Deep Blues Festival 2011, Beachland Ballroom, Cleveland, OH, 7.16.11

Thinking about this post and trying to find a way to encapsulate some nine hours of great music and great people leaves me wanting to write “You should have been there” and leave it at that. But that isn’t fair to anyone, especially not the amazing performers who fueled the night.

Each artist who took the stage Saturday brought something special with them, from the endearing charm of Boom Chick (and drummer Moselle Spiller’s brilliant scream) to the explosive energy of Molly Gene to the hypnotic skill of Mississippi Gabe Carter to the dirty magic that occurs when Left Lane Cruiser sits in with Mark Porkchop Holder. Every act was worth keeping an eye on.

Confession: I didn’t keep an eye on every act. In fact, it seems I missed two of the best sets of the night: Ten Foot Polecats and Left Lane Cruiser. Instead, I was carousing in the bar like some sort of scenester. But with an event like DBF, part of the package is meeting and hanging out with great people – the kind of people who don’t roll their eyes or just quietly humor you when you go on and on about blues music (or music in general). The kind of people who love music so much they’ll travel thousands of miles to play it. Or even just to listen to it.

Boom Chick led the way with a big helping of ’50s rock ‘n’ roll mixed in with their blues, most notably on their original tunes like “Sweaty, Sweaty Dress”, “The Ghost of Bo Diddley” (the barnstormer of a tune that closed their set) and a Link Wray/surf music-inspired instrumental. They also pulled up a couple of covers, like Diddley’s “White Horse” and Robert Johnson’s “Me and the Devil”, which was given a fascinating new dimension by Spiller’s drums.


video by Chris Bishop


Next up was Old Gray Mule featuring C.W. Ayon who played a sweet little set full of great covers and bad jokes. C.R. Humphrey’s great guitar-playing led the way while Ayon supplied great vocals and drumming on songs by Robert Belfour, T-Model Ford, R.L. Burnside and originals like “Ass Whoopin'” and “Back in the Day”, a song about T-Model Ford.

Now here’s where my notes end as I really began to enjoy myself. Mississippi Gabe Carter played a beautiful set of slow blues, belting out gripping vocals while accompanying himself masterfully on his National Map guitar. Songs included “Black Woman”, “Skinny Woman”… and other titles that don’t have the word “woman” in them. (I mentioned that I stopped taking notes, right?)

Cashman brought some dirty into the mix, along with one of the smilingest drummers I’ve ever seen. Ray Cashman is one of the most intimidating-looking blues musicians since Howlin’ Wolf, but like Wolf, Cashman flashed a ready smile.

For me, the musical highlight of the night was Molly Gene One Whoaman Band. Armed with a guitar, a fantastic foot drum and occasional harmonica, Molly Gene is pure fury, stomping the ever-lovin’ shit out of the beat while howling with a voice so gravel-ridden that your throat starts to feel raw just listening to her. If you took the individual talents of men like John Wesley Myers, Scott H. Biram and Bob Log III, you’d still need to throw in a few mule kicks to match the ferocity of Molly Gene. She played awesome originals like “Bumble Bee” and “I Need Me a Man” and tied the bow in the ribbon of winning my heart forever by cover the Coasters’ “Down in Mexico”.


video by Chris Bishop


I was in and out for the Misery Jackals, but the locals had an excited fan base hooting in the audience and boasted the lone bass player of the night.

Then I completely missed the Ten Foot Polecats set, which was a mistake because this happened:


video by bloodybill


Long and lanky Ted Drozdowski led the Scissormen through an energetic set which saw Drozdowski come down from the stage, climb onto chairs, set his guitar on tables to play it and, at one point, set the guitar in my hands to play it, eventually weaving his way into the back bar for some stool-climbing before coming back to the stage. There’s a reason Drozdowski also played M.C. for the night.

Being a Black Diamond Heavies fan, I was not about to miss Mark Porkchop Holder, who was in the original lineup of the band. Holder did not disappoint, playing smooth slide steel as he sang about folks like Deliah and Stagger Lee. And, as mentioned before, Brenn Beck and Joe Evans of Left Lane Cruiser joined Holder toward the end to put some grit behind the slide.

And then I proceeded to miss Left Lane Cruiser. I know, I know. I was busy having adventures. I will see those guys play eventually, I swear.

Sadly, the Staving Chain and Javier & the Innocent Sons weren’t able to play the show.

As praiseworthy as all the performances were, equally deserving of praise was the stellar job Ted Drozdowski and Jim Chilson did of organizing and running the event. It was great to see original DBF organizer Chris Johnson in the audience, enjoying the show, as the concept he started found a new life in capable hands.

Can’t wait for next year.

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