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Blues Fest kicks off dry and in style, with Little Milton

"This is the best blues fest anywhere," Andy Linderman, of Westside Andy & the Mel Ford Band, told the Bayfront Blues Festival crowd Friday afternoon.

"This is the best blues fest anywhere," Andy Linderman, of Westside Andy & the Mel Ford Band, told the Bayfront Blues Festival crowd Friday afternoon.

The harmonica player, who hails from Madison, Wis., and has played with Muddy Waters, Charlie Musselwhite and The Doobie Brothers, may have been right on a day of sunshine, great music and an enthusiastic crowd. It's a hopeful sign for a festival under the threat of bad weather, and it held off long enough for all of the performers Friday.

Everything good about Bayfront was on display. During Grammy-nominated Shemekia Copeland's set on the Leinenkugel Stage, right next to the water, the 1,000-foot ore boat Paul R. Tregurtha chugged under the Aerial Lift Bridge. A good crowd that grew more enthusiastic and full as the day wore on showed skin and sometimes sunburns. Seaplanes flew overhead and sailboats sat offshore listening in.

And then there was the blues. All the old themes turned up Friday -- bad love, sex, drinking and every now and then even love gone right.

Up-and-coming Duluth band Black-eyed Snakes opened the show, followed by Lamont Cranston, a long-time festival favorite.

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Westside Andy and crew fired up the crowd with a smooth sound and effortless electric harmonica playing.

Filling up the mid-afternoon slot was one of the moments the Blues Fest is famous for -- practically a master session of legendary blues musicians. "One of the living legends of the Chicago blues piano," Pinetop Perkins, was joined by guitarist Bob Margolin and harmonica player Carey Bell.

And that was just getting things warmed up. Or cooled down, as guitarist Larry Garner put it.

"Does it feel hot out there?" he asked the crowd. "Good, 'cuz it feels cool up here. I'm from Louisianna. ... I'm thinkin' about putting on a sweater."

Garner's group laid down the blues as he sang about juke joint women and pointed a few of them out in the crowd. But it was all in good fun.

"If it wasn't for juke joint women, who would go to juke joints anyway?" he asked. "So thank you ladies for being good sports."

Copeland hit it off immediately with a receptive crowd, recalling her last time in Duluth, before all the awards came her way. If the women in the crowd had been on the short end with some of Garner's lyrics, Copeland rectified it with a song called "Not Tonight, Baby," which she noted men tend not to like for some reason.

As evening came on, Michael Hill's Blues Mob, a New York trio influenced by Jimi Hendrix, took over. The group boasts Michael Hill on guitar and crystal clear vocals, and the pounding, powering funk bass of Pete Cummings.

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Hill covered Clapton tunes -- as well as "Crossroads," a Robert Johnson song revived for rock fans by Clapton -- and also slipped in a Hendix cover. The group also put out originals, including "Under Cover," about satisfying women.

Sometimes, headliners at Bayfront are anticlimactic, but Little Milton, a legendary Chicago player who was actually born in Mississippi, dispelled any thoughts of that. After his band, with a three-man horn section, warmed up the crowd with a screaming rendition of "Soul Man," Little Milton brought the crowd to its feet. As night fell, his big voice filled Bayfront Park and beyond.

{IMG2}The crowd ate it all up, despite a couple of fans getting in a heated argument with police just before Little Milton took the stage.

Fans Bruce and Vicki Clendenen, of Stillwater, cleared out a space to dance during their second Blues Fest.

"We love it," Bruce said.

"Last year and this year," Vicki added.

Mike Schneider, from Pine City, said he's been at every Bayfront Blues Festival, but this one was a little harder than most. Schneider said he was in a high-speed car accident on the way up.

When asked about his favorite band, he said, "We're waiting for Big Walter."

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As if he needs any introduction, that's Big Water Smith. He and his band, the Groove Merchants, play Saturday at 12:20 p.m. Like Schneider, Big Walter has been at all 14 Blues Fests, the only musician to do so.

The music starts Saturday at 11:30 a.m. with the Busters and finishes at 9:15 p.m. after Dr. John. Cost is $25 per day at the gate.

Pack rain gear, though. The National Weather Service says showers and thunderstorms are likely.

Schedule for the rest of the weekend, subject to change:

Saturday, August 10

The Busters, Minnesota Lottery Stage, 11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

Big Walter Smith & the Groove Merchants, Leinenkugels Stage, 12:20 p.m. to 1:20 p.m.

Super Chikan, Minnesota Lottery Stage, 1:25 p.m. to 2:25 p.m.

Kelley Hunt, Leinenkugels Stage, 2:30 p.m. to 3:45 p.m.

Arthur Adams, Minnesota Lottery Stage, 3:50 p.m. to 5:05 p.m.

North Mississippi All Stars, Leinenkugels Stage, 5:10 p.m. to 6:25 p.m.

The Fins, Minnesota Lottery Stage, 6:30 p.m. to 7:45 p.m.

Dr John, Leinenkugels Stage, 8 p.m. to 9:15 p.m.

Sunday August 11

Minneapolis Gospel Sound, Leinenkugels Stage, 11:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m.

Keri Noble, Minnesota Lottery Stage, 12:55 p.m. to 1:55 p.m.

Mick Sterling & the Stud Brothers Horns, Leinenkugels Stage, 2:05 p.m. to 3:05 p.m.

Lil' Brian & the Zydeco Travelers, Minnesota Lottery Stage, 3:15 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Denise LaSalle, Leinenkugels Stage, 4:40 p.m. to 5:55 p.m.

Tommy Castro, Minnesota Lottery Stage, 6:05 p.m. to 7:20 p.m.

Blues Traveler, Leinenkugels Stage, 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

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