On the intimate stage of Caffe Lena on Saturday, June 6, guitarist Paul Rishell and harmonica-blowing Annie Raines – contemporary practitioners of the many and varied acoustic blues styles from Piedmont to Texas-swing – kicked off a weekend of blues music in Saratoga Springs. Their two energetic sets mixed self-penned blues tunes with vintage standards by the likes of Blind Boy Fuller and Louis Armstrong, among others.
The next day (Sunday, June 7), just one block over from Lena’s, the Caroline Street Arts and Blues Festival kicked off its ninth year with some of the region’s best blues bands – including the Bluz House Rockers, LB Walker and Bourbon Renewal – playing at the various clubs and restaurants that line the street from Henry Street to Broadway.
Under a tent in the middle of the street, festival headliner Chris O’Leary and his band launched a powerful, horn-driven set marked by his harmonica’s wail ‘n’ howl. O’Leary – an alum of Levon Helm’s blues group the Barnburners, as well as the bands of such blues legends as James Cotton and Hubert Sumlin – sang and played the Mississippi harp through an hour-and-a-half set that criss-crossed the modern blues landscape from Muddy Waters to Johnny Winter.
Review and photos by Andrzej Pilarczyk