Birthday Blues

08.21.06 | 4 Comments

This post is probably not what you’d expect from the title. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending a blues triple-header at Villa Montalvo’s Garden Theater. My spousal unit acquired the tickets for my birthday earlier this year for which I am very grateful. If you haven’t been to a show at Villa Montalvo, you should make the effort. It’s a beautiful spot. The Garden Theater seats around 1,000 people I’d estimate, not a bad seat in the house.

The afternoon started off with Leroy Bell and His Only Friends playing a tight set. Hadn’t heard Leroy before and this was a nice introduction. He definitely has created a Windham Hill Jazz meets Dave Mathew’s band sound with a little blues influence thrown in for flavor. Of his set, the songs that stuck with me were “Voodoo” and “20 years from now.”

Leroy Bell and His Only Friends

The second act is someone I’ve wanted to see, but never had the chance. Charlie Musselwhite, the purported inspiration for Dan Ayckroyd’s Elwood Blues character in the Blues Brothers. The highlight’s of his set were “Church is Out” (in other words, let the party start) and a Brazilian Blues tune. Listening to Charlie conjures memories of Howlin’ Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson. Loved his aluminum harp repository, which stayed on stool beside him the entire performance.

Charlie onstage (with harp case)

The first time I saw Etta James, she was at least 300lbs of blues power. That was in 1991 at the San Francisco Blues Festival at Fort Mason. I didn’t know too much about the blues, and it was her performance that prompted me to take a closer look at the genre. 15 years and 2,000 blues tracks later, I caught up with Etta again yesterday. She was about 1/3 the size! Amazing.

Losing that weight had no impact on the power of her voice, she’s still larger than life. She started off with “I just want to make love to you” – mind you, this is a nearly 70 year old woman doing bump and grind stage routines that make MTV hip/hop videos look rated G. She was great. The highlights of the show for me were renditions of “At Last,” “Strung Out” (a Johnny “Guitar” Watson tune,) and “I’d rather go blind.”

Etta James

It was a great way to spend an afternoon and realize that getting older should be no impediment to doing whatever you love. Thanks Ellen.

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