Sunday, July 8, 2012
T-Bone Walker Blues Fest once again rocks the Piney Woods
We stayed at the Steamboat Inn Bed and Breakfast in Jefferson, hosted by a tall steamboat captain who hailed from the Louisiana bayous, and his charming wife.
LINDEN The T-Bone Walker Blues Festival can be found deep in the piney woods, like the soul of blues itself, just outside the quiet town of Linden, Texas. This year it was held over two days in mid-June and showcased over twenty blues performers, some who are just starting out, some who are old-time legends, all blazing as bright on stage as the summer sun on our backs in the early afternoon.
I made the trip with a friend from New York, where I've lived for the last ten years, but now and then I come home to the music I first heard on my stepfather's car stereo, or at Armadillo Willy's in downtown Longview, or at AlleyFest. The T-Bone Walker festival in fact resembles the AlleyFest as I remember it: multiple stages, no hassle, a diverse crowd, and the ability to draw some of the best bluesmen and women in the business.
We stayed at the Steamboat Inn Bed and Breakfast in Jefferson, hosted by a tall steamboat captain who hailed from the Louisiana bayous, his charming wife, their three children, the town dog who slept under the house, and a baby potbellied pig, who nipped at our feet under the dining table. Jefferson is rightly called the upriver New Orleans, and we can't wait to get back next year to have a glass of wine at the Cork Yard, our hosts' new wine bar and music venue that will be a welcome relief from the East Texas heat.
The festival was held on a large lawn with an outdoor stage and inside the Music City Texas Theatre, which has been excellently renovated. The bright concession stands outside resembled an old county fair or carnival from the past. We saw the earnest work of young Matthew Davidson, a guitar prodigy from Shreveport, and the tribute to the blues of late legend Robert Johnson given to us by Rocky Lawrence, who dressed and acted the part and had plenty of stories to tell about his encounters with people who once knew Johnson. We were also treated to the history of the underground railroad, and its visual depiction in the patterns on hand-made quilts, by the Pleasant Hill Quilting Society. Lightnin' Malcolm, a husky Missouri native, belted out a rough, innovative, totally fresh sound, steeped in tradition but with a true artist's ability to take old forms, break them apart and re-configure them into something that both met and defied his audience's expectations.
The great surprise of our weekend was Lil' Ed and the Blues Imperials. Lil' Ed may be little, and his legs may or may not be made of wood, but he was easily the most energetic, athletic and raw performer I've ever seen play the blues. His eyes popped out of his head like Ricky Ricardo when he sang certain salacious lines, and in the final number he strode out into the audience to sit in ladies' laps while he tore up riffs on the guitar.
But no festival is complete without the joy of a hospitality tent for musicians, the press and sponsors, mercifully air conditioned and provided with a banquet of homemade Southern food served up by the sweet women who cooked it. We had the most fun with the elderly ladies of the Pleasant Hill Quilting Society, who were as rowdy and ready for a laugh as any of the younger musicians we met.
This just gets better every year, so if you missed the T-Bone Walker Blues Festival, you'll have to come next June. This is where the blues was born, and in case you thought the blues was dead, or maybe just smelled funny, you'll find it kicking and screaming every summer outside Linden.