It's that time of year again. Labor Day weekend is upon us and with it comes blues time -- the 14th Annual Blues by the Bay down along the waterfront in Eureka. As always the party brings blues people -- fans and musicians -- from all over with many different hues of blue in evidence.
Things kick off Saturday morning (10:30) with jazzy blues by the Queen of Shelter Cove, Anna Hamilton and her trio. Hamilton, formerly known as Anna Banana, is whip smart, feisty and funny as hell -- when she wants to be -- dead serious at other times. Sure it's a long day, but don't skip her set.
Otis Taylor comes next (11:50) with a solo set of what he calls "trance" blues. "I think I fit into a blues fest nicely, but a lot of people think I don't," he told me in a call from his home in Boulder, Colo. That could be because his unusual take is more or less alt. blues -- that's the feel of his latest, Clovis People Vol. 3, with a sound and feel drawing as much from North African guitar styles as from the Delta.
Then it's the Ty Curtis Band (1:10) a funky steady rollin' blues quartet from Salem with a strong new album, Cross That Line, featuring Ty on guitar and Hank Shreve on harmonica and keys.
Young Shane Dwight (2:30) is a San Jose native, but since one of his strengths is his songwriting, he recently moved to songwriter central, Nashville. He's still a bluesman, but with a touch of country and Americana mixed in.
Local favorite Curtis Salgado, the winner of the 2010 Blues Music Award for Soul Blues Male Artist of the Year, is also from Oregon. His playing is as strong as ever with his new release, Clean Getaway, and a new lease on life after a life-threatening illness. The Curtis Salgado Big Band (3:50) features Curtis on harp and vocals backed by a killer band including a horn section and back-up singers. Watch out. Sounds like a show stealer.
Rounding things out Saturday (5:25) is the Commander Cody Band led by red hot boogie woogie piano man George "Commander" Frayne of Lost Planet Airmen fame who got his start in the ’60s playing rockabilly and blues tunes like "Hot Rod Lincoln" and "Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar." Now based in upstate New York, he's doing pretty much the same with a new band and a new record, Dopers, Drunkers and Everyday Losers. Expect some twang from his pedal steel player and driving boogie from the Commander himself.
Sunday's show begins at the ungodly hour of 9:15 a.m. with a bluesy set by the rockin' local dance band Dr. Squid. They're followed (at 10:30) by Red Mystics who may look familiar to local Jazz Fest fans. Bassist/front woman Liza Carbe and guitarist JP Durand are founding members of the Latin fusion band Incendio. Here they add keys and shift into electric blues mode.
Rod Piazza and The Mighty Flyers (11:50) rock you into the noon hour with Rod blowing Chicago-style harp and his wife Honey on the keys. Teresa James and The Rhythm Tramps (1:10) has Houston-born Teresa out front on keyboards backed by a strong band.
L.A.-based guitarist Walter Trout (2:30) honed his chops playing with Canned Heat and John Mayall's Bluesbreakers then went solo at the end of the ’80s with his own rootsy take on blues fusion.
San Francisco's Tommy Castro Band (3:50) returns to BbtB for the umpteenth time. Castro totally dominated this year's Blues Music Awards, taking home honors for Contemporary Blues Album of the Year for his latest, Hard Believer, along with Band of the Year, Contemporary Blues Artist of the Year and BB King Entertainer of the Year. He is indeed a helluva entertainer.
Last (starting 5:25, ending at 7) but far from least is the legendary Texas blues of The Fabulous Thunderbirds. Harmonica master Kim Wilson founded the band in 1976 with guitarist Jimmie Vaughn. Wilson's the constant here, working with a long string of stellar guitar players -- currently Johnny Moeller and Mike Keller trade licks, laying down smokin' R&B and serious blues.
You come for the music, but you'll also find some fine barbecue and other food, your favorite brews, wine and cocktails, arts and crafts, and most important, your favorite people, friends you may only see once a year -- you know, blues people.
The 14th Annual Blues by the Bay runs Saturday, Sept. 4 and Sunday, Sept. 5 at Halvorsen Park at the foot of L St. on the Eureka waterfront. Gates open at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, 8:45 a.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $45 for single days, $85 for a two-day pass at the gate, $80 in advance, kids 12 and under free. For more information go to www.bluesbythebay.org or call Redwood Coast Music Festivals at 445-3378.