Riverside Casino and Golf Resort
March 23 – 25 , 2012
By Phillip Smith
For three days in a row I trekked to Riverside, Iowa, future home of Captain James T. Kirk, to get barraged with some blues at the the Riverside Casino in eastern Iowa. It’s been two days since the Blues Weekend ended and I am still elated from all the wonderful music I heard. From the Friday evening show featuring Li’l Ed and the Blues Imperials to the finale show on Sunday, featuring guitarist extraordinaire Jimmy Vaughan, it was a joyous experience.
Making my way through the maze of slot machines and table games, I headed toward the familiar sound of slide guitar. Trolling around the backed-up line of spectators, I entered the show lounge to hear Li’l Ed playing “Nobody’s Fault But my Own.” Sporting a bright red shirt and a golden fez, with matching vest, Li’l Ed makes it pert’ near impossible to confuse him with anyone else. I wish I could sport a fez and look as cool. My ears perked up and my eyes widened as the band moved on to “Woman Take a Bow,” which has that oh-so-familiar-intro Edgar Winter uses in Frankenstein, but minus the keytar. When Li’l Ed performs, he really wants to make sure his audience is entertained. Breaking into a Chuck Berry-like duck walk while guitarist Mike Garrett took a solo, you can tell Ed still enjoys doing what he does. Judging by the huge smile on his face during “Hold That Train,” I think it’s safe to say that he got almost as much enjoyment out of watching the audience as they did watching him.
Janiva Magness took the stage next. I had never seen her perform live and was quite excited to hear her. Being that she is a nominee for Contemporary Blues Female Artist Of The Year just made the experience that more sweeter. Her sultry and sassy voice is perfect for singing the blues. I was quite impressed by her guitarist, Zach Zunis. He was on fire and played with teeth-clenching intensity. I had noticed there was a little cigar-box guitar sitting on the floor near the drums. After a short while, Janiva picked it up and played “Whoop and Holler,” a lively song fit for an old-time gospel-hour revival. This song is off her newest CD, Stronger For It, on Alligator Records. From that same CD, she also performed “There It Is,” one of my favorites, “Make it Rain,” and “Dirty Water,” a dark little song.
Returning back to Riverside for my second day of blues schooling, I caught George Thorogood and The Destroyers. Thorogood is one of those artists, whomI have been wanting to see live for a very long time, but the stars just never quite aligned right for that to happen. This time however those stars lined up like ducks in a row. This had to be my favorite show of the year so far. Thorogood performed with a very high level of energy. Early in the show, he played a powerful version of “Who Do You Love,” immediately followed by “The Fixer.” The beginning notes of “I Drink Alone” were played and the crowd went nuts. To put that in perspective, it was a sold-out show, so it’s a loud crowd. Thorogood strutted around the stage with undeniable swagger. The audience had not even had a chance to calm down and out comes an extended version of “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer.” Sporting a devilish grin, Thorogood tells us, “Don’t drink and drive. Get your buddy to drive you home… Get your girlfriend to drive you home… Get your buddy’s girlfriend to drive you home.”
The “Big Chill” moment of the night occurred during a dedication to Johnny and June Cash. George and the Destroyers dusted off a rarely heard tune, at least not very often on the radio. I’m talking about “Cocaine Blues.” The band plays as a video homage to Cash displayed on a large screen above the stage. Thorogood played everything one would want to hear. The set included “Get a Haircut,” which was another favorite of mine. He also performed “Bad to the Bone,” a crowd favorite, of course; “Move it On Over,” “You Talk Too Much,” and ended with “Born to be Bad,” proving that he was indeed born to be bad, still showing no signs of fatigue.
Sunday, I booked down to the Riverside Casino for the final day of Blues Weekend, in order to arrive early and stake out a prime piece of real estate to best watch Trampled Under Foot, a trio from Kansas City who has been blowing away everyone lately. I reviewed their Wrong Side of the Blues album for BluesWax earlier this year and I have to say, it was one of my favorites of 2011. The live show was beautifully performed. When Danielle Schnebelen began singing “Heart on the Line,” her soulful and silky vocals perfectly complemented the groove being created by her brothers, Kris on drums and Nick on guitar. This was definitely a crowd pleaser. The big cheesy grin on my face got even bigger as they started playing “Better Life.” I love the funky groove to this one, and it almost comes off as a Jack Johnson song. Later they broke into a very nicely executed cover of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” sung by Kris. It was good to see him get the spotlight as he has a good voice. He got the spotlight again a while later to commandeer a most impressive drum solo. And this wasn’t one of those mini drum solos, this one was reminiscent of the drum solos popularized in the 1970s. It was very cool indeed. Closing out their performance, they dish out some tasty treats in the form of a couple of Led Zeppelin covers. I’ve never heard “Heartbreaker” sung quite like that. As Danielle sung her heart out, Nick and Kris rocked everyone’s socks off. They then bless us with one more, “Rock And Roll.” No one left that lounge without a smile on their face.
The realization that this next show was the final one for the weekend made me kind of sad. The fact that the next act to see was Jimmy Vaughan, made the sadness dissipate. There’s a fifties retro rockabilly vibe in the air, and I like it. Vaughan take charge of most all the vocals for the first half of the show, hitting songs like “Dirty Work at the Crossroads” and “The Pleasure’s All Mine,” instigating an audience clap-along.
With vocals by the very talented Lou Ann Barton, they bust through “Shake a Hand,” “Come Love,” and “Scratch My Back,” with Vaughan playing harp on “Come Love.” Barton has such an interesting voice; it’s hauntingly smooth with a little twang. During “Scratch My Back,” she teased “I itch, but I don’t know where to scratch.” I’m sure Jimmy was thinking to himself, “It’s good to be the king.” “Boom Bopa Boom” brought the entire audience in for a sing-along as Vaughan decided that it was time to whip his guitar behind his back and play. He is the man.
Returning for an encore, Vaughan and Barton harmonized on “In the Middle of the Night.” This is what chasing the perfect concert all is about. I love it. Something else I loved was “Texas Flood.” Man, my heart fluttered and could tell everyone in the building was just soaking it all in. The concert closed with “Motor Head Baby,” and that was it. It was no surprise the show ended with a standing ovation.
I was very much impressed with the Blues Weekend event at the Riverside Casino, and if they continue to offer this event, I say, “Deal me in.”
Phillip Smith is a contributing writer at BluesWax.
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