Welcome To A Blast From The Past.
These articles are archives published online at BluesWax as The Blues Beat,
we hope you enjoy reading them.
Originally Published May 26, 2004
Moulin Blues Festival
Ospel, Netherlands, May 7-8, 2004
by Vincent Abbate
The first time I attended the two-day Moulin Blues Festival in 1998, the crowd drove me nuts. I’d come to listen to the music. They were there to party. B.B. King played the main stage on Friday night and halfway back in the tent, you couldn’t hear him above the roar of conversation. There was a constant rush of people shoving past and spilling beer on you, cardboard drink trays sailed through the air like Frisbees, enjoying the music was next to impossible…and I had a night in the back of my friend’s station wagon to look forward to. It was a horrible first encounter with one of Europe’s most important Blues events.
This year’s Moulin Blues was my fourth and by now I’ve learned to do as the natives do. Critical distance has no place here. Please check your brain at the door. The Dutch are a party people and your best bet is to join in. I can’t count the number of times complete strangers have bought me beers or passed me one of those funny little cigarettes. This year I bonded with a young Red Sox fan who was in Holland visiting his dad. The guy seemed awed at finding such a whacked-out Blues party in this little Dutch village. And that was before bosomy singer Candye Kane finished her Saturday night set by playing the piano with her two most prominent physical attributes.
Kudos to the festival organizers for once again putting together a stellar lineup; even Friday night’s torrential rains couldn’t spoil the fun. First up in the smaller of the two tents, the Moulin Blues Café, were Austin’s Asylum Street Spankers. The band was as bewildered by the volume of the crowd as I was in ’98. Add to that some technical problems and this made for a somewhat disappointing kickoff. That left it to Dave Alvin & The Guilty Men to get the party started on the main stage, and boy, did they ever. Best known as front man of the Blasters and for the rootsy American music he has turned out since leaving the band in 1986, Alvin’s set proved he can Blues it with the best of them. His six-piece band demonstrated a remarkable tightness, a flare for dynamics, and a palpable sympathy amongst the members. This was a farewell concert for lap steel player Rick Shea after five years with the Guilty Men. When Alvin announced this during one mid-song break down, Shea, visibly moved, pointed a disposable camera at the cheering audience. But instead of milking the moment, Alvin mumbled a simple “Gonna miss you, buddy” and launched straight into his next stinging solo. Let the music do the talking.
Omar & The Howlers followed Alvin on center stage, looking and sounding somewhat static by comparison. But their gritty, straightforward Texas Blues and boogie kept the crowd on their feet and drinking, making it easy for the British quartet The Wildcards to deliver the knockout blow. The enthusiastic reaction to their swinging Blues mix showed again what counts most in Ospel: Get the people moving and they could care less whether you’re a household name or not. Finishing up at around 1 a.m., The Wildcards were a tonic for the legions of campers who would now slosh their way across the adjacent field to sleep in soggy quarters.
Waking the following morning in the back of my friend’s station wagon – what would Moulin Blues be without a backache? I noticed the first tractor pulling stuck cars out of the mud. But skies were brighter. A cup of tea and a Broodje in the cozy backstage lounge and we were good to go. Saturday at Moulin Blues means over twelve hours of live music plus late-night DJ dancing if you’ve got anything left in the tank. Forget to pace yourself and you wind up hunched in a corner with your head in your hands by seven thirty.
Eight bands took the main stage this year, starting at noon with the Netherlands’ own The Strikes. This was solid, workmanlike Blues from a talented young foursome. Kenny Brown and Cedric Burnside followed, doing what was essentially an R.L. Burnside show minus R.L., and showing how integral they’ve been in shaping Mr. Wizard’s infectious sound. Cedric Burnside, for one, deserves a whole lot more recognition for his drumming – sure it’s not fancy, but you’d be hard pressed to find a groove equal to his elsewhere in the Blues. Similarly, Brown’s slide playing may be less nimble than that of his more famous peers, but it’s got a slashing, rhythmic feel that gets under the skin and into the nether regions. Their Friday evening and Saturday afternoon sets, featuring familiar titles like “Goin’ Down South” and “Jumper On The Line,” were festival highlights.
Those that found Brown and Burnside’s North Mississippi Blues tiresome had an even tougher time warming up to Norwegian guitarist Bjørn Berge. Paradoxically, his solo set on the main stage was probably the loudest show of the festival. Those who saw my review of Berge’s support slot on the recent Eric Sardinas tour if you missed that show review) will recall his brash approach to the slide guitar, where Robert Johnson meets Motörhead meets the Red Hot Chili Peppers. This time around, perhaps swayed by the festival setting and chance to convert hundreds of curious onlookers into fans, Berge abandoned any last traces of subtlety and hit us over the head with his fastest, most neck-breaking licks and a cool, cocky, borderline macho attitude. The Junior Watson Band seemed like a Boy Scout troop when they followed in his wake a half-hour later. No disrespect meant to the musicians involved, but the leap from Berge’s ear-splitting attack to the cuteness of the Davy Crockett Theme and “The Girl From Ipanema” was just impossible to make. (One dissenting fan I spoke to felt the Watson Band – she called it an orchestra – was a breath of fresh air after the monotony of Brown, Burnside, and Berge.)
While my vote for Best of the Fest would probably have to go to Dave Alvin & The Guilty Men, Los Straitjackets get the nod for most fun. (Coincidentally, the bands are touring together later this summer.) Introduced to Blues audiences through their collaboration with Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater on last year’s Grammy-nominated Rock ‘n’ Roll City CD, this Nashville quartet is a sight to behold. They perform wearing shiny Mexican wrestling masks and uniform black outfits, with synchronized stages moves reminiscent of ’80s new wave heroes Devo. Twenty minutes of groovy surf music was the overture. Then they brought out an exuberant Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater in his trademark Native American headdress. A treat for fans of Rock ‘n’ Roll City – songs like “You’re Humbuggin’ Me,” “Old Time Rocker,” and “Lonesome Town” worked just fine even without the horn section featured on the CD.
Full disclosure: By seven p.m., my ears needed a break from the booming sound system in the main tent. An acoustic trio led by Guy Davis in the Moulin Blues Café made for a welcome change of pace. Then I rested outside on a lawn chair, close enough to the big tent to hear the much-heralded Imperial Crowns and the audience they won over. Finally, a trio of locals waylaid me, insisting I join them in a nearby pub for a shot of jenever. Thus refreshed and warmed against the rapidly cooling evening, we returned to listen to a fine Dutch roots band called T-99 and, subsequently, a ninety-minute performance by Candye Kane on the big stage. Her show was somewhat talky for my tastes – the former stripper and current Big Mama spent a great deal of time telling her life story and commenting on the size and shape of her body. You sensed her heart was in the right place, though; her gospel said, ‘Accept what you are and how you look, enjoy sex and hang onto love when you find it.’ A pair of Etta James covers – “Something’s Got A Hold On Me” and “At Last” – helped her deliver the message. Then came the aforementioned piano-playing stunt.
At eleven thirty on a Saturday night, there’s just one thing left to do. Dance. The DJ at the Moulin Blues Café mixed everything from Screamin’ Jay Hawkins to Dick Dale‘s “Miserlou” to get a few dozen feet moving. Meanwhile, the main tent was as full as it was going to get for the festival finale. And I suppose if you’re going to hire a Soul cover band to play crowd-pleasing classics like “Mustang Sally,” you may as well get one of the biggest and best. The Commitments delivered the goods.
Emptying my pockets in the wee hours of Sunday morning, I found I had two unused Moulin Blues beer tokens. Looks like I’m going back next year.
by Vincent Abbate
About the Author: