Pictures and words by Duane Clawson
Two hidden gems native to St. Louis: blues music and Laclede’s Landing. First, a brief history lesson on blues music. Blues music, as many know, was born out of the Mississippi Delta and progressed north to Chicago. Around the 1950’s, blues became electrified. The St. Louis area became a hotbed for this style of blues. Laclede’s Landing was once a trading epicenter for St. Louis due to its close proximity to the Mississippi River. Today Laclede’s Landing is an epicenter for nightlife in St. Louis. The Landing is home to many St. Louis bars, restaurants, and the Big Muddy Blues Festival (TBMBF). This year was the 16th installment of TBMBF, featuring 30 bands over two days. TBMBF was the exclamation point at the end of St. Louis Bluesweek. A little extra celebration was in order as St. Louis was recently named the recipient of The National Blues Museum and Hall of Fame.
TBMBF features three stages for your listening pleasure. The two smaller (free) stages are at the corners of Morgan and 2nd St. and Lucas and 2nd St. The main stage is located at 1st and Lucas St. This year, TBMBF unfortunately had to charge admission to the main stage area, but only eight bucks to see five great bands. After covering LouFest the weekend before TBMBF, I had high expectations and was not disappointed. I was only able to cover one day of TBMBF and chose Saturday. Saturday started off on the main stage with local legend, Kim Massie. Kim Massie can take any style of music and make it her own, with a voice as big and powerful as the Mississippi River, flowing not far behind the main stage. Kim Massie let everyone know the blues was alive and well in St. Louis.
After taking in a majority of Kim Massie’s performance, I took a stroll to see what else the festival had to offer. As I wandered up Lucas St., I found more blues as Marcel Strong & the Apostles were playing to a gathering crowd in the shade of the buildings. People were already beginning to feel the effects of music and alcohol, as dancing in the streets soon began. As I meandered down 2nd St., I noticed some of the bars had set up grilling stations, cooking various meats which added a fragrant backdrop for the festival. At the corner of Morgan and 2nd St., I stopped to listen to the Lucky Old Sons (LOS) band. LOS is a great mix of the boogie-woogie piano and yakety sax sound. They also have an album out and can be found here.
As I made the circuit around the block, I noticed it was time to venture back to the main stage to catch Big Sandy and His Fly Rite Boys (BSaHFRB). BSaHFRB took what was old and made it new again. Big Sandy leads the Fly Rite Boys with a voice that belongs in 50’s and 60’s and BSaHFRB remind us that the blues can take many shapes and forms. For more on BSaHFRB and a sampling of their music, please visit them at their Myspace page. After BSaHFRB enjoyable set, I noticed for September 3rd, this day was becoming extremely hot and I needed a beverage. I made my way back to 2nd St. and caught the Paul Niehaus Band covering blues classics and they had a growing number of street dancers. While on the other corner the Ground Floor Band were playing original blues tunes mixed with funked-up versions of songs by the Rolling Stones and others.
Oh, by the way, I forgot I made my way up here to get something to drink. I finally found a perfect place to cool off and enjoy a Diet Pepsi (yes, I said Diet Pepsi) at Heartbreakers Rock and Roll Saloon. After the cool down, it was time to get back to music journalism; well, at least I thought so. Let the rain begin. As it turned out, the passing 15-minute shower was not a bad thing and it began to cool things off a bit. The shower did not slow down the festival by any means as people continued to dance in the street during Paul Niehaus’s set. I left the excitement of 2nd St. and headed back to the main stage to catch one of the highlights of this Saturday, Cee Cee James. Ms. James and her band set the tone for the remainder of the evening, with a true representation of the electrified St. Louis blues.
While covering Cee Cee James powerful set, I received a pleasant surprise. I was invited backstage with unlimited access to the stage and photography vantage points. As much as I would have liked to continue to roam the festival, the growing audience was beginning to plant their lawn chairs, and settle in for a night of blues music. In between Ms. James set and watching Kim Wilson’s crew set up the stage, I noticed that many were willing to pay the eight bucks to see the bands on the main stage. As I have said in a past article, there are always ridiculously low prices to see great music in St. Louis. Following Cee Cee James was Kim Wilson, lead vocalist and founding member of the Fabulous Thunderbirds. Kim Wilson put on a blues clinic at TBMBF. Mr. Wilson brings to the harmonica what Eddie Van Halen brings to the guitar. In the middle of their set, the band walked off stage and left Kim and his harmonica alone for a 10-minute harmonica solo. Now there’s something you don’t hear every day.
To close out a diverse music day, Roy Gaines took the main stage at TBMBF and made it his bitch. Roy Gaines is a true blues legend and has been perfecting the blues since 1934. A legend in his own right, Roy has sat in on sessions with music legends such as the Everly Brothers, the Supremes, Bobby Darin, Stevie Wonder, and Gladys Knight. Mr. Gaines also brings to the stage a large band that at times made you feel you were seeing a modern day incarnation of Count Basie. As Mr. Gaines was winding down his night, I was doing the same. I’m beat another 12-hour day of music coverage and a great history lesson of the blues and music in general. I found my way up from the main stage to find my gracious host Emily Kochan, Executive Producer of TBMBF, and thanked her for a great evening of music and hospitality. As I started walking up Morgan St. to my car, I glanced back on TBMBF as people from all walks of life were enjoying the music. I thought to myself, music truly is a universal language. Pictures from Saturday are below:
Marcel Strong and the Apostles
Lucky Old Sons
Big Sandy and His Fly Rite Boys
Ground Floor Band
Paul Niehaus Band
Cee Cee James
Contributed by Duane Clawson