We are up and loaded in the van by 7:30 am. It is cool
and foggy as we drive out of the Bay Area. Once over the
hills, however, the sun is shining and it looks to be
a warm and pleasant day. It is not too hot, nor is it
too cool. It is just right.
Once in Sonora we pass the fairgrounds where the festival
is being held and go to the hotel to change for the show.
The hotel is very accommodating. It is only 10 am but
one of the rooms is ready for us to check into. We load
our luggage into this one room and everyone changes. Another
room becomes available and Susan and I take it. We will
need to get the rooms for Donto and Tommy when we return
after the festival.
Over at the festival we drive Big Mama right up to the
big stage we will be playing on. The Alistair Greene Band
is already into their set as we pull up. They sound good
which sounds like a southern blues rock trio. The bass
player was using a pick on a Jazz bass which gives you
the consummate Barry Oakley sound typical of the early
We are greeted by an eager bunch of volunteers that want
to help us get our gear near the stage and ready to go.
Although everyone was great and helpful, Mike was the
guy I dealt with the most. He was extremely helpful. We
get what we need out of Big Mama and check in at the artist's
table. Donto and I are going to use the backline so we
leave our gear in the van. Susan goes off to the merchandizing
area to set up. She is disappointed that she does not
get to see the bands from the merchandising area.
After the Alistair Greene band is done, we take the stage
and have about 15-20 minutes to set-up. From the get go,
the soundman doing the monitors on stage worries us. He
is confused over how the in-ear monitors are going to
work and when we ask for certain things in our monitors
it takes him a while to find the correct patch or program
to send it to our individual monitor.
We start our show which is to be a seventy-five minute
set. There is a large crowd already assembled for our
show. It looks as though most of the seating area is full
except for way in the back behind the main mixer. They
are digging it and their response is enthusiastic after
each song. I wish I could say the same for the band on
stage. The sound was difficult to deal with while we were
playing. There was a low mid-range pitch that occurred
every time Laurie spoke or the ladies sang. The monitor
guy seemed oblivious of this ring but it was annoying
the hell out of us. Anytime we asked him to do something
it made the situation worse. At one point he had the kick
drum blasting through our monitors so Laurie walked over
and asked him to get rid of the kick. His solution was
to turn all our monitors off, so Tommy, Donto, and I had
to finish the show with only the house speakers as our
guide. Gratefully we are seasoned pros who can deal with
this but as Tommy said afterward, "It throws you
off your game." At times like this you just have
to go on faith that what we are playing and singing is
getting heard out in the audience, after all, the audience
are the most important people at any performance. It seems
that our difficulties on stage are not affecting the house
sound as the audience response after every song and some
solos gets a healthy round of applause and cheering.
We finish our set, put away our gear, and move Big Mama.
Tommy and I move Big Mama away from the staging area to
give room for the other bands that are coming in to set
up. As we pull away we hear Rick Estrin and the Nightcats
start their set. Rick is a good harmonica play who has
a dynamite guitar player by the name of 'Kid'
Anderson. The Nightcats also has an upright bass player
which sounded good. His style of blues music is jump with
a little bit of Cajun peppered into it.
After we get Big Mama situated we go back to the merchandizing
area. When we get there we see a good size line of people
waiting for autographs from Laurie and the band. CD sales
are going brisk and I believe that this audience was pleasantly
surprised by this relatively new band on the festival
scene. I hope they hear a lot more of us.
Back stage throughout the day inside a building there
is food and drinks available for the bands, their support
people, and the volunteers. There are clean restrooms
also in here. Very cool. Porta Potties can be miserable
places to do your business, especially on a warm day if
you know what I mean.
Rick Estrin and the Nightcats are followed by Nick Moss
and the Fliptops, Michael Burks, Roy Rogers and the Delta
Rhythm Kings, and the Tommy Castro Band with special guest
Deanna Bogart. What a line up. Not a filler band in the
bunch. To top this off there is an indoor stage with five
other bands performing and another stage where workshops
are being held. These workshops included a guitar workshop,
a workshop on harmonica playing, and a workshop on woman
in music that included Laurie, Deanna Bogart, and Valerie
Johnson. Susan and I attended the Woman in Music workshop
to support Laurie and to represent the band. Deanna had
her tenor sax, Valerie had a washboard and tambourine,
and Laurie had her guitar. They started with an impromptu
blues where they all three made up their own verses. This
was very cool. They then answered many questions and finished
with another impromptu blues based on 'Dust My Broom'.
