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Originally Published June 23, 2004
The 2004 Red Bank ,Jazz and Blues Festival
Lately I have had an extremely bad case of the “I went to a Blues festival and all it did was rain Blues.” In the last six months I have attended four outstanding, multi-day festivals and all four of them have had major rain. I am not talking about just an occasional sprinkle or even a heavy downpour that passes through and ten minutes later is gone. Nope, I am talking major, heavy, long, and often all day and several day rainstorms. The kind of storms that keep people from attending and make the festival a flop. The kind of storms that make some of the people that did come leave. The kind of storms that makes those that did stick it out absolutely miserable and in some cases sick. I guess in general the kind of storms that just really give you the Blues.
Now I’m no pansy and I can endure as much grief as the next person, especially if it is for the Blues. However, at the Red Bank Jazz and Blues Festival flashbacks of the Beale Street Music Festival during Memphis in May had me paranoid. There was no way I was going to spend another day in an all day, heavy rainstorm, walking around in ankle deep mud, with winds blowing off of the river and temperatures cold enough to have a wind chill factor involved. Unfortunately, that is what it was like exactly when I arrived in Red Bank, New Jersey. Other than the river being the Navesink River instead of the Mississippi River, the conditions were identical – miserably identical.
We arrived at the Red Bank Jazz and Blues Festival from Florida at around 2:30 p.m. and were greeted by chilly weather and on and off – but mostly on – rain. After seeing Jason Ricci, the only act we did see for the day, the rain had developed into a steady downpour. By 5:00 p.m., the temperature had dropped into the low fifties and the wind was gusting off of the river making it feel like winter. When you travel anywhere outside of Florida in June, you don’t expect to encounter cold weather. What the heck, it’s been in the nineties down here since April. Being wet and freezing, we ran to a nearby overcrowded bar for solace. About an hour later, as the rain still fell and we were still wet and the bar got even more crowded, we were faced with an extremely difficult decision. Deal with the elements or go to where we were spending the night – my in-laws house. Under these conditions, dealing with the in-laws was the lesser of the two evils so off we went.
Sunday, when we woke, it was still raining and was showing no signs of stopping. Around 1:00 p.m., dealing with the elements had now become the lesser of the two evils so we left the in-laws house and headed to the festival. By the time we got there the rain had stopped and we were actually able to see two excellent acts before the festival’s end – HAZMAT Modine and the festivals headliner Roxy Perry.
Ironically, the only band that I got to see on Saturday was a band from Florida which I have seen many times before, The Jason Ricci Band. Before assembling his own band and going on the road, Jason Ricci, as a member of a band called the Nucklebusters, was the hottest harmonica player in the South Florida area. To his regular fans he was known as Jason “Wicked Good” Ricci.
Performing in front of a few hundred Blues troopers Jason and the band – Shawn Starski on guitar, Maki Bergara on drums, and Tom “Slim” Louis on bass – rocked Red Bank. Jason, in a valiant effort to warm up the crowd, was blowing fire through his harmonica. In all of the years I have know him, this was the hottest performance I’ve ever seen him give. His solos were so long and so hard and so well blown you’d swear he had CO2 tanks for lungs! Having his own band and being the front man is really bringing out the very best in this talented young player. Of course, having Sean on guitar helps. Only in his twenties, this young man’s playing is astounding. For the festivalgoers this act was the bright spot of a gloomy day.
On Sunday I, as well as the rest of the crowd, were totally impressed and very blown away by a New York City band called HAZMAT Modine. The program listed them as a Jazz/Rockabilly/Swing band and at the band’s own website they refer to their style of play as a blend of whorehouse Blues, Reggae, hokum jugband, Jamaican rocksteady, Klezmer, Country, and gypsy-tinged music. Whoa! How is that for versatility? There is stuff listed there of which I had never even heard.
The band’s versatility does not end with its style of play. Amongst some of the instruments they sometimes play are a tuba, a sheng, a claviola, a banjitar, and a cimbalom. And, on top of that, they use dueling harmonicas. Once again, there is more stuff that is new to me. What I did hear though, no matter what style of music this eclectic band was playing or what instruments they were playing it on, was sheer excellence.
