By Diana Nollen/SourceMedia
IOWA CITY — Nobody’s singing the blues when Buddy Guy’s in the house.
The Louisiana native who helped shape the Chicago blues sound was the perfect choice for launching the Iowa Soul Festival — the newest addition to Iowa City’s Summer of the Arts lineup, which opened Friday (9/13) and continues through Sunday.
Guy’s performance also marked the perfect way for Hancher to launch its 2013-14 season, by offering a free concert that drew thousands to the festival’s outdoor stage on Iowa Avenue and Dubuque Street downtown.
The sea of humanity spread shoulder-to-shoulder through several city blocks, but I managed to find a little nook with some breathing room and a decent view of the stage. It was pretty much my only option for setting up a chair, even more than an hour before the headliner’s start time. I wish the audience space could be expanded. A colleague noted that moving Culinary Row and the beer garden out just a bit on the side blocks would open up more viewing space.
But even if you couldn’t see the six-time Grammy winner, 2005 Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer and 2012 Kennedy Center Honoree’s smiling face, you could hear his throat-tearing wails piercing the perfect night air.
The growling, salty guitar legend, now 77, strums the audience like another instrument in his band of fearless showmen who get down and dirty with him on every lick.
“I’m gonna play something so funky you can smell it,” he told the masses before launching into his signature “Hoochie-Coochie Man,” then stopped abruptly to chastise us for not singing loud enough.
“I sang the same song in Tokyo two weeks ago and they didn’t f— it up like you guys just did,” he said, before giving us another chance to redeem ourselves. “I came to Iowa just to mess with you,” he said, before wailing on his guitar, then handing the spotlight over to his fierce rhythm guitarist, Ric Hall, who pulled every sound possible out of his axe.
Working the crowd into a frenzy, Guy then shouted: “I know they don’t play this stuff on your radio, but that’s not going to stop me. I was born with the blues and I’d rather fight than switch.”
We pleased the guitar god with our rendition of “Someone Else is Steppin’ In (Slippin’ Out, Slippin’ In).” “Y’all make me feel like I’m at home. Y’all keep that up, I’ll play all Friday night.”
That would have been fine with us. The rest of the nearly 90-minute concert slipped in and out of a kicky “Meet Me in Chicago” and some jukebox blues before Guy brought out his protege, opening guitarist Quinn Sullivan, a 14-year-old from New Bedford, Mass., who plays Clapton better than Clapton and Hendrix better than Hendrix.
Sullivan is nothing short of phenomenal, tearing through fantastic electric blues with lightning flying from his fingertips. He brings out the kid in Guy, too, who dueled with him by playing his guitar horizontally, hoisting it above his head and slipping it behind his back.
Guy promised his buddy Muddy Waters that he wouldn’t let the blues die. Sullivan guarantees it won’t.
What: Iowa Soul Festival
Where: 100 to 300 blocks of Iowa Avenue, downtown Iowa City
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday