Festival cancelation gives soul fans Sweet Dreams

by Ryan Snyder

With the annual Greensboro Blues Fest canceled this past weekend due to a massive weather nonevent, those in need of a little Soul had to get creative for their fix. There is one little spot in Greensboro that supplies and if you’ve ever driven by the old Left Field Tavern location outside of NewBridge Bank Park on a weekend night, you’ve surely noticed the packed parking lot and the new sign that reads “House of Jazz.” It’s Boston’s House of Jazz and Blues, to be precise, and the Boston in question is David Boston, Winston-Salem furniture mogul turned jazz don.

His club, which opened over the summer, is a workingman’s take on the Lenox Lounge-era New York City jazz scene. It’s filling the void for funky, soulful live music in downtown Greensboro with a decidedly local flair. This past Saturday night featured Sweet Dreams, a jazz/funk outfit with 25 years on the scene. The band’s patron, keyboardist and bassist Fred Mills, threatened retirement more than once during the band’s three sets, though promised to still play Boston’s club out of admiration.

As Parliament’s “One Nation Under a Groove” boomed through the house PA before the start of the band’s second set, a procession wheeled through the alcove by the front door where a lady with a huge and welcoming smile sold huge fried chicken wings soaked in homemade sauce for $1 apiece. She welcomed Mills and his accompaniment, saxophonist Lynn Woods and synth man James Yourse, back to the stage, where Mills proceeded to give birthday shouts to whomevers’ friends were willing to out them.

“Where crystal at? Stand up girl so I can see them titties, I mean face,” Mills beckoned with playful familiarity. “I can’t believe that come out my mouth. Where my mama at?” Mills wore his mischievous and occasionally self-deprecating sense of humor on his sleeve the entire night. “If you missed the first set, we ain’t as good as the chicken wings, but we alright,” he said as his banter echoed from the heavy reverb on the mic.

They opened their second set with a tribute to soul legend Teddy Pendergrass as Mills crooned over their take on the staple “Close the Door” before being joined by his son Lamont Bradsher on vocals. Bradsher is a big guy with an even bigger church-tested gospel voice, though he wasn’t afraid to throw a freestyle in the midst of their set of classic soul.

Instrumentally, the band was synthheavy with Mills even providing his signature low end on his left hand keys, though Woods provided a wellplaced sax solo here and there. With Bradsher taking over the lead, Mills peppered the Gap Band’s “Yearning For Your Love” with a little raunch to break the song’s indomitable tension. The room’s technicolored lighting scheme flickered ever more rapidly during the set’s closing medley, as Mills teased the crowd with “When Doves Cry” after commanding everyone to their feet to dance. Bradsher blasted through “Doin’ the Butt” and right into Soul For Real’s “Candy Coated Raindrops.” The transitions were smooth with a funky groove underneath, as Sweet Dreams seamlessly worked in “It Takes Two,” Engine No. 9,” and Rock Master Scott’s “The Roof is on Fire” with a soaring Usherlike tenor.

As Saturday turned into Sunday, Boston just may have solved the question on how to get bands paid in this area: he passed around a collection while Mills went into full-blown gospel mode on the organ. “Let’s bless them,” Bostin said as he held out the bucket. With a line forming at the front of the stage to give, the band had no trouble getting paid. That kind of tactic might not be for everyone, but it’s surprising how a church hymnal can alleviate a high-pressure sales situation.

Jazz/soul vets Sweet Dreams entertain a packed house at Boston’s House of Jazz and Blues. (courtesy photo)