All-Star Bay Area Blues Musicians Rally in Benefit for Paul Geremia & Johnny Harper
Artists: Maria Muldaur, Steve James, and More
Two highly respected bluesmen who’ve worked tirelessly to support, foster, and master the acoustic blues form and history, Paul Geremia and Juke Joint Johnny Harper have been faced with serious health challenges in recent months. As Geremia recovers from a stroke suffered last fall and Harper recovers from a pulmonary embolism, their community — a who’s-who of Bay Area blues musicians — unquestionably rallied their support, coming out in force to play two long sets to a standing-room-only crowd at The Freight & Salvage on Wednesday.
The mood onstage and off was definitely celebratory. The musicians, many life-long friends, clearly relished the opportunity to play together again and watch each other play. When the performers weren’t onstage, they were in the house, applauding one another. No wonder: The evening was packed with standout moments, indicative of the vibrant and varied Bay Area acoustic blues scene. Harmonica virtuoso Will Scarlett played a heartfelt and nuanced set, which included a Steve Mann tune, “Holly,” that Geremia often played. Suzy Thompson took a commanding solo turn on fiddle and voice before bringing her husband Eric and bass-playing daughter Allegra to the stage for a rollicking take on Rose Henderson’s “He May Be Your Dog But He’s Wearing My Collar.” (That family trio just launched a Kickstarter for their first multi-generational project.) Likewise, the emcee for the evening, multi-instrumentalist and singer Tony Marcus, briefly put his hosting duties aside to play a moving original “Waiting for Love to Come Back in Style.”
Love was the operative word for the evening; the affection and respect the assembled musicians had for each other, palpable. The energy in the room already showed signs of having a healing effect on the evening’s beneficiaries. Harper himself took the stage late in the first set to perform an updated version of “Frankie & Albert,” before bringing out a band including Marcus, Scarlett and the great Barbara Dane for another crowd-pleasing, three-song set including Willie Dixon’s “I Just Want to Make Love to You,” as well as “How Long” and “King Salmon Blues.” It was another rousing testament to the curative powers of the blues.