Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Belleville American Music Festival

Last weekend I made the short trip down to my old hometown for their annual Belleville American Music Festival, held in the same village park that I played baseball in (i.e. sat on the bench) and built my Eagle Scout project in. The BAM Fest, as it's called, is an answer to the cancellation of the Madison Blues Fest three years ago. Since my mother and sister are currently on vacation in Germany, this year it was just my father and I enjoying the music the entire weekend long.

I came down Friday afternoon for the acoustic set. I made it in time to see Westside Andy and Glenn Davis followed by Kraig Kenning. The weather was perfect and the beer, Capital's finest, was tasting damn good. My father had been manning the ticket booth for several hours by the time I had arrived. I was mostly there to see David "Honeyboy" Edwards, a living legend of Delta blues. Even so, there are few things more sublime than Westside Andy's harp, and I was immediately entranced by Kraig Kenning's bluesy dobro and guitar style. When Honeyboy Edwards came on, I was well primed and ready.

David "Honeyboy" Edwards is 92 years old. He played with the Who's Who of Mississippi Delta bluesmen, including Robert Johnson. To say that seeing him in concert was a treat would be an understatement. To say that you met him following the set, got his autograph, and talked with him about his upcoming tour, well, that would describe my night. Honeyboy's set consisted of nothing but raw Delta blues, with only an accompanying guitar and harp player. For a man of his age he played exceptionally. It was sublime.

My father and I left shortly afterwards. Rory Block was the headliner that night, and I've seen her before. She's a great guitar player and is an obvious master of the blues, but how can you follow someone like Honeyboy. Besides, when you drink Island Wheat all night long, you get a bit tired. And I was looking forward to the electric line-up on Saturday night.

I picked up some coffee for my father on Saturday morning. He was selling tickets from 9-12, and I made it down at quarter to 11. My one goal of the day was to make it down by the time the Cash Box Kings played their set. They're a local band, and I had actually caught them at the Capital Bier Garten the weekend prior. They put on one helluva show. So good, in fact, that we delayed a quick jaunt back to the old homestead to stand in line for a couple of albums. I can't say it wasn't worth it. Side note: the photo of the Cash Box Kings is actually from the very first time I saw them, opening for my beloved Junkers a year ago at the Crystal Corner. I like them more everytime I see them.

Following the Cash Box Kings my father and I retired to Dayton to drop off his vehicle. We wanted to make it back in time to catch Reverend Raven and the Chain Smoking Altar Boys, a favorite since my folks saw him at the Berghoff & Blues festival several years ago. We missed a few openers, but caught the majority of the set. As always, the Rev didn't disappoint. It's fairly easy to take a local player such as the Rev for granted, but every time I've seen him has been a blast.

Following the Good Reverend was a young group out of Austin, TX. There's only one thing I like about Texas, and that's Austin. Some people say Madison is like Austin with cows. I say Austin is like Madison, only surrounded by assholes. But that's just me. Regardless, the Eric Tessmer Band was astounding. My father was especially impressed. He immediately caught the SRV imfluences and seemed to be in tune with every chord the young guitarist played. He like them to such an extent that he bought two CDs following their set. I was happy that one was a live album from Joe's Generic Bar, the first bar I visited upon arriving down on Sixth Street five years ago. I loved that bar. Listening to the Eric Tessmer Band, I could almost place myself in Austin.

The next group, the Michael Burks Band, got kind of tuned out since we were getting food and running into a whole lot of people. Not to say that it didn't sound excellent. It was just that time of the afternoon, where an individual finds himself somewhat besotted and slightly nappy. Not to worry, we perked up accordingly once Ana Popovich took the stage. Her electric playing and stage presence perked up a crowd that would normally have been slighty sleepy from an afternoon of drinking beer in the sun. It didn't hurt that she was drop-dead gorgeous. My father and I stood up front for the third time that weekend to see Popovich play. She transfixed the crowd with her masterful playing, although my father still maintains that Eric Tessmer had more chops. I can't say that I fully disagree, but at the time I was more than satisied with Ms. Popavich's technique. Johnny Winters was the headliner, but after Ana Popovich (and an unfortunate choice to get a gyro at one of the food stands) I was ready to call it a day. I figure 11.5 hours of the blues is good enough.


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