The good folks at the Natchel Blues Network put together quite an event as a final fundraiser to assist two blues acts, Roosterfoot (Seth Stainback and Keith Stainback) and The Bush League, with the expenses of their trip to the International Blues Challenge (IBC) that is being held in Memphis, TN from Jan 31 to Feb 4, 2012. For those of you who may be unaware, the IBC is an international competition where all of the Blues Foundation affiliates are encouraged to stage a regional preliminary IBC competition, with the winner of that competition representing the organization in the Memphis international competition. I have never been there, but I hear that it is one of those mountaintop experiences for any blues music lover and based on what I heard and experienced at Mojo Bones on this day, I can only imagine what a whole week of this kind of talented musicianship and the blues can do to a person’s soul.
The day started with a nice 2 hour drive through the countryside, to get from Colonial Heights, VA to the Ocean View area of Norfolk, VA with my daughter and son-in-law taking the two front seat positions and my wife and I riding as passengers. I am not really to used to being a passenger, but I would have to say it wasn’t too bad. I just wish I could sleep in a moving vehicle, but maybe that’s why I drive most of the time. We arrived at Mojo Bones and stepped in just prior to Seth hitting the stage. The word had definitely gotten out about this event as the place was packed but I was able to immediately recognize some faces that I have gotten to know recently. Seth and Bobby Blackhat Walters walked over to greet me and I saw and spoke to folks affiliated with the Natchel Blues Network along with many other newly acquired friends and acquaintances. The anticipation and excitement of this day was beginning to build.
Roosterfoot hits the stage and, to my surprise, they have added Larry Berwald on the electric guitar and man is that a nice fill-in. I have only recently seen Larry play as a part of Bobby Blackhat Walter’s band and was really pleasantly surprised to see him playing with Roosterfoot. Seth comes at you with some blazing acoustic slide playing and raw, down to earth vocals that he seems to summon from deep down in his being. Especially at the end of songs like “Love You Down”, where he pleads and pours his heart out to the one who has left him brokenhearted, to come back home. This is the blues folks, as real and raw as it gets and Larry fills in the missing gaps with some nice guitar work. Seth brouht Bobby Blackhat Walters, who is also making the trip to Memphis representing the River City Blues Society out of Richmond, up on the stage for a couple of tunes and closed out by inviting a local harp player, Art Kohn of WAVY TV in Hampton Roads, for a couple more songs. This was a very upbeat set and hopefully gives Seth and company a little extra boost at the IBC in Memphis.
As Roosterfoot was playing, I began to notice all the folks showing up with guitars and other instruments in hand. First was Anthony Rosano, who was so impressive on his cigar box guitar at the last jam and not far behind him members of The Bush League started showing up. I knew that they were driving in from Lynchburg and it was good to see Royce, Shane and Kenya, who seemed a little nervous while waiting on John Jay Cecil to make it in time for their set. In addition to those fine folks, a couple other oddities caught my eye. The first was a small, young girl along with what looked to be her mother, they were carrying a bass guitar case. The other being a young fellow with wispy blonde hair falling from underneath a Fedora hat. I made a mindful note and went back to enjoying the last bit of the Roosterfoot set.
The Bush League
Next up was a short set with The Bush League doing a couple of their favorite tunes with Shane showing some of his slide prowess, power chords and picking. Royce on the bass is as steady as a rock and worked well with Keith Stainback setting in on percussion, in place of an injured Gwen Frederick and, well, John Jay being John Jay. This guy is one of a kind with a personality that grabs a room and the hi-jinx to match. Good fun is always had from this group and it happened once again today with Jackie Merritt joining them late in the set on harmonica.
These blues jams can get a little confusing as different players start unloading their cases, pedals, chords and instruments while folks are setting up additional mics and getting everyone plugged in. I do notice though, that the small girl now has the bass strapped over her shoulder. The bass is practically as tall as she is. The mother that walked in with her was now sitting at the set with sticks in hand and warming up and to the left of her was a young man on the guitar. Then JD Silvia stepped to the front of the stage and I am thinking, “Man, he has a young backing crew”, but then they strike up version of Stevie Ray’s “Pride and Joy” with the little girl taking the vocals and the whole place was like HOLY COW, she is for real! Come to find out she is all of 11 years old, her brother on lead guitar is 14 and it is their mom on the drums. JD was just setting in with them. The trio of Sandy, Cole and Logan plays together as In Layman Terms and are playing in the Williamsburg area in March and May. It is refreshing to see such young kids really enjoying what they do and that is playing the blues.
After squeezing in an original tune “Daughter of Blues”, the stage was shared like a tag team match in the WWF. Players were swapping in and out and around and included great guitarists like Sean Parker, JD Silvia and Anthony Rosano along with bassists Brian “Boogie” Thomas and Paul Warren. They were also joined by a few harmonica players, one being Jeremy JB Bustillos who ended up sharing his rig with a couple of other harp players that stood in from time to time. There was also a fiddle player in the group but unfortunately, I didn’t get his name. This jam was very guitar heavy and ended up leaning towards a more blues influenced rock-n-roll feel. This was a bit of a change from the last one, held at the old JM Randalls in Williamsburg. That jam was heavy on the vocals of John Jay, Jackie Scott, Seth Stainback and Resa Gibbs. Two blues jams and two distinctly different experiences even though some of the same players were involved. That is what I have come to like about these type of get-togethers, you may think you have an idea of what might be coming your way and then all of a sudden the music takes a path that was unpredictable but everybody goes with it and ends up, like Bobby Blue Bland put it, “Further On Up the Road”!
The end of the road, and the day, was coming for my crew and it was just about time for us to head out. I was in the back of the club, opposite the stage area having a conversation with Jeremy about his gear, when my ear caught an incredibly crisp and clean note that was struck just a half-beat after the first notes of the rest of the band had been hit. I was in the middle of a conversation and it just rang through me. I look up and, lo and behold, it was the kid in the Fedora hat! I immediately excused myself, I think, and headed back to the stage area. This kid, who I had never had the pleasure of seeing perform, was as cool as a cucumber. I whispered that to my daughter who was standing to my side and she nodded in agreement. Both of us were mesmerized by his poise, stature and the incredible licks that seem to come, like most people breath, with no effort whatsoever. I have seen many shows and many players and this kid is different. He is 16 year old Grant Austin Taylor and a quick read of his bio when I got home proved that what I had seen was true. There are certain people that I come across that jump out at me. It is not always an up-in-my-face moment, but a presence that transcends the place you’re in. I relish these moments in life and it makes going to each one of these shows very well worth it. It doesn’t happen all the time, but this is two for two, actually, if I include the 2011 Blues at the Beach, it is three for three for events put on by the Natchel Blues Network. Thanks to all who participated, you made a lot of people in that part of the world very happy on this day and it is appreciated by all of us.
Feature image provided by Cathy Dixson