Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Merlefest: The Blues

Merlefest is best known for the tremendous bluegrass, folk, and country artists that regularly perform during the festival. But at the 2009 event, festival regular Roy Book Binder hosted "The Greatest Acoustic Blues Show on Earth" at the Austin\Sugar Hill stage on Saturday. Besides himself, the series included five time WC Handy Blues Music Award winner Rory Block, XM Favorite Doug MacLeod, Jimmy "Duck" Holmes, Patrick Sweany, Pat Donohue as well as folksters Mitch Greenhill and Happy Traum. Book Binder, Sweeny, and Traum also performed Sunday on the Americana stage and Block performed a short set on the Watson stage when the Waybacks were delayed. What a treat.

For us the highlights were finally being able to watch Macleod and Book Binder live after hearing them often on the radio. And we were introduced to the musical talents of both Sweany and Holmes. Jimmy "Duck" Holmes (pictured above) was a special treat since he apparently operates the longest running juke joint in Mississippi. "Joog" from MyJoog is one of the original terms in which Juke transformed to. Plus the guy can play - in the unusual Bentonia style - but he can play. "Little Red Rooster" - traditional blues at its best. In the same vein, MacLeod is "one of the last remaining Bluesmen who learned from the old masters". He has played with George "Harmonica" Smith, Big Joe Turner, Pee Wee Crayton, Eddie 'Cleanhead' Vinson, Lowell Fulson and Big Mama Thornton. Fortunately Bill Wax is also a fan so we get to hear him regularly on satellite radio.
Roy Book Binder Happy Traum
Roy Book Binder performed his narrative blues - a master storyteller - both Saturday and Sunday. He taught us about the Reverend Gary Davis, a blind blues and gospel performer from South Carolina. Eventually he wound up in New York City and become known as the "Harlem Street Singer". Davis was "rediscovered" with the help of Peter, Paul, & Mary and his performance at the Samson and Delilah at the Newport Folk Festival. Within his story, Book Binder narrated Peter, Paul, & Mary made sure Davis received royalties for all of their covers of Davis' work. With new income, Davis set up shop in Long Island teaching guitar. One of his students: Roy Book Binder. Book Binder also introduced us to Hacksaw Harney and "Pink" Davidson, by playing a song each in their honor. We could have sat all day listening to his stories.

The future of the blues is safe in the hands of Patrick Sweany. Roy Book Binder told us the tale how they met from a couple of chance encounters with Sweany's father. That's him playing the tub with Patrick. One fortunate day Book Binder discovered the discarded demo CD in his fan and decided to give it a try. After cycling through the initial 30 seconds of each song, he realized that Sweany was already just as good her better than he. Book Binder humorously told us his response, "I contacted Patrick and told him that I heard his CD and was impressed. He had two options. I could kill him or help him." Patrick selected the later. Sweany can rock as with the Chelsea Swing or he can slow it down and he has some great lyrics - "Ford Don't Make a Bedroom". Go out and see this guy play and see why he will be a featured MyJoog artist very soon.

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