Scenery boosts enthusiasm for Bayfront Blues Festival
The leisure boat count was high on the water behind the Bayfront Blues Festival main stage Saturday afternoon.
More than 25 watercraft bobbed in the sunshine: sailboats, a couple yachts, a large pontoon loaded with people and a speedboat flashing a blue stripe with a flotilla of women relaxing behind it on air mattresses.
"One of those loungers would be nice right now," said Barb Williamson, standing on a shoreside fishing pier. "Isn't this great?"
Williamson, of Maple Grove, Minn., was taking in the bay breeze with friends Brenda Opheim of Maplewood, Minn.; Denise Wood of Maple Grove; and Wood's daughter Nicole. Legendary Minnesota rockers Crow were jamming the '60s rock classic "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" in the background.
"We've been here 28 out of the 29 years," Williamson said. "The scenery — look at this — the music, the people; you just can't beat it."
Janet Emerson of Hamburg, Minn., was snapping pictures of the boaters and blues fans nearby. She said waterside music and dancing has drawn her to Duluth since 2010. She and her husband, Tim Emerson, camp at Spirit Mountain and attend a pre-fest lobster boil with other blues fans.
"We love it," she said. "How many other blues fests have a bay like this? And the music is always great.
Crow belter Dave Wagner, fronting a five-piece band with a horn section and backup singers, roared his approval from the stage. "Could you ask for anything better than this?" he asked. "Gorgeous day!"
The Minnesota Rock/Country Hall of Famers mixed classic rock cover songs with originals, ending an 80-minute set with their own classic rocker: "Evil Woman," made famous in 1970 by Black Sabbath.
Meanwhile, in the blues tent over the hill and behind the trees, Javier Matos turned in an intimate solo performance squeezing out some dusty road songs on his vintage resonator guitar. Matos, of Minneapolis, will represent Minnesota in a Memphis blues contest later this year. He said he enjoyed working his set in front of an attentive audience of about 300 people.
"It was great," he said after the set. "This is the kind of thing I like. Sometimes, in smaller clubs, I'll do a set without a microphone. Just voice and guitar."
Up-and-coming Mississippi blues jammer Jarekus Singleton squeezed every ounce of electricity from the big stage sound system. Strapped into a white guitar with Swiss cheese holes, Singleton performed with bassist Ben Sterling and drummer Maya Kyles. The trio played original straight blues like "Crime Scene," and ended with a new twist on the classic "Whole Lotta Love," rapping, "If it weren't for the blues, how could I express myself? As long as I got the blues, I don't need anybody else."
A festival grounds crowd hovering around 10,000 roared its approval.
Backstage, Kyles said the group flew north for just two concerts, in Canada and Duluth.
"It was fun," she said. "I was looking forward to coming to Minnesota to see where Prince was from. I hope we can come back."
The Fabulous Thunderbirds ended the evening with a set of hard-boiled Texas blues. Frontman Kim Wilson said the Bayfront stage was a familiar place. "I don't know how many times we've played here, four or five times," he said. "We love Duluth."
Led by Wilson's howling harmonica solos and lightning fast guitar work from Johnny Mueller, the five-piece band then attempted to blow the anchored leisure boats through the ship canal and into Lake Superior.