Irma Thomas caps hot day with cool blues

A salvation wind blew off Lake Superior on Friday evening just before a salvation voice blew in from New Orleans. Grammy Award-winner Irma Thomas capped off astifling-hot second day of the Bayfront Blues Festival with a night of cool soul and hur...

A salvation wind blew off Lake Superior on Friday evening just before a salvation voice blew in from New Orleans.

Grammy Award-winner Irma Thomas capped off astifling-hot second day of the Bayfront Blues Festival with a night of cool soul and hurtin' blues.

A big Friday night crowd, cooled at last by the lake breeze, kept dancing and the Soul Queen of New Orleans kept on playing -- through a 13-song regular set and four-song encore.

Thomas wore a gold-sequined top and black pants and took the stage starting with "If You Want It" backed by her very tight six-piece band. She sang with an infectious smile and a range that belied her age -- 66 -- and her nearly half-century in the music business.

Thomas kept it rolling with a soulful "Story of My Life" and "Don't Get Better Than This." She then lectured men in the crowd about how to treat a mature woman going through changes before breaking into a melodic "Hold Me While I Cry."


Thomas unveiled two songs from her latest, Grammy-winning CD, "After the Rain.'' "Stone Survivor" and "Middle of It All" both offered the double entendre of troubled relationships and a troubled New Orleans after the 2005 hurricane and flood.

Thomas, known as much for soul and pop hits over the past five decades, left no doubt that she belonged as a headliner at a blues festival with a rowdy rendition of one of her biggest hits, "You Can Have My Husband but Don't Mess With My Man," that had the crowd up and dancing, followed by an even bluesier "Hip Shakin' Mama."


Blues fan Peg Flaig of Anoka was gimping around Friday with a black walking cast after she fractured her ankle in a sidewalk fall last week. "It's even hotter than it looks," Flaig said of the cast.

"Perfect timing, a week before coming up here. But there was no way I was going to stay home and miss this," she said.

Peg and her husband, Dan, are at their seventh straight bluesfest and said they are enthralled with the music, the venue and the scenery.

"Just look around here," Peg said, pointing out Duluth's hillside, downtown skyline, Aerial Lift Bridge and harbor just as the sun sank below the antenna farm. "You can't look up here and not see something amazing. This is a great place and I sure hope they keep it [the bluesfest] here."

Jerry Wallisch of Roseville, Minn., agreed. He's been coming to bluesfest for 11 years and is a regular in the front row at the main stage. He was there at 8:30 Friday morning to secure his spot for Irma Thomas. And he's not happy with any talk of the bluesfest moving off the harborfront because of a tiff between the promoter and the city.


"We get down here for the front row every year for people like Irma Thomas," he said. "We absolutely love it here. We hope it [bluesfest] stays here [at Bayfront Festival Park] forever. Make sure to tell your mayor that."

But controversy was far from most people's minds Friday night as Thomas wrapped up her set with a collection of old and new songs including "You Don't Know Nothing About Love" and a cover of Tina Turner's "Simply the Best'' before her encore that included "Shelter in the Rain" from her new album, along with the classics "It's Rainin' " and "I've Been Done Over," and the Cajun favorite "Hey Now."

Coleman stuck at airport

Deborah Coleman, who was supposed to share the stage Friday with Roxanne Potvin as part of the Blues Caravan Women set at bluesfest, ended up stuck at an airport and never made the show. Her spot was filled by Brit blues rocker Ian Parker, who was in town to play Thursday night at the festival. Parker and Potvin, both from Canada, have played together before and didn't miss a beat.

Coolest job at bluesfest?

How's this for cool? While bluesfesters were sweltering in heat that topped 90 degrees on nearby downtown thermometers, a Minnesota conservation officer was motoring about the harbor on a Sea-Doo waterbike -- wearing short pants and no shoes, but still armed.

The Department of Natural Resources officer, several of his cohorts and the U.S. Coast Guard are keeping a tight rein on boaters anchored to listen to the blues, making sure they aren't drinking and that they have mandatory safety gear.

Hair band?


Hair bands -- those '70s-style rockers who waved their long hair to the beat -- are not usually part of blues festivals. But Cadillac Kolstad's trio isn't far off. Kolstad's shoulder-length (but slicked-back) locks become part of the show as he plays his boogie-woogie-style piano. Same for his stand-up base player, Elmer Johnston. Their hair was out of control. Women seemed to like it, however, especially when Kolstad stopped to comb it back into place -- where it stayed about 10 seconds.

Johnston also added a unique stunt for a base player -- he stood on top of his instrument and balanced there while playing for part of a song.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at
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