Long Beach Blues Festival
"Thirty years of Great Blues and Still Running Strong!"
Thirty years and going strong! The Long Beach Blues Festival boasts yet another strong lineup featuring heavy hitter guitarists Sonny Landreth, Johnny Winter and Kenny Wayne Shepherd, jam funksters the Funky Meters, gospel legends the Blind Boys of Alabama, plus soul greats Mavis Staples, Bettye Lavette, and the one and only Bobby Womack who closed this wonderful two-day celebration.

On the second stage it was great to finally see Kimberly KC Allison who dazzled on guitar, and it's a very worthwhile search to check out her two excellent recordings. Sugaray was excellent and someone I was not familiar with that was a very pleasant surprise. Other local California legends who exhibited their strong talents were Laurie Morvan, BB Chung King & the Buddaheads, and festival founders Bernie Pearl & Mike Barry.

Saturday's highlights featured Bettye Lavette who always knows how to charm a crowd but, having seen Lavette several times over the last two years, I have to say that the theatrics get all too predictable, Nonetheless, Bettye's vocals were powerful, and her band was as glistening as a fine set of Henckels steak knifes. Kenny Wayne Shepherd's set was dazzling. Shepherd was razor sharp and shredded mightily on guitar. His band was also top shelf, and this explosive group was easily the best performance of the day. His set was so impressive that now I have to add his New York area concerts as a "must see" to my long list of favorites who tour the area. Bob Putignano a senior contributing editor at BluesWax. He is also the heart of Sounds of Blues at www.SoundsofBlue.com. Bob maybe contacted at: bob8003@yahoo.com

The legendary Johnny Winter was just so-so and, without getting too detailed, let me just say having seen Johnny back in the day, it's tough for me to witness his recent shows. The Funky Meters were also a bit of a disappointment. Their loose unstructured jams did not hold my attention well. Though seeing two major chunks of the New Orleans funk fabric is always a pleasure, that being Papa Funk aka: Art Neville on B3 and one of my all-time favorite bass players, the effervescent and always smiling George Porter Jr. who's always fascinating to observe with his imaginative and often surprising explorations.

Sunday was less guitar laden where the only guitar God that performed was Sonny Landreth who poured his heart out with magnificent solos throughout, though I would have preferred to see Sonny captivate in a larger ensemble than a three-piece band. The Blind Boys of Alabama were also surprisingly exuberant and, at this point in the show, were an obvious crowd favorite.

The great Mavis Staples has somewhat reinvented herself with the addition of the outstanding thematic guitar work from Rich Holmstrom and bassist Jeff Turmes. These relatively new band members added so much flavor to the mighty Mavis who was tireless on stage, sang her ever loving heart out, and let's not forget about her captivating and beautiful smile!

Mavis' show was so strong that many in attendance would have been satisfied had she'd been the closer that night, but her set was the perfect segue for what was scheduled next, Bobby Womack! (See separate interview in Blues Bytes this issue,) Where's Womack been? Damn what a show, what a band, and what a dynamic performer Womack is. I had never seen him perform and have always been a fan, but whew! Needless to say, Bobby led his potent band down memory lane with his amazing set list of classics. Womack's band was not only ultra tight, but large, too, with bass, drums, guitar, and keyboards, plus two background singers and a four-piece horn section. I was really taken back and would love to see Womack on the tour circuit again. He's tailor made for festival formats.

Kudos to the folks who book the Long Beach Blues Festival as this was my second consecutive year of attendance, and both years impressed me with the fine wide ranging mix of talent they've assembled back to back. And what a score it was for this first rate festival to bring out the recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Bobby Womack, who does not go out on tour that often.

Bob Putignano: www.SoundsofBlue.com