Garvin Gate's Got the Blues

By Jean Ebel

Approaching Oak Street, I experienced a tingling of excitement brought about not by the faint October chill, but by a rush of energy as the blues ripped through the night, transforming the stillness into an electrically charged evening.

Folklore says that during the full moon people lean toward lunacy, but I can tell you that it was the blues alone that seized the crowd gathered Saturday night, the 10th, at the Fifth Annual Garvin Gate Blues Festival.

The crowd was smaller than I had expected, but there was no shortage of energy or enthusiasm when a long-time favorite of the Louisville blues scene, Curtis & the Kicks, took to the stage, playing their rollicking style of blues. As they launched into their charged performance, the crowd really cut loose and danced in the street, turning it into a sea of flailing arms and legs, as few could resist surrendering to the music. Feeling good, they danced freely, whether alone, in a group, or with strangers. Some even felt the need to do their thing on the tabletops.

Kush Griffith: 'How Do You Like Me Now?'. Photo by Jean Metcalfe

The blues drifted down the streets, which had been closed off especially for the event, providing a background for some folks indulging in festival eating, from authentic ethnic cooking to good ol' corn on the cob. For diehard blues fans, there was paraphernalia such as T-shirts and the official Garvin Gate Blues Festival Poster, as well as colorful African clothing.

Due to the success of last year's festival, organizers expanded the event to three days to accommodate the growing crowds. Along with a main stage, there was a gazebo stage where solo acts played in breaks between the headliners in an attempt to keep the crowd moving.

Tyrone Cotten was the gazebo stage entertainer during my visit on this night, facing the crowd armed only with his guitar and smooth voice. He soulfully rendered favorites that evoked the raw beginnings of the blues. Unfortunately, each of his performances lasted only 15 minutes, and by the time the crowd had wandered down to the main stage, his performance was ending.

Along about nine, legendary bluesman Yank Rachell took the stage and demonstrated the red-hot fire of the blues for which he's been known for most of his 83 years. He charmed the audience as he joked, "I had the blues so bad they turned black." Yes, Rachell does have the blues bad -- few are as close to what the blues is all about. Brandishing a mandolin, he played aggressively his unique down-home brand of blues, reminding me that rock 'n' roll has its roots in the blues.

The festival also gave the opportunity to recognize two local blues artists. Perry Aberli, President of the KYANA Blues Society, presented the Fourth Annual Sylvester Weaver Award, named for the late blues musician, in recognition of a local artist's dedication to the blues. Foree Wells joined in the presentation to Winston Hardy, since the two had played together for so many years. Trumpeter Kush Griffith was the recipient of the inaugural Garvin Gate Blues Festival Music Award for his contribution to the blues scene.

The lineup of blues acts this year included traditional blues artists as well as acts that captured the essence of the blues, while embracing other music traditions as well: Cosmo & the Counts, Axis, Bodeco, Foree Wells & the Walnut Street Blues Band, Lamont Gillispie & the Homewreckers with headliner Sam Myers, and da Mudcats.

At about 11 o'clock the night was too hot to end and continued at the nearby Rudyard Kipling where Willie Little led a sizzling blues jam session.

Indeed this city has a bad case of the blues, and the Garvin Gate Blues Festival proved it.