HAZMAT Modine consists of Wade Schuman on diatonic harmonica, guitar, and lead vocals; Randy Weinstein on diatoinc harmonica, chromatic harmonica, and sheng; Joseph Daley on tuba; Jay Walter Hawkes on trombone; Pam Fleming on trumpet; Michael Gomez on steel guitar and electric guitar; Rich Huntley on drums; and, Bob Jay on guitar.
From one very narrow-minded Blues lover who does not like anything other than straight-up Blues or Swing Blues, HAZMAT Modine certainly broadened my horizons. Everyone, in the again sparse crowd, truly seemed to enjoy this show.
Roxy Perry, the festival’s headliner and closing act was up next. Roxy and I have maintained a steady friendship since meeting in a Blues chat room on AOL about eight years ago. One weekend, a few years back, I was lucky enough to be visiting family on Long Island, New York, on the same weekend that she was playing at a nearby club. Her show blew me away then and it just blew me away again. Roxy, who is billed as the “New York Blues Queen,” performed most of the songs on her CD by the same name and several new originals which will be on her long overdue new CD, that she promised will be out soon.
Roxy’s slogan is: “My gigs are not for wallflowers or the faint-hearted, we have huge fun,” and she certainly lives up to the words. Roxy has a commanding stage presence that seems to take hold of the audience the second she walks out. Her voice, as well as her mannerisms, are both powerful and potent and the audience senses this compelling desire to pay her attention. Roxy doesn’t sing the Blues, she belts it out.
Many in the crowd, including myself were calling for Roxy to do “Men Like You.” In this song Roxy tells her man, as he is leaving to “Go right ahead and go, because it’s men like you that made me this way.” This is one of my favorite Blues songs of all time. The lyrics are so compelling, Roxy’s delivery is so outstandingly raunchy, and there are several extraordinary guitar and harmonica solos. This five-minute performance may have very well been the highlight of this festival.
Another song which had the crowd shaking and throwing their hands in the air was “Way Down.” This song is done a la Ike and Tina doing “Rolling on the River.” Roxy spends about three minutes singing this very slow, scorching song with lots of sultry saxophone and then just as you think the song has ended – WHAM! She starts singing again, the band goes into high gear, all the background singers join in and then Roxy starts belting it out like there is no tomorrow. It just doesn’t get any better than this.
Joining Roxy on vocals and super harmonica were her husband of 30 years – Bob Fusco on bass, Linda Geiger on drums, Tim De Huff on guitar, Dave Fields on keyboards and guitar, Eric Merovitch on alto sax, and Bill Holloman on tenor sax and trumpet.
In spite of the weather and the small amount of entertainment that I did get to enjoy, this was still a very nice weekend. I got to meet a whole bunch of great people and made a lot of new Blues friends. I want to offer Nicky Coppola, President of the Jersey Shore Jazz and Blues Federation (of which I am now a member), a great big thank you. Nick and all of the members of this wonderful Blues society did one heck of a job putting on this three-day festival. They really rolled out the red carpet to my wife and me and did everything in their power to make us feel comfortable. I also want to thank Carl at C. J. Photography for providing me with some nice photos of the event
Marine Park, in downtown Red Bank, New Jersey is one of the most picturesque locations for a festival that I have ever attended. The grassy hills park surrounds the Navesink Marina, which is located on the Navesink River. High up on top of the larger hills you can see the many, beautiful and luxurious homes that overlook the marina and the river. I could only imagine how beautiful a setting this would be on a sunny, breezy, New Jersey spring day. The park is a small and very walking friendly park. I was amazed at how close the two stages were and yet there was absolutely no interference from simultaneous performances.
Considering the proximity of this festival to relatives’ homes where I can freeload and Atlantic City where I can play, and knowing I can see many of the new friends I made here in Red Bank, I just might have to consider attending this festival a yearly event. Only next year I will bring warmer clothes.
By Pete “Blewzzman” Lauro
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