The Billings Outpost

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Blues survive soaking


To inundate means to overwhelm or to cover with water. And this is why it is a perfect word to describe this year’s eighth annual Magic City Blues Festival.


On two days and stages, 12 highly accomplished and passionate bands performed their authentic and shameless music with a sense of effortlessness yet unforgiving confidence. Roughly 2,500 festival goers each night were inundated with this exceptional music, and the event was inundated by rain.


Early into Friday’s lineup and shortly after some heavy showers, two lead women and their all male bands drew crowds away from the protection of awnings and danced them to the front. Becki Sue and Her Big Rockin’ Daddies (Stillwater Stage) and Shannon Curfman (Main Stage) held nothing back, giving everyone an excuse to move. Sue and Curfman’s blistering pipes and fearless attitudes were an immediate hit.


Curfman’s youth is quite deceiving when compared to her vocal maturity, relentless guitar licks, musical commitment, authenticity and success.


Sue’s audience blossomed throughout the evening as she performed with unwavering energy. Her desire to sing the blues seemed inexhaustible – which was OK by her fans.


Following Curfman, Tommy Castro (Main) opened while performing his way through pockets of people on Montana Avenue, occasionally stopping to tantalize them with his closeness. Once altogether on stage, the band utilized nearly every instrumental combination of its saxophone, trumpet, bass, drums, guitar and keyboard. This constant peeling and layering of musical parts created a depth and fluidity that proved too pressurized to fit within one musical category.


Little Feat headlined Friday night with mostly extensive jam sessions that bridged and interrupted its songs. By blurring tunes’ borders with musical tangents and fully surrendering themselves to the musical menagerie, Little Feat’s focus and energy seemed independent of the crowd’s.


Somewhat hesitant at first of this folk/reggae/blues music with inconsistent rhythms, the crowd soon followed Little Feat’s lead and gave into the loose structure. By the time the band had finished playing after midnight, Little Feat had won over the crowd, and festival goers let them know it.


Lil’ Ed and The Blues Imperials started off Saturday on the Main Stage, after performing last on the Stillwater Stage the night before. Although both performances were stirring, the Main Stage’s better sound system allowed the band’s music to be projected and felt that much more.


In addition to his raw and remorseless blues, Lil’ Ed’s big toothy grin, charisma and physically connection to the music made his performances impossible to overlook.


After Lil’ Ed and during Patrick Sweany’s (Stillwater) performances is when the rain and then hail relentlessly fell for roughly half an hour, causing crowds to run – but not too far – for cover. And then the show went on, as it must.


As Dikki Du and The Zydeco Krewe (Stillwater) pumped out an inexhaustible and perfectly consistent beat on the washboard, Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue (Main) took turns soloing and paring up for dramatic duets. Tony “Trombone Shorty” blasted funky beats within an impressively huge range, leaving his audience wild for more.  


Last to perform on the Stillwater Stage was Ray Wylie Hubbard. Amid his gruff appearance and calloused vocals, Hubbard’s basic beats and fusion of blues and southern country proved quite attractive to the easily affected, attentive crowd.


Los Lonely Boys finished off the festival and the night with a 60-minute performance, almost to a T. Using their instruments, guitarist Henry Garza and bassist Jojo spent much time conversing back and forth with elaborate musical dialogue, offering a flashy yet skillful performance.


By the end, the crowd was desperate for more, chanting for minutes, “One more song!” Jojo came out to deny an encore due to an injury affecting drummer/brother Ringo. Yet almost in the same breath, he and Henry decided to perform one more song together in response to the crowd’s steadfast support and energy. While both sang, Jojo rocked on guitar while Henry, at certain points, came up from behind and played harmony on it too.


Absorbing all of this festival’s music and performances was a task. Enjoying it, not so much.


Railroad Earth


“They can jam with the best of them, but they’re not a jam band.” This statement cleverly distinguishes the difference between Railroad Earth’s style of music and the classification of that music.


The six members of this New Jersey-based band weave together elements of bluegrass, roots, folk, rock and jam band to create a rare acoustic hybrid sound, which they are proud to have stand alone.


After casually making music together in 2001, Railroad Earth decided to put together a 5 track demo. This earned them performance time at the highly celebrated Telluride Music Festival that June. From there, their fan base has swelled, reaching across the nation and generations.


Whitewater Ramble will open for Railroad Earth with its own acoustic blendings. These bands will perform at the Babcock Theater at 7 p.m. Wednesday.


Copyright 2012 Wild Raspberry Inc.

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