The 20th edition of Bluesmore featured two powerhouse touring bands and an ensemble of Eastern Iowa Blues whose who’s that treated a large crowd to a musical party on the Brucemore lawn Saturday night (8/3/13).
Opening the afternoon of blues was the Linn County Blues Society All Stars. Linn County Blues Society president Frank Wilson told the audience, which started filling the lawn at Brucemore an hour before the first chord was played, that the organization wanted to do something special to mark its 20th year.
Bringing local musicians Ron DeWitte, Eric Douglas, Craig Erickson, Tommy “T-Bone” Giblin, BillyLee Janey, Bryce Janey, Dan Johnson, Denny Ketelsen, Skeeter Louis and Dennis McMurrin to the stage was just that — special. Eastern Iowa audiences don’t get the chance to hear this homegrown talent in one place, ever. Getting them all on one stage for more than a hour-long showcase of searing guitar, deep rhythms and some soulful saxophone, was inspired.
Their performance — an example of how lucky Eastern Iowans are to have these musicians calling this area home — was an early-on highlight, successfully setting the groove for the entire afternoon.
Bluesmore crowd lucky on Saturday
Scott Holt and Lucky Peterson led their respective outfits with charismatic vocals and outstanding work on their instruments. And the arrival on stage of Lucky’s wife, Tamara, and her rip-roaring vocals might have torn the roof off the place had we not been outside.
Holt, who spent a decade in Buddy Guy’s band, delivered a 16-tune set of originals and covers, rockers and ballads, and all of it was impressive. Backed by a bassist and drummer who both played solid and flavorful licks all afternoon, Holt sang and played guitar. His resonant voice commanded attention and his melodic, engaging guitar solos could be fiery or sweet, but they were always purposeful and engaging.
Highlights included the originals “Outlines,” a song based on a murder in Nashville (where Holt resides), and “Angels in Exile,” a radio-ready tune. Holt devoted the last three pre-encore numbers to a Jimi Hendrix tribute, tackling “Hey Joe,” “Voodoo Child,” and Hendrix’ famous take on “The Star Spangled Banner.” It wasn’t my favorite part of the set, but it was well done and well received.
The headlining set was an exercise in build up. First, guitarist and vocalist Shawn Kellerman led a couple of tunes. Then Gregg A. Smith took the stage for two more numbers. At long last—nearly a half an hour into the set—Lucky Peterson strolled on stage and took his place behind the organ. At that point, the party got started in earnest.
Peterson is a force to be reckoned with both as a vocalist and an instrumentalist. His organ and keyboard playing were delicious, and when he took up the guitar for an extended instrumental section, he proved he was no slouch there, either. His deep voice can be gravelly and rough or honeyed and smooth. He worked hard to engage the audience, and he kept the energy high even when performing ballads.
Peterson delivered most everything you might want in an upbeat blues show, but there was one more level to the build up. Tamara Peterson joined the band late in the set, and promptly upped the ante with sizzling vocals that blended brilliantly with her husband’s. Among their joint offerings, the two offered up a great take on “I Got A Woman” (into which Tamara managed to insert a little of Kanye West’s “Gold Digger”), and then tackled the Ike and Tina Tuner rendition of “Proud Mary” for the encore.
Arguably, both Petersons’ vocals were too far down in the mix (certainly in comparison to Holt’s vocals which rang out clearly), which meant the lyrics weren’t always clear. But the passion behind the singing and the uniqueness of the voices and their blend were fully on display. The Bluesmore crowd was certainly lucky to witness such a strong set to close a great day of music.
– Rob Cline