The 27th annual Monterey Bay Blues Festival is living the blues. You know, one day you're up and the next day you're down. Ain't that the truth?
Accordingly, it makes perfect sense that this year's catch phrase is "The Blues is Forever." That's kind of comforting in its firm belief that things will keep on keeping on, no matter how bad it looks or feels. It's all kind of Zen-like in the circle of how things work, and how things work themselves out.
Things feel like they're leveling off at the three-day event held each year at the Monterey County Fairgrounds. While the big stars from the past are no longer with us, or no longer being booked at the festival, there are plenty of great artists to enjoy.
Having a true bluesman
J.J. Grey and Mofro, Jackie Greene, Nina Storey, Kenny Neal, Dale Ockerman and the Musicscool All Stars, and Sista Monica are bringing their Zen to the event as well. You couldn't ask for mo' better cool than that!
MBBF presenters have always known that people want to get it on with the music, dancing and generally tearing it up. Filling that bill, soul and R&B music have been staples at Monterey, and this year there's plenty of that, with hitmakers Evelyn "Champagne" King and Rose Royce Friday night on the Main Stage, and Sunday's
Spread out around the festival, there's a little bit of something for everyone, with winner of the Blues Battle of the Bands Paula Harris appearing twice Saturday, on the big stage and out on the Presidents Stage.
Festival soul and funk favorites Alvon Johnson and Sai Whatt get things rolling Friday night on the Presidents Stage, while on the Payton
There's three stages going at just about all times, so in the course of discovering where to land, grab a refreshment, stroll through the arts and crafts booths, pick up some great barbecue, leave some room for Peach Cobbler to top it off, and then settle down in your seats and get Zen with the blues.
When someone like Charlie Musselwhite takes the time to talk about his life in the blues it's like sitting at the feet of a master and soaking up the wisdom.
"Blues is about life, and whatever life is about, is what blues is about," Musselwhite said in a phone interview from his home outside of Healdsburg. "I tell you, the blues is your comforter when you're down and your buddy when you're up. It's an all-purpose music. It's more than just music; it's the whole spirit to keeping on. No matter what comes your way, just keep getting up, we can do this, we can get through it."
The Mississippi-born, Memphis-raised harmonica and guitar playing blues singer/songwriter studied at the feet of the masters that came before him, and so it goes, on and on.
"I'm sure I learned a lot," he said about his experience with the Chicago legends like Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf. "I started out in Memphis. I knew a lot of old-time blues guys in Memphis. In fact some of the guys I learned from in Memphis taught the guys I later learned from in Chicago."
Musselwhite grew up in a family that enjoyed playing music, but never took to thinking of it as a career path. He worked tough jobs, and some not so tough jobs along the way, and when it turned out to be the music that offered him the best choice for his life, he followed his heart and it's brought him to California where he's lived for the past 45 years.
"Yeah, I knew Furry Lewis really well," he said about his time in Memphis. "I used to hang out with him. I didn't know I was preparing myself for a career, or I'd a paid a lot more attention. I just love blues, and I like playing it. I had my ways to meet people playing it. Mostly I learned guitar from a lot of those guys. Harmonica is the only instrument you cannot see what you're doing, so you're really on your own when learning the harmonica."
The 68-year-old does cite the Internet as a great place to find tutorials on many aspects of harmonica playing, but there was nothing of the kind when he and another young, white blues harmonica player were kicking around Chicago in the school of hard knocks.
"When I got to Chicago I didn't know if there were any other white kids playing harmonica," he said. "People would keep calling me Paul. And I'd say my name is not Paul. They'd say you play harmonica, don't ya? Then you're Paul. It didn't take me long to figure out there was some other guy about my age playing harmonica. And we eventually met. It was interesting times."
Paul Butterfield is the Paul he's talking about and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band was one group to lead the way for a revolution of the blues.
Perhaps the breakout performance for that band was when they backed Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival for his notorious coming out as an electric musician.
Coming of age in Chicago and hanging out in the Southside bars to play with the masters was gutsy indeed for the young white musicians, but they found out they were safer in the bars than out walking on the street in those neighborhoods.
"Yeah, everybody was really supportive and encouraging," he said about playing the Chicago blues scene. "They were flattered that we knew who they were, and had their records and knew their tunes, loved their music. It was a very respectful and nice situation. It was a good time for everybody."
His big break came when the recording "Stand Back! Here Comes Charley Musselwhite's Southside Band" was released in 1967 on Vanguard.
"That record gave me a career and put me on the road," he said. It brought him to San Francisco from Chicago that year. "My first gig was at The Fillmore Auditorium."
Today Musselwhite lives the California good life. He's been busy touring a lot lately, with his band (June Core, drums; Mike Phillips, bass; Matt Stubbs, guitar) and with Cyndi Lauper's band, although her touring has slowed down. He's OK with that because he enjoys the aspects of home life, like working in the garden and fixing up things around the house. He and his wife practice yoga and are beginning to learn tai chi, he enjoys getting out for walks in the local ards, and taking advantage of his locale in other important ways.
"Yeah, especially the food," he said about the benefits of living in California. "I know how it is around other parts of the U.S. You can't get much organic. When I'm home I go to the farmers market and buy fruit and vegetables from the guy who grows them. And that's real important to get good, clean food."
Musselwhite released an album on Alligator Records of all-original songs about a year ago titled "The Well," and will play a couple tunes from that. He could pull one off his Cuban blues fusion record "Continental Drifter," or deliver one of his classics from his 26 recordings. A Blues Hall of Fame Inductee in 2010 with numerous Grammy Award nominations under his belt, the future is wide open for the sweet-spirited bluesman.
"I think if you can just be open, the flow will take you where you're supposed to go," he said. "If you know somebody who is real negative, that's how their life is going to be. If you're positive, your life is more likely to be positive. And you'll attract it, too."
Beth Peerless can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. GO!
What: 27th annual Monterey Bay Blues Festival
Where: Monterey County Fairgrounds, 2004 Fairground Road, Monterey
When: 6:30p.m. Friday, June 22, to 10p.m. Sunday, June 24
Tickets: Various ticket packages available, as well as singles-show arena tickets; grounds tickets $35 Friday, $45 Saturday and Sunday, available at 1-866-558-4253, 394-2652 or Print Email Font ResizeReturn to Top