As the day rolls on it is fun to walk about and check
out the vendors and hear all the great artists performing
during the day. Nick Moss and his band put in a fine set,
Michael Burks sounded great as usual, and Roy Rogers'
band was exceptional. Carlos Reyes joined Roy Rogers and
the Delta Rhythm Kings on electric violin and what a talent.
Roy and his band love to camp on a New Orleans type sound
with a good taste of Delta blues thrown into the mix.
Roy plays a great slide style guitar on acoustic instruments
and at one time he played a 12 string dobro-like guitar.
I like his rhythm section and I got to talk to his bass
player, Steve, at the hotel the next day. They are based
out of the Bay area.
The evening is running long and, after Roy and his band
finishes their set, there is supposed to be a piano jam
with Deanna Bogart, Piano Willie, and Tommy Castro's
piano player. They start setting up for Tommy Castro and
the piano jam. It is getting late. According to the schedule
of events the shows are running at least 1 ½ hours
behind. If blame was to be placed on the delay it would
have to be on the sound crew. They have caused many delays
during the day. By this time the sun has gone down. For
what seems like an interminably long time the crew is
trying to set up for the last act. Castro has his own
soundman working the stage. They are trying to get the
three piano players and Castro's band set up at
the same time. At times Castro's soundman looks
like he would like to strangle the sound crew for their
ineptness at doing sound. I don't know. It could
just be me, but he looked exasperated.
Finally, the piano jam gets under way and it is underwhelming.
The sound is not good and they spent a lot of time setting
up mics for each piano player but no one is singing. Huh?!
If it wasn't for Deanna Bogart giving direction
and playing with such awesome skill the whole thing would
have been a waste. The highlight was when Deanna had all
the pianists play a boogie on one piano. She started it
out with a ripping stride bass part and chords. The other
two joined in soloing with one hand on the upper registers.
Deanna really showed her skills as an entertainer during
this set. Glad to say that this set is finally over. It
is now time for Tommy and his band.
The band starts out with, of all tunes, "A Good
Fool is Hard to Find". This an Albert Collins that
we have been doing lately. It sounds good but the band
is having some balance issues. From where we are sitting
the snare and guitar is on top of everything. The keyboard
player's sound is negligible. It takes 4 to 5 songs
for the sound crew to get something reasonably dialed
in. Tommy's band, however, takes it in stride. Being
the pros they are, they play their asses off no matter
what. There's a good motto if ever I heard one.
"Play your ass off no matter what." I really
dig Scott Sutherland's bass playing. He has a real
command of the bass and lays down a groove without letting
his chops get in the way. He also has a stage persona
that is fun to watch. His two tone pointy shoes also help.
Halfway through Tommy's set we decide that it is
time for the LMB to load up and head for the hotel. There
is a jam going on at the Sonora Brewery but I don't
think anyone in the band is up for it. It has already
been a long day. We load up Big Mama but during the load
up we run into Michael Burks and have a nice chat with
him. We swap stories about being on the road. Michael
and his band works hard to do this thing called music.
He tells us he was at the Arcadia Blues Club in Los Angeles
on Friday night and then drove up to Sonora Saturday morning
to play a 4 pm set at the Fire on the Mountain Music Festival.
He and his band will then head home the next morning to
Little Rock, Arkansas which is a 40 hour drive. They plan
to drive straight through with no layovers. Michael says
he will do most of the driving. What a nut. Whew that's
either crazy or dedication to your art. If I ever start
complaining about the touring life just remind me of this.
As we are talking I can hear Scott Sutherland taking a
bass solo which is then followed by a drum solo. Kind
of wish I was still out front to hear this. Oh, well.
We head back to the hotel and get some sleep before our
drive home tomorrow.