Her voice was strong, and the group is some band! Rick Holmstrom on guitar was on fire, bassist Jeff Turmes and drummer Stephen Hodges rounded out the vibrant rhythm section while Mavis' sister and Donny Gerrard mightily held down the background vocals. All in all, this is an exceptional unit that displays deep gospel grooves, powerful soul, and can also rock out. Mavis killed on The Band's "The Weight" which was the highlight of their very fine set, but I would remiss to not mention the incredible instrumental jam that Holmstrom, Turmes and Hodges put down midway through their set where Turmes traded in his bass and played a mean and tasty slide guitar. He then went back to his bass to let Holmstrom roar! know I've said it before, but I will say it again. If you have not seen this Mavis Staples lineup, shame on you. They are that good and very memorable, period. It was also great to hear Mavis say that they are also close to releasing a new disc for the Anti label, which (I think) will be the first time this configuration of her extraordinary band will work together in the studio. Looking forward to this new one, indeed! So there you have it, the nineteenth edition of the Pocono Blues Fest. Kudos to Michael Cloeren for all the good and hard work he does to offer blues-based music to a wider audience.

Unfortunately there will not be a twentieth 2011 edition of the Pocono Blues Fest, checkout for the sad announcement. I also attended the wonderful Vermont Blues Fest (covered by our illustrious editor Don Wilcock) but the 2011 status of this event is also unknown. Here's hoping Michael Cloeren of both the Pocono & Vermont Blues Fest, finds new homes for both this outstanding events. Let's face it, the Pocono Blues Fest was an institution for the blues that often allowed (not as well known artists) the opportunities to visit regions they rarely visited, and also afforded many bands and musicians to receive the accolades they deserve by performing at this venue to larger audiences. The Pocono Blues Fest will be missed, and if the Vermont Blues Fest goes down, that will also be another blow to the blues world. Cross your fingers, and keep checking back here for any breaking news.Bob Putignano: