ralph lauren polo shirts Mavis Staples leave Pocono fest crowd hardly blue
The blues is a distinctive genre, but like all music these days, its lines have been blurred for the better, as the 19th annual Pocono Blues Festival showed this weekend.
Through 20 acts on three stages over its three days, the festival showed how broad the blues base has become. And no acts demonstrated it better than Sunday’s two headliners.
The 75 minute set of 1980s hit makers The Fabulous Thunderbirds’ blue through 15 songs that went from traditional blues to R the band’s signature blues rock and near pop, but it kept the audience thinned and tentative from a mid afternoon thunderstorm moving and hollering along.
Kim Wilson of The Fabulous Thunderbirds
Photos by Doug Kilpatrick/Special to The Morning Call
Following them, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award winner chugged through a slightly longer set that, except for the rocking lead guitar of Rick Holmstrom would have been straight up gospel.
But there’s a reason the audience embraced both: They deserved it.
The Fab T Birds are neither as tight nor as menacing as they were at their 1986 peak, but they’re still plenty good.
Reaching back to 1979, they opened with “Wait on Time,” immediately focusing on lead guitarist , who played with the gusto of a coal miner, chopping and shoveling his axe with fury, holding his breath as his hands moved in swift solos.
The chugging song also had the crowd moving, and they grew less inhibited as the set continued.
Wilson, who’s nearing 60, sang with less swagger in his voice and swung a little slower, but the crowd’s movement was his doing. An older couple in the crowd did a Carolina shag; later, when the T Birds slowed it down, another couple slow danced.
Perhaps saving his spotlight for last, Wilson was a harp virtuoso on the penultimate song, an instrumental on which he blew for eight minutes straight including four minutes solo.
Of course, they played their biggest hits: I Up” halfway through and “Tuff Enuff” to close the main set. But they highlighted neither “Wrap It Up” lasted just three minutes and “Tuff Enuff,” even with band introductions, just five.
It was a testament to the crowd’s blues leaning that those song got only as much response as the traditional blues numbers, and for the encore Wilson wailed through another instrumental.
Like The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Staples is showing some age.
She leaned heavily on her new album, “You Are Not Alone,” due out Sept. 14 and produced by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, saying the first two songs were being played for a live audience for the first time. The first, an a cappella version of the traditional “Wonderful Savior,” was, indeed, wonderful. The second, the Tweedy penned “Only the Lord Knows,” added some growl to her distinctive husky voice, as well as some mean guitar.
Those elements also pervaded the set. On the traditional “Wade in the Water,
” her rasp sank to a growl as the band laid a deep groove and Holmstrom fired blistering riffs. The new disc’s “I Belong to the Band” had the audience dancing perhaps equally because of joy of the spiritual and of the flesh and ended with the band keeping handclap beats and Staples whispering the lyrics.
“Everybody feel alright?” she asked, knowing the answer. “I feel pretty good, too.”
There were many highlights: The Band’s “The Weight” [The Staple Singers appeared in The Band’s movie “The last Waltz”] was revelatory, as Staples turned it into a full gospel number, and the end repeating “Put the weight on me! Put the weight on me!” The crowd gave the song a big cheer.
John Fogerty’s “Wrote A Song for Everyone,” also on her new album, had meaning mined from a wounded soul. Allen Toussaint’s “Last Train,” also from the new disc, had Staples scat singing. And “Freedom Highway” was a reminder of Staples’ role as a civil rights activist. 1 hit from 1972. It stretched more than 10 minutes as Staples had the crowd sing along, then did a call and response with the title.
“We’ve been taking you there for 60 years, and we’re not tired yet!” Staples told the crowd. “We’ll be back.”
With a promise like that, who could have left the festival with the blues?
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