Kentucky Homefront celebrated ten years of recording live concerts at the Clifton Center last January. They have been cultivating their music and storytelling tradition long before that with their earliest concerts in the sanctuary of the Stuart Robinson Church in Old Louisville. Later, they moved to the Unitarian Church on York Street and then occupied the Kentucky Theater on Fourth Street. There were a few brief venues in between until they settled in for good at the Eifler Auditorium, with its comfortable, spacious seating and good acoustics. Home at last.
It was blues night at Kentucky Homefront on April 9, a biannual event that also was supported by the Kentuckiana Blues Society. By the time host John Gage did his opening song and remarks, the near-capacity crowd was ready for some serious foot-stomping, clapping and hollering. Jimi V (Vallandingham) and Screamin' John Hawkins picked up where they left off the last time I saw them at the Monkey Wrench in January. That night they were raising money to cover their expenses to the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. They "done good," making it to the semifinals as a solo/duo act. This pair exudes energy and excitement with percussive rhythms coming from John's guitar and Jimi's harp and tambourine. Jimi's powerful pipes pleaded for mercy on "Three Long Years" and roared with glee on "Momma Don't Allow." John played his guitars with the intensity of Son House, but with more intricate chord changes. This duo did and could ignite any concert as a warm up act.
Cole Prior Steven's got himself a new band since he competed in the same IBC. Without his lead singer Dana Bryant, Cole carries all the vocals in his gritty style. He is a master of the slide and his band was there to showcase it. Brendan Lewis is the only carryover from the Bryant-Stevens Band, providing a firm foundation on his deep, resonating bass for Cole's wailing slide. Darren Myers and Anthony Ficociello round out the group. There were a few familiar songs from his earlier groups, like "Ain't Nobody Love Me," "Be Easy On Yourself" and "Country Boy." "Train Song" was a new song with a rollin' and tumblin' rhythm and the verse "A train is coming, going down the track. I want some ramblin'. I ain't coming back." It will be interesting to see where Cole goes with his new group.
The taping of these shows for future broadcast on WFPK on Wednesday night from 8 to 9 p.m. was the fastest sixty minutes in entertainment. With two sets and some storytelling dialogue between John Gage, Col. Bob Thompson and Paul McDonald, the musicians barely had a chance to warm up and get in a groove.
The second hour opened with Lazy Eleven, composed of two blues veterans who currently are members of Hellfish. Joel Pinkerton and Jimmy Gardner complemented each other very well, with Joel's harmonica swirling around Jimmy's steady strumming guitar. Jimmy's deep voice cackles like a red rooster on the prowl. His vocals on John Lee Hooker's "I Love The Way You Walk" and Howlin' Wolf's "How Many More Years" were right on. Jimmy paid tribute to Robert Johnson's one hundredth birthday, which will be May 8, by singing "Stop Breakin' Down Blues." The persona that Jimmy conveyed as a swaggering guitar-slinger with a gruff voice was shattered when he sang a beautiful version of "It's A Wonderful World" and dedicated it to his mother. Joel's harp solos, which received plenty of applause, were as inspired as the assemblages he creates as an artist.
The evening closed with Lamont Gillispie and 100 Proof Blues, Louisville's preeminent blues band. 100 Proof is a handcrafted batch of musicians which includes Mark Stein on guitar, Mark Bright blowing sax, Byron Davies playing bass and Steve Holmes drumming. Their music was especially strong and upbeat that night on "Feel So Good" and "Find A Better Way." When time had run out for taping, the crowd was not ready to let it end. Lamont obliged with an encore of "Sweet Home Chicago" which had people dancing in front of the stage and in the aisles; even John Gage got the boogie disease. I would love to see more of these spontaneous after show jams. On when, oh, when will Lamont and the 100 Proof record a CD to share their talents with the world? Maybe the songs that were recorded that night will be a start.
Let the Festival Season Begin
The Blues Between the Bridges Blues Festival will open the season at Riptide On The River on Old Richmond Road just off I-75 in Lexington. This one day festival, promoted by G. Busy, will be Sunday, May 29. Music is scheduled from 2:00 to 10:30 p.m. with acts on two stages. The Main Stage will have the Robbie Bartlett Blues Band, G. Busy Blues Revue, Mojo Theory, T.D. Young & Scandalous Band and Johnny Rawls as the headliner. Bryan Hines, Tom Cool, Alien Blue, One Shot Johnny and the Michael Gough Group will perform on the Ron Harris Memorial Juke Stage. The sets will be synchronized so as not to overlap. This line up provides a lot of blues bang for a twelve-buck cover.
The Germantown-Schnitzelburg Blues Festival was such a success last year, bringing the neighborhood together at the intersection of the Zeppelin Café and Check's. The second annual event will be June 3 and 4 with Sue O'Neil and Blue Seville, Dog House Kitchen and Hellfish on Friday. Saturday will feature the Travelin' Mojos, Joe DeBow Band and Lamont Gillispie and 100 Proof. Brats, beer and free blues - how can you lose?
These two blues festivals are the first of many that will continue during the summer and into the fall, culminating with the Garvin Gate Blues Festival on October 7 and 8.