Blues Beat
" 2009 Crawfish Festival "
By Bob Putignano

Augusta, New Jersey May 29-31, 2009

Michael Arnone's twentieth annual Crawfish Festival in Augusta, New Jersey, has always featured a heavy dose of Louisiana performers. Like last year's lineup, this year's edition also included a number of national touring Blues bands, such as Marcia Ball, Guitar Shorty, Janiva Magness, Eric Lindell, Tab Benoit, and J.J. Grey & Mofro. Plus some Louisiana-centric bands strutted their stuff, like Bonerama, Jesse Lge and Bayou Brew, The Radiators, Terrance Simien, Pine Leaf Boys, Trombone Shorty, Big Sam's Funky Nation, Papa Grows Funk, Jeffery Broussard, Benjy Davis Project, John Boutte and Paul Sanchez, and Steve Riley & The Mamou Playboys, as well as varied genre acts like The Assembly of Dust and Matt Angus Thing with Anthony Morgan's Inspirational Choir of Harlem.

Additionally, The Crawfish Festival is a culinary event, and is about much more than just eating those little creatures, as it's also about a weekend of music, fun, and camping, where you can sample all kinds of other Louisiana favorite cuisine like shrimp creole, alligator sausage, catfish po' boys, jambalaya, red beans and rice, raw oysters, southern-fried chicken, and other southern dishes. Less than an hour from New York City, this first-class festival started as a small crawfish boil for seventy homesick people in 1989 and has turned into a wonderful annual event for thousands of happy attendees.

Saturday's best performances included Papa Grows Funk, who jammed on and delighted the crowd with a dazzling performance that had the audience dancing non-stop, of particular note was B3 player John Gros' vocals and organic growls and June Yamagishi's scorching guitar work. The Assembly of Dust also provided some enticing moments with their eclectic Jam-band style. Eric Lindell's set was also energetic and well received, as was Terrence Simien's soulful mix of Zydeco and Soul. But far and away, my favorite act of the day was the great Guitar Shorty. Shorty was in outstanding form both vocally and with his intense guitar prowess, and bonded with the fans in the audience when he made his way through the crowd and played his butt off, as the band raged on back on the stage! Guitar Shorty has always been a crowd pleaser and he seemingly enjoyed playing offstage and having his picture taken by the many digital cameras in the crowd. I have not seen Shorty perform live in recent years, but I am sure that I will seek him out the next time he passes nearby to where I live. No back flips anymore though, but he did play guitar with his teeth!

Sunday offered yet another genre-mixed bag of excitement. The tried and trustworthy Marcia Ball Band put on a great set, which is no surprise as Ball always has one of the most professional bands on the circuit. It was great to see ex-Coco Montoya keyboard player Benny Yee in Janiva Magness' band, too, as he added a lot of deep textures to Janiva's fine set. It was disappointing to see Tab Benoit in a trio configuration as I always prefer his performances with larger ensembles, (at least a four-piece, Tab!), though it was really cool to see him sit in with the Radiators, who showed no signs of fatigue from their four-hour jam fest at B.B King's in New York City from one or two nights prior!

Well, there you have it, the twentieth Crawfish Fest was another success for the fearless leader Michael Arnone, who surely will rage on for many years to come! Kudos to the weather gods for supplying perfect weather for the weekend as it was sweet to see an excellent turnout for the festival. I asked Arnone what he does with his life when the Crawfish Fest is wrapped up each year. He answered, "Immediately following the last note of the current year's festival, we start thinking and planning about next year's festival." Must be nice, but I am sure it's stressful in these trying economic times. Next year's dates will be June 4, 5, and 6. Be sure to keep yourself informed about Crawfish Fest number twenty-one by checking in at crawfish.com

Bob Putignano: www.SoundsofBlue.com