Blue Star Nashville
March 1, 2012
By Mark Goodman
Blue Star Connection has taken its show on the road. This charity, which is a passion for main organizer and founder John Catt, started out with the Blues From The Top Festival in Winter Park, Colorado. The event is used to raise money for the purchase of musical instruments for critically ill children.
Catt and associates have been using blues music as the stimulus to bring people together for this worthwhile cause. The children that receive the instruments usually have compromised immune systems and therefore can’t share items from, say a hospital’s music therapy room. When selected as a “Blue Star,” the instruments are theirs to keep.
Blue Star Connection now has its own festival in Littleton, Colorado, on August 4, 2012. This will be the second event of hopefully many more to come. As a volunteer at last year’s festival, I got a chance to see how Blue Star interacts with the hospitals to enhance their music therapy programs. After chauffeuring Deanna Bogart to Denver Children’s Hospital where she played in the lobby, we were taken on a tour of the music area. To show how much stock they put in the healing power of music, they have multiple music rooms and even two real recording studios.
Over the last few years, Blue Star has expanded it focus to other cities around the country. Their most recent event was in Nashville. Music City! There are a core group of musicians that have been involved with Catt and his events and the list keeps growing. Such well known names as Tab Benoit, Mike Zito, Jimmy Hall, Trampled Under Foot, Samantha Fish, Kate Moss, and Zac Harmon are only some of the artists that lend their name and talents to help improve the life of a sick child.
Blue Star Nashville featured a host of familiar names, as well as a few that might be new to blues fans. The familiar ones include Jimmy Hall, Samantha Fish, Zac Harmon, Kate Moss, and 2012 International Blues Competition finalist, The Bart Walker Band. The location was 3rd & Lindsley, a 500-seat club a short distance from downtown.
Jake Austin & The City Limits Band kicked off the show around 7 p.m. This band out of St. Louis released their debut CD in 2011, and features a “Red Bull” blend rock, blues, bluegrass, and country. Their tune “City People Need Some Country Love” was about how there would be much less violence in the city if they had a little more country ethics. Even though a bit of a rocker, its lyrics we’re poignant and true.
Following them was The Bart Walker Band from Nashville. First runner up at the 2012 International Blues Competition, Walker opened with “I See the Blues in Technicolor.” He then followed with “My Favorite Color Is the Blues,” at which time he challenged, “Tell me if you think this sounds like second place.”
Walker invited special guest Shaun Murphy, also a Nashville resident, up for a version of “Steppin Out.” It turned out that Walker had quite a few guests in the house. Next up was Tracy Nelson doing “Mother Earth,” followed by yet another Nashville denizen, Mike Faris. Faris might not be familiar to blues fans, but that’s our loss. This guy puts on an amazing, high-energy show with his own gospel revue-style band. Tonight he performed “I’d Rather Go Blind” by the late Etta James, and even she would have been satisfied. He followed up with a Hounddog Taylor tune before giving way to Walker’s final guest, Jimmy Hall.
Hall, started out with the title track from his solo release Rendezvous With The Blues. He followed that with another original slow burner, “The Long Goodbye.” He invited his oldest son up to replace Reese Wynans on keys for his signature tune, “Keep On Smilin’.” Originally recorded by Hall’s band Wet Willie, this song is considered by many to be one of the all-time southern rock classics. If you consider the bands that made up that genre in its heyday, that’s saying something.
This show featured a myriad of guests and local musicians that are too numerous for the purpose of this review. Some weren’t even on the bill, but wanted to be a part of the event, so other sets were cut short to accommodate them. Most weren’t obvious, except for the performance of Ronnie Fruge. The emcee abruptly walked on stage and said he was done so they could bring on local guitar favorite Jack Pearson. Fruge looked a little mystified and embarrassed, but handled it like the pro he is. The thing is that Fruge has worked with John Catt many times, but not so with Pearson. The emcee could have handled it a bit more respectfully in my opinion.
The only thing that was a disappointment was totally unavoidable. As a fan of Samantha Fish, I was looking forward to her set with Kate Moss as guest guitarist. Unfortunately, Fish had a terrible cold and could barely talk, much less sing. Bring on Jimmy Hall to the rescue. They worked out a set of standards right before the show and he took care of the vocals while Fish contributed her sizable guitar skills. If this had been any other genre than the blues, this probably wouldn’t have been possible; only in the blues are there such a number of songs that everyone can play along. Add the fact that Jimmy Hall is one of the most versatile vocalists around, and most didn’t even know there was a problem. During the set, Hall roamed the stage from one side to the other as if he couldn’t decide which of these stunning ladies he wanted to be next to.
You would never know that Samantha Fish has only been playing guitar for seven or eight years. She lights up the stage with both talent and personality, impressive even more for the fact she is only 23 years old.
Kate Moss has seen more and more stage time in the last few years and billed as guest guitarist with not only Samantha Fish, but also Ana Popovic. Long known as a bass player and graphic artist extraordinaire, it was only a couple of years ago that I even discovered she played guitar.
Being a photographer foremost, I was limited in the shots I could get due to low stage lighting except for a tiny spot at center stage (refuse to use flash). It was a small area of light so only those that chose that spot were photographed.
During a break before the final act, there was a presentation from Delaney Guitars to Blue Star Connection of a custom-built beauty. This will be auctioned to get the funds to buy multiple instruments for kids. That is the standard procedure when they receive a donation of real monetary value. This one instrument can be used to purchase a dozen in its place.
Zac Harmon came on to close the evening. The “birthday boy,” who was later presented with a cake, wasted no time in jumping right in with both feet. Harmon, an IBC winner himself, has crafted a solid career in the years since. Unfortunately, it was Thursday night and many had to work the next day. The crowd had thinned to about half capacity. Even so, the remaining fans let it show that they were getting their money’s worth.
I have no idea how much the event raised, but if the talent level and crowd response were any measure, Blue Star Nashville was a rousing success.
For more information about Blue Star Connection, please go to their website.
To see some of Mark Goodman’s photographs from Blue Star Nashville, check out this week’s Photo Page.
Mark Goodman is a contributing editor at BluesWax.
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