Over the course of nineteen years, the Tampa Bay Blues Festival has become one of the premier blues festivals in the nation. People travel from all corners of the globe to attend, and with good reason. A list of past lineups reads like a who’s who of the blues universe, including Buddy Guy, Tab Benoit, Jimmie Vaughan, Robert Cray, Koko Taylor, and Dickey Betts, just name a few. The event is actually held in beautiful St. Petersburg, Florida, at Vinoy park — right on the waterfront.
As in the past, this year’s artist lineup was an excellent mix of generes and talent. Friday started out overcast, and threatened rain most of the day. Lucky Peterson came onstage smiling and ready to go. Peterson donned a guitar, and along with his talented band, immediately had the crowd going with a blues medley that included Ray LaMontagne’s “Trouble,” Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Cold Shot,” and “Scuttle Butting.” After bringing out his talented wife Tamara, the band played “I Hear You Knocking,” which was very well received. Peterson and company delivered a blistering set of blues and R&B that was emotive and well played.
Janiva Magness has had a very good year. In addition to enjoying a very successful tour with a killer band, she is currently nominated for five Blues Music Awards for her album Stronger For It. The band played two jamming blues instrumentals before Magness joined them onstage, when the party really started. Her set included “Whoop and Holler,” “There It Is,” “I Won’t Cry,” “Make It Rain,” “Whistlin’ In The Dark,” and a rendition of Ike and Tina Turner’s “Humpty Dumpty.” Magness did not disappoint, delivering strong impassioned vocals, and a high energy set. The crowd ate it up! While her entire band is awesome, special kudos go out to Zach Zunis on guitar and Jim Alfredson on Hammond B3 and keys who were just plain impressive.
Rod Piazza and The Mighty Flyers played an inspired set of old school Chicago, West Coast, and Jump blues. Piazza and his piano playing wife Honey have been playing the blues together since 1980. Each is a true virtuoso and has an expressive command of their instrument. Their lively and brilliant set included “Baby Please Don’t Go,” “Love To Spare,” “The Stranger Blues,” and “I’ll Be Your Man One Day.”
Dickey Betts and Great Southern were scheduled as the main event this day and were the evening’s closing act. Unfortunately, Dicky Bets was in the hospital with a bad infection. Duane Betts (Dickey’s son), and the band gamely carried on and played a rousing set of blues. They were joined onstage by Lucky Peterson on slide and Rod and Honey Piazza. Their set included a lively “Statesburo Blues,” “Blue Sky,” Hoochie Coochie Man,” and of course “Stormy Monday.”
Sunday was “New Orleans Sunday” and presented a great lineup. Rosie Ledet and The Zydeco Playboys led off with some Louisiana Zydeco and swinging southern blues. Their jumpin’, feel-good set included “Roisie In The House,” “Hot Tamale Baby,” and “Swing That Thing.”
Next up was Walter “Wolfman” Washington. Revered among New Orleans musicians, Washington is the winner of the 2012 Big Easy Music Awards Lifetime Achievement Award. Man, can this cat play! At times his set was alternately funky, jazzy, and old school blues; absolutely stunning and brilliant playing. The set included “Glass House,” Tweaking,” “You Can Stay But The Noise Must Go,” and “Can I Change My Mind.”
Expectations were high as Royal Southern Brotherhood took the stage. Lead by Devon Allman, Mike Zito, and Cyril Neville, this band is building a well deserved reputation for high octane performances and great musicianship. Their performance here was no different. Their smokin’ set included “Fired Up,” “Fire On The Mountain,” “Sweet Jelly Doughnut,” and “Pearl River.” The dual guitar lines, alternating solos, and a sweet bass solo from Charlie Whooton, backed by Yonrico Scott on drums, left the crowd breathless.
By now, Tab Benoit should be a household name for blues lovers. He is finally getting his due as the stellar player he has become. Benoit gave the crowd some serious blues, and even a little country. This amazing set included some beautiful fretboard work on “Lost In Your Lovin’,” a rousing “Hot Tamale Baby,” and gritty version of “Dirty Dishes.” The set also included some more fretboard dancing on “Fever For The Bayou,” and a playful version of “My Bucket Got A Hole In It.” Now mind you, Benoit could have stopped there, but he didn’t. He wanted to bring up some of his “friends” to join him, so Devon Allman, Mike Zito, and Cyril Neville joined him for a bit. This was a special performance and the crowd was very appreciative.
Finishing out the the weekend was Trombone Shorty and Orleans Review. Starting with their Grammy-nominated 2010 debut album Backatown, they have been on a meteoric rise, gaining experience and chops along the way. As a unit, they are polished and tight. They weaved textures of almost Hendrix-like guitar crunch, and New Orleans jazz and funk, together perfectly. (Kudos to guitarist Pete Murano!) It was like sitting in front of a delicious wall of 3D sound. Had there been a roof at this venue, they would have torn it off!
This festival has a reputation for presenting one of the best artist lineups in the country, year after year. This year’s performances were nothing short of astonishing. We can’t wait for next year!