LIVE: Saratoga Blues Celebration @ Stockade Imports, 7/20-21/12
Review and photographs by Stanley Johnson
The fifth annual Saratoga Blues Celebration featured two nights of the blues by many members of the Saratoga Acoustic Blues Society, who, apparently, also like to get a bit louder and electric as well.
Not really even an official event as part of the Hats Off! Music Festival in the streets south along Broadway, this blues party took place amid the stacks of rugs in Stockade Imports.
Gail Sparlin, one of many performers who returned from last year’s fest, sang her original tune “Deeper Shade Of Blue” and Dylan’s “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry.” Tim Wechgelaer & Larry Clyman were joined by Nancy Walker for “Walking By Myself.” Ray Guiguere played Mississippi John Hurt’s “Stagolee Blues” and Blind Blake’s 1932 song “Chump Man’s Blues.”
Joan Crane used to play the blues in this area, and she returned to play in this festival with a lively finger-picking style on guitar for another Blind Blake song, “Police Dog Blues” from 1929. One of the highlights of the day was her version of “The Mickey Mouse Club Theme Song,” on which everyone sang along.
Low ‘N Lonesome (featuring Rob Atkins and Phil Drum) were next with a set which included “Heebie Jeebies” by Louis Armstrong & the Hot Five. Drum was one of several members of the Saratoga Acoustic Blues Society who sat in with a number of performers in various combinations throughout the two-day fest.
Pete Paschoukos (one-half of the Tequila Mockingbirds) performed a set including “Malted Milk” and “My Babe”, which highlighted his excellent guitar playing, before joining with his dad, Ray, on a song his father wrote and he sang, “They don’t make them like that old Chrysler anymore.”
Michael Eck began with Pete Seegar’s “Empty Pocket Blues” before joining Phil Drum on a Woody Guthrie tune in honor of Guthrie’s 100th birthday and a Washington Phillips song, “What Are They Doing In Heaven Today?”
Jeff & Becky Walton began with Dion’s “Runaway” and were also joined by Drum for “San Francisco Bay Blues.” Rick & Sharon Bolton followed with “a couple of songs about legs,” including “Don’t You Feel My Leg” and “Big Fat Woman Get Your Fat Legs Off Me,” which featured some nice slide guitar work by Rick.
Mark Tolstrup also played slide, using a silver resonator dobro on “Come On In My Kitchen” and “Walking Blues.” Tolstrup brought up Michael Eck on mandolin for an old ragtime tune, “I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate.” Phil Drum and Jeff Walton came out for the Friday night finale with “When You Got A Good Friend” and a jumping “Step It Up and Go.”
Saturday, the electric night, got moving with “Bright Lights Big City” by Ubuntu. The Resonators Duo of Phil Drum and Sonny Speed played “32.20 Blues” by Robert Johnson, then brought out Sonny’s partner in Delta Moon, Juan Becerra, for “Something You Got.” The Jimmy Reed song, “Big Boss Man” was followed by Steve Goodman’s “Chicken Cordon Blues,” which included the lines, “You bought five pounds of brown rice, five pounds of beans, five pounds of granola, you know what that means? I’m a regular fellow with the Chicken Cordon Blues.” Other songs the Resonators/Delta Moon performed included “Dump That Chump,” “Halaleujah, I Love Her So,” “Kansas City” and a sprited “Aiko Aiko.”
Holly & Evan began with an excellent take of “Can’t Lose What You Never Had” by Muddy Waters. Holly, wearing a big, black Saratoga hat, sang, “It’s 3am, and I’m wide awake. I can’t decide whose side to take. I guess it ain’t my decision to make.”
Robert Johnson’s “Me And The Devil Blues” had Holly & Evan adding to their guitar and bass with Phil Drum on guitar and Sonny Speed on piano for a Little Walter song, “My Babe,” before the second time we hear “Halaleujah, I Love Her So.” “Gospel Plow” moved into smoldering takes on “Hesitation Blues,” Cream’s arrangement of “Outside Woman Blues” and another Robert Johnson song, “Stop Breaking Down.”
The Resonators began their set with sparkling versions of Freddie King’s “Hideaway” and moved through “CC Rider” and “Hey Lawdy Mama.” “I’m Ready” was followed by Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” and Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads.” Chuck Berry, originally a blues artists on Chess, was represented with “Nadine,” and Albert Collins was also covered with “I Ain’t Drunk, I’m Just Drinkin.”
The evening ended with a call for audience participation, and they got some in a very good vocalist and guitar player named KC Murphy, who burned on some slow blues. I left to the sounds of the grand finale, and noticed that the many of the acts along Broadway were wrapping up their performances, too, ending quite a weekend of free music in Saratoga Springs.