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By Wally Stewart
The weather is usually the hottest thing experienced around Independence Day in Louisville, but this year it had to be the energy created by Delbert McClinton and twelve gorgeous women dancing behind him at the 9th annual Waterside festival. McClinton's performance closed the 3-day event on Sunday night . . . but more about him later.
While still held the July 4 weekend at the junction of River Rd. and Zorn Ave., what was the Waterside Art and Blues Festival is now known as "Waterside." The diverse arts and crafts exhibits still abound but the musical direction has changed. Blues were predominant but reggae and other sounds were included this year. Each afternoon an "unplugged" stage was held under a tent and the direction of Louisville's "Homefront" crew. I didn't get to hear all of these shows but did catch locals Tim Krekel, Jim Rosen, John Burgard, Reid Jahn, Tripp Bratton and a couple of visitors. A highlight was seeing Nashville's Pete Fetters stroll around the area jamming on his harmonica.
The main stage performances came an hour later and local favorites Steve Ferguson & The Midwest Creole Ensemble opened Friday to a smaller crowd than I had expected. The Ohio River and the sun's dying rays provided a picturesque background as the group performed several cuts from their Jack Salmon and Derby Sauce CD. The audience stayed unusually laid back for a Ferguson gig but did call him back for an encore.
When Chicago's Roots Rock Society came on the energy level and crowd response increased noticeably. This was the six-piece band's first trip to Derby City and their infectious beat kept some feet moving throughout the set. They moved easily through world beat, reggae and several African\Caribbean rhythms, playing passionately.
On Saturday the Larry McCray Band sizzled the already sweltering air with tight blues that should have provoked lots of dancing. The heat may have kept folks from producing any more motion than necessary but not McCray. He was impressive on lead guitar and vocal, easily stirring thoughts of Robert Cray. I especially enjoyed a long version of "Born Under a Bad Sign" and a smokin' encore of his "Delta Hurricane." This young man appears to have a bright future.
Guitar ace Tinsley Ellis then brought mostly blues-flavored rock to a crowd that had finally reached a decent size. "Sell My Soul" was a hard driver and "I Can't Quit You Baby" was a great effort, causing members of the audience to contort their faces with the band. Ellis rarely paused between songs, tearing into one after another. There's no doubting his ability, but his set didn't have the charisma of McCray's earlier act. I wish I had known that he and McCray would show up later at the Cherokee Blues Club.
On Sunday rain fell during the Homefront shows but quit before the Metro Blues All-Stars started the main stage. Although I always look forward to this Lexington group, I didn't enjoy them as much as usual. The title cut from Devil Gets His Due was fine but on "Little Red Rooster" super harpist Rodney Hatfield basically went into a solo that was a little long for a one-hour set. They closed with the classic "Got My Mojo Working" and were followed by Austin, Texas, bluesman Gary Primich. He was one of several talented harmonica players playing during the festival but there wasn't much excitement until "Ding Dong Daddy" came around late in the hour played. It was a surprise because the band had gotten a lot of positive reaction earlier on the Homefront stage. Primich would later sit in with Delbert McClinton and do his best work of the evening.
McClinton's group was an example of "saving the best for last," as several fans used the two-plus hours for a continuous "boogie." Trumpet and sax helped create an earthy blend of rock, country and R&B that set a person to dancing or at least tapping their foot. The band was impressive from the start and never let up. Delbert's hit "Every Time I Roll The Dice" had the crowd roaring and late in the show he started signing everything possible while still singing. I had heard great things about his show but it was better than advertised and by his third encore the stage was filled with beauty.
A couple of other interesting offerings were the KYANA Blues Society exhibit inside the old Water Works building and the "interactive art" area in front of it. The "interactive" area had canvas for children to paint on and a sizeable array of cultural instruments from Africa and Indonesia. Artists Greg Acker and Danjuma Ighato encouraged all there to try the instruments, and a lot of fun and education was available. Inside was an exhibit of photos, news clippings, and memories covering Louisville's blues history from the turn of the century to the 1950s. On Saturday The Juggernaut Jug Band played there and I recommend taking time for it next year.