Brevard Blues and Bar-B-Que Festival (Brevard NC – June 5-6, 2015)
For the last 70 years, the Brevard Music Center has been hosting 400 young music students for a seven week summer course culminating with pro and student musicians commingling in over 8o musical performances. But for the last two years, one weekend in June caters to a different set of performers and students of all ages. The curriculum is blues, and the only studying done is on how hard to party. A good mix of local regional and national acts fill the stage Friday and Saturday. But the performers aren’t always as announced. Friday’s openers, Dangerous Gentlemens featured an an extra added attraction. Anson Funderburgh, not due to play till Saturday night’s closing set with the Lone Star/Golden State Review, came in early and sat in with the Gents for their whole set. The band was transformed with Funderburgh’s presence. The guitarist doesn’t showboat, just stands patiently playing rhythm til he gets the nod, then lays down a solo that’s so in the moment and so unique, you can see every guitar player on stage in the crowd and onstage thinking “I wish I’d thought of that.”
Top to bottom: Anson Funderburgh,Doug Deming, Dennis Gruenling, Mark Hummel (photos by Grant Britt)
The only break in Funderburgh’s laid-back persona occurred when the band started a tune that sounded like Slim Harpo’s “Tee-Ni Ne Ni Nu.” The guitarist looked questioningly at the band’s other guitarist before stepping forward to check the setlist at his feet. And even though he didn’t solo on it, his rhythm playing was the heartbeat and soul of the tune. Asked afterward about his apparent confusion during the song, Funderburgh just laughed: “I was just tryin’ to figger out what key that sucker was in,” he said. And as for the reason for his unscheduled appearance, Funderburgh said he and the South Carolina-based band go way back. “I broke down once in Anderson, South Carolina and these guys carried me all the way to Montgomery for my next gig,” Funderburgh said. “They’re really sweet guys.”
His relationship with bandmate Charlie Baty, who also showed up a day early and did a guest shot on Friday with another band, seems a bit more adversarial, but in a way that brothers pick at one another. Shown a picture of the two playing together at a gig last year, Baty points to his image, and says, “Who’s that handsome guy?”
Both Baty and Funderburgh get a chance to strut their stuff with the next band, but in seperate appearances. Doug Deming and the Jewel Tones with Dennis Gruenling weren’t the headliner Friday night, but they should have been. It’s a hard act to follow. Guitarist Deming is a chameleon, able to morph from a rockabilly rave up to Charlie Christian style jazz in an eyeblink, often in the same tune.
Gruenling’s harp cuts like a back alley switchblade rumble, gritty hard core Chicago blues slicing bleeding gashes into the tunes for Deming to sew up with his guitar. Fats Domino’s “Ready,Willing And Able” gets an amped-up rockabilly treatment. “Saturday Night Fish Fry” has Dennis jumping up in Doug’s face to deliver his stabbing harp solos.
Anson steps in for some low down and dirty but classy solo work on “You Don’t Love Me Blues.” Pretty ‘s too prissy a word for his work here, but its sure is nice. Dennis comes up to have a conversation in bluespeak on harp, returning the tune to its grinding, nasty stank foot core. Anson splits and Baty comes up after Deming comments that he’s spent his whole life trying to play like these two. Baty steps out on “I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead,You Rascal You,” but this version had nothing in common with Louis Armstrong’s classic. Doug and Charlie vamp jazzy chords underneath while Dennis chugs along like a freight train on an uphill grind. Baty and Deming end up head to head,Baty’s guitar rattling like a T-model Ford about to throw a rod. The two guitarists just beat the pants off the tune, and the crowd gives them a standing ovation. The set ends with Roy Milton’s “Reelin and Rockin’,” jazzy rock like Les Paul all expressoed up.
Mac Arnold was in the headline slot, but after what had transpired before, his set seemed lackluster.
Saturday afternoon featured Anson on deck once again, this time with the Lee Griffin Band Funderburgh had a burbling b-3 onstage to contend with throughout the set, but seemed content to be a laid back sideman playing rhythm. But when he did get a chance to solo, it transformed both the band and the tune.
Shane Pruitt looked more like a southern rocker than a bluesman, but as soon as he picked up a guitar, his blues roots were revealed on a smooth version of B. B. King’s “Someday After Awhile.” Pruitt showed off his versatility on a handful of tunes, rattling along like Hound Dawg Taylor, blazing away with some Albert King riffs.
The band vamped behind him as Funderburgh stepped onstage, falling right into a slow, deliberate blues, his guitar sounding like barbed wire being plucked on a Ray Charles’-style tune. “Welcome to the Anson Funderburgh memorial weekend,” one fan says, but Pruitt holds his own, all fuzzed up and sliding around on a John Lee Hooker-ish boogie before Anson steps in and tightens it up with some twang pulling pliers.
Pam Taylor’s set is puzzling. There’s no blues in sight. She put up some country rock, a smattering of beach music and some hokum, all delivered in a down home L.A. (Lower Alabama) drawl.
Rick Rushing and The Blues Strangers set had more dynamics. A Hendrix squall dominated his set with splashes of reggae sprinkled in.
But there was no question on who deserved the headliner slot Saturday night. From the minute Funderburgh, Mark Hummel and Baty took the stage as the Golden State Lone Star Review, he festival belonged to them. Anson’s twang, Baty’s gypsy jazz and Hummell riding on top with his Chicago blues meshed smoothly on the opener, Howling Wolf’s raucous “Shake For Me.” Drummer Wes Starr pounds out the Bo Diddley rhythm, Hummel roaring on harp while Baty pours out more clang than usual for him, Funderburgh snapping strands of twang off an apparently endless spool. Hummel’s harpspeak on Muddy’s “What Is That She Got” sets up Baty’s low and lonesome fingerpickin’ that has Funderburgh chuckling at his rival’s histrionics. For Slim Harpo’s “Scratch My Back,” the band tears the skin right off Harpo’s back, Baty and Funderburgh pecking at each other with chicken scratch guitar while Hummel chomps on his harp like an ear of corn, spitting out kernels in all directions.
Hummel’s newly minted reworking of Lee Allen’s 1957 hit “Walking With Mr. Lee” rivals the tone of Lee’s tenor sax, harp buzzing like it’s trying desperately to form words. Hummel closes with the title cut of his latest release, The Hustle Is Really On. But nobody is getting hustled here tonight. This is the real deal, raw, powerful stuff that’s timeless, appealing to all ages and musical persuasions. Although its only in its second year. As long as the Brevard Blues and Bar B Q Festival keeps serving up fare of this quality, there’ll always be plenty of grateful customers wanting more.