Slapdash festival is hardly strictly blues

by Ryan Snyder

When is a blues festival not really a blues festival? When it’s called the Greensboro Blues Festival, apparently. In one of the strangest concerts this writer has ever seen, only a scant percentage of the six performances of the evening could be qualified as what most know as blues music. Instead, the performers — J. Blackfoot, Mel Waiters, Roy C, Sir Charles Jones, Theodis Ealey, Shirley Brown and Calvin Richardson —were far more clearly that of the R&B ilk. Sure the word “blues” does appear in the term “rhythm and blues,” but this night more closely resembled an R-rated version of Chairmen of the Board than that of the twelve- and eight-bar variety.

After being postponed from its original date of Feb. 5, it seemed that most might have forgotten about the festival altogether. One can blame the dismal attendance on it rescheduled date of Good Friday, or even the fact it was too perfect of an evening to be spent sitting inside, but its wholly unappealing lineup might have been the most obvious culprit. Lacking anyone of a genuine headlining merit, the roster was cobbled together out

of semi-obscure soul singers and tawdry, latenight Urban radio acts. The cancellation of Sir Charles Jones eroded the blues pretense even further, though (decent) guitarist and bandleader Theodis Ealey was both the first and last vestige of what at least a few grumbling, head-shaking attendees came to hear.

Ealey asked the crowd, “How many of y’all have ever been to a juke joint?” as he went on to say, “well, after this one, just tell ’em, ‘Yes, I went to one at the Greensboro Coliseum the other night.’” Ealey, however, was unconvincing in his portrayal of a juke guitarist, unless it’s common practice to abscond with the melody from the Staples’ “I’ll Take You There” and Traffic’s “Light Up Or Leave Me Alone” for use with their own lyrics.

With each of the first five acts getting a meager four-song set, the motivation to go completely over-the-top was high. Ealey was gyrating on the mic five minutes into his set and fumbling a solo with his tongue shortly thereafter. He was followed up by gospel-soul singer Calvin Richardson, who spent most of what sounded like a single 15-minute long out in the audience being fondled by a dozen middle-aged women, though he did close out his abbreviated set with an impassioned cover of Bobby Womack’s “Woman’s Gotta Have It.”

With an onstage entourage and band that numbered over a dozen, Richardson built on the inurbane and slightly bawdy tone set by Ealey, but it was “legendary” R&B diva Shirley Brown who took the evening’s tenor from playfully-blue to brazenly lewd. The short, squat, and hugely-coiffed soulstress was known for her handful of mild hits in the ’70s like “Woman to Woman,” but at least one person will remember her most for coming onstage and asking the crowd, “How many ladies in here got that good c——?” Coupled with an emcee telling the jokes that got Martin Lawrence banned from Saturday Night Live between sets, one had to question the values of the dozens who brought their kids to see this debacle.

The biggest question that was raised throughout it all, however, was, “How does anyone on this tour make any money?” The smallest band on the bill was the six-piece ensemble of Roy C, and Richardson had three guys onstage in the same white suits as the band whose only job appeared to be supervision of his microphone cord. The weathered stage backdrop hinted at a meager production budget, though a URL for a B-movie released three years ago at its top said all that needed to be said about the “Blues is Alright Tour.”