Call it Stormy Saturday, but the Carolina Blues Fest rolled on

by Ryan Snyder

They came for the blues and stayed for the funk. There was plenty of the funky stuff going around, and not just in the earthen-scented parking deck, but only for those who weathered the storm, that is. The 23 rd annual installment of the Carolina Blues Festival on Saturday was all blue skies and blues licks until around 5 p.m. when Mother Nature challenged the tenacity of hundreds of music lovers.

Torrential rains did their damage to lovers of North Carolina wines and winos alike at Winston-Salem’s Salute! Festival before making their way east in an effort to ruin someone else’s good time. Nevertheless, the blues have been about conquering adversity since Billie Holliday sang her own “Stormy Blues,” but unlike Holliday herself, the festival wasn’t down so long. It started with the Chapel Hill Hammond B3 wizard Adrian Duke’s set and went on to shut down the Nighthawks set temporarily. The skies eventually relented and those who remained were treated to the upshot of the festival’s dogged perseverance. Houston’s Diunna Greenleaf claims that she was built for comfort, but she put on one of the sauciest sets of the entire day. With “Steady Rollin’” Bob Margolin on in support of her already dynamite band Blue Mercy, the big-legged and bigger-voiced Greenleaf tore through a few soul and R&B classics along with her own imitable gospel and blues works. Her music was steeped in the soaring soul of Aretha Franklin, the sultry R&B of Sam Cooke and the gritty wails of Koko Taylor with a little humor to boot. It’s usually an affront to say that the highlight of a performer’s set was cover material, but her take on a couple in particular were good enough to bring the most resolute traditionalists to their knees. She cast a sweeping hush over the hundreds under the festival’s big tent with her emotional take on the best of Otis Redding. With Margolin on accompaniment, Greenleaf’s towering voice renewed the adoration of “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” among so many in the audience. More indicative of Margolin’s work while a part of Greenleaf’s band, the local bluesman switched over to the low end to close out the exhaustive set. The distinctive opening bass line of Sly Stone’s “If You Want Me to Stay” was instantly recognizable to the crowd of devotees to the classics and sent the front of the crowd, at least those not anchored to camp chairs, into a spinning and stamping frenzy. The crowd thinned as the evening wore on, but not the energy. A giant of New Orleans music had yet to take the stage and those who remained through to the end were given shown the deepest appreciation by the youngest and possibly the funkiest of the famed Neville Brothers. Percussionist Cyril Neville and members of his band Tribe 13 closed out the rainsoaked day with New Orleans favorites, left-field covers and selected pieces from his newest album Brand New Blues. There was a salvo of dual percussion, deep bass and bouncy wah-wah from the top of the show. Though the album’s title track seemed to borrow more from Motown than it did from the Big Easy, provocative double-entendre of “Cream Themed Beans” brought the show back to the Delta in short order. Not to be outdone by Greenleaf, Cyril dipped into a slightly different well of stunning covers. His came from the annals of ’60s psychedelia with a near-total reworking of Erma Franklin’s “Piece of My Heart,” most famously performed by Janis Joplin, and percussively-heavy version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Who Knows.” Neville brought out his own special guest for the second half of his show, as a flamboyant and fullycostumed Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, head of the Mardi Gras Indian Golden Eagle tribe, took over on vocals. It was impossible to miss Boudreaux with his colossal green and yellow feathered headdress and suit, though with his eyes completely covered, he fortunately missed the reactions of some of the gawkers unprepared for the sight. Neville closed out his show with “Shake Your Gumbo,” which sounded strangely like the Beatles “Hard Days Night,” and sent the weary stragglers home with a few orders. “I want you to go home and tell everyone what you heard here, but that’s if you liked what you heard,” Neville shouted. “If you didn’t like it, don’t say nothing to nobody.” I think it’s safe to say that there wasn’t much silence among those who witnessed this one.

BobMargolin brought a little gravitas to the set by Diuanna Greenleaf& Blue Mercy at Saturday’s Carolina Blues Festival in Greensboro’sFestival Park. (photos by ryan Snyder)

BigChief Monk Boudreaux, here performing with Cyril Neville, just may bethe first Mardi Gras Indian ever to prowl the streets of Greensboro.