By Eric Berg
The lineup at this year’s Santa Cruz Blues Festival is one of the strongest in years thanks to a well balanced array of killer supporting acts – the real reason to get your butt down to Aptos Park this Memorial Day Weekend. Like these five:
Carolyn Wonderland – Saturday, May 25th
Opening Saturday’s blues fest is Austin guitarist and singer, Carolyn Wonderland, a true virtuoso on lap steel and slide guitar. No stranger to the Central Coast, Wonderland has been driving around this country with her band for a couple of decades performing some amazing gigs on what seems like a endless tour. With six solo cds to her credit and countless appearances on other albums, Wonderland is not to be pigeonholed. Musically, she is a little bit of everything – blues, country, cajun, soul, a little jazz and sometimes a few canciones en español. Wonderland also plays accordion, mandolin, keyboards, trumpet and lately, she’s been doing a bit of scat singing.
Jimmie Vaughn and the Tilt-a Whirl Band featuring Lou Ann Barton – Saturday, May 25th
Another Austin guitarslinger, Jimmie Vaughn ( yes, he is Stevie Ray’s older brother) is not to be missed as he is the real deal live when freed from the confines of studio recording. Sharing the stage is Vaughn’s longtime singing partner, Lou Anne Barton, from back in the day when both were founding members of The Fabulous Thunderbirds. The two of the are a blues vocal match made in heaven, with Barton being the more aggressive, backed by Vaughn’s lyrical guitar playing and the tight knit rhythm section of the Tilt-a-Whirl Band. Vaughn is also a legend in car circles as a collector and designer of classic custom built 50′s cars.
Watch out for this pint sized stick of soul and R&B dynamite! Sharon Jones used to be a prison guard and takes no guff from those from those in the crowd still sitting on their butts once she jumps out on stage fired up by horn section of the tighter than hell Dap-Kings. Jones and crew will get you up and jumping and begging for more. Be forewarned: Jones has been regularly observed singling out an audience member or two, inviting the them up on the stage for a dance lesson in soul grindin’, peppered with some of her expert “love” advice. Don’t say no to Miss Jones.
“Blue Eyed Soul” may not be the best description of British singer and guitarist James Hunter, even if his voice does hint of Jackie Wilson. Hunter is far from retro. His songwriting has very unique modern R&B feel to it punctuated by short, tasty bursts of his guitar stretched out by the band’s knockout saxophone and keyboard players. Hot on the heels of his best album to date - ‘Minute By Minute”, Hunter and his longtime band have been working with Dap-King Records producer Bosco Mann who has tightened the group up considerably and added more focus. At one time, singer Van Morrison supposedly said that Hunter has one of the greatest soul voices “that no one’s ever heard of”. One of these days, everyone will have, but right now Hunter’s smokin’ hot and so is his band.
Oakland’s CA Honey Drops is another one of those bands that are much better live than their three studio recordings hint and they are the perfect jump start for Sunday’s show. Voted the Bay Area’s “Best Soul/R&B band”, this five piece band led by front man, and trumpeter, Lech Wierzynski (yes – he was born in Poland) mixes it up with their own blend of old and new R&B, New Orleans Jazz, blues, gospel and some of their own brassy material marked with a sense of humor and Wierzynski’s clever lyrics. The Drops just released a brand new studio album “Like You Mean It” and performed some of the songs live at Streetlight Records in Santa Cruz this past Record Store Day, April 21st.
The 21st Annual Santa Cruz Blues Festival – Saturday May 25th & Sunday May 26th – 11 am-7 pm – Aptos Park in Aptos Village
For complete Blues Festival info - http://www.santacruzbluesfestival.com