(OCALA, FLORIDA) In a small community, how do you raise money for charity and have a good time doing it? Local icon, Ron “Rondo” Fernandez of The Mojo Grill & Catering Co. invited 600+ of his friends and put together the Brick City Blues Festival, complete with a car show and vendor booths outside. This was an intimate gathering; more like family visiting than a commercial event.
The festivities started with Ocala’s very own, The Brown Brothers, who can best be described as a laid back honky tonk blues band. Guitarist Doug Adams and harp player Skip Olenick (formerly with the Accelerators) did some nice soloing on Albert Collins’ “Dirty Dishes” and Albert King’s “Born Under A Bad Sign”. The band finished their set with Pat Travers’ “Boom Boom, Out Go The Lights”.
Next up was local blues hero and harp player extraodinaire Willie “Real Deal” Green, backed by The Brown Brothers who raised their playing to the next level for this set. Green has opened for John Hammond Jr, Tommy Castro, and John Lee Hooker, among others. Although Green was under the weather, he delivered an exceptionally rousing set. The band provided solid backing and Green found the groove, crawled up in it and laid back with it. His playing was sparse and engaging with never a note out of place. Like all true masters, he knows how to let the music breathe. Highlights included great renditions of “Sweet Home Chicago” and “Mojo Working”. This was a really amazing set and the crowd let Green know that they appreciated it.
Following Willie Green was Little Jake (Mitchell) and The Soul Searchers. Earlier in his career, Mitchell was out on the road with old school masters including James Brown, Sam Cooke and Bobby “Blue” Bland. This group is a “Review” and reminds one of the acts that toured the Chitlin Circuit(s) in the 50’s and early 60’s. The level of musicianship that this group brought to the party was a cut above. The band came out dressed in coordinating attire and for the first 20 minutes they played without Mitchell. Their playing was tight and luscious. The highlight of their set was a stunning version of Johnny Guitar Watson’s “A Real Mother For Ya”. By now, the crowd was really into it and Little Jake comes up onstage to lead the band through the rest of the set. A consummate showman, he delivered the goods; vintage blues and R&B in a deep husky voice with lots of energy. The crowd ate it up.
Rounding out the evening’s music was Rondo’s band, Rondo & The Mojo Downs Band with guitarist Doug Adams and harp player Skip Olenick from The Brown Brothers sitting in. This set was straight up blues. They started with a smooth version of Bill Withers’ classic “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone” and eased into other classics including “Red House”, “Cold Shot” and “Stormy Monday”. Highlights were “The Thrill Is Gone” and “Whipping Post”, both of which included good soloing by all three guitarists and Rondo delivering some nice gritty vocals. The set was a great close to an excellent evening of music that raised awareness and funds for the Society for Overcoming Seizures, Inc.