When it comes to music festivals I’m a relative newcomer. However, of those I have attended, the annual Wheeling Heritage Bluesfest ranks at the top. Not only is the entertainment superb but the hospitality and accommodation is even better.
The venue is in downtown Wheeling aside the Ohio River, easy to get in and out of, adequate and affordable parking, beautiful, well maintained, plenty of seating, not a bad seat on the grounds, and if you don’t like their seats bring your own.
Matter of fact, you can bring your own sun shelter, your own cooler, your own ice, your own food, your own soft-beverages, and your own willingness to have a great time at a very reasonable ticket price. Hell, you can even bring your own dog, no ticket required.
The entire 3-day event can be witnessed for just $70. That’s easily what a 1-event concert at Riverbend would run. In Wheeling, however, you get all the blues you can absorb and each evening there will be several internationally known blues acts.
Blues festivals share something in common with bluegrass festivals. The performers often mingle in the crowd before and after their sets and, by and large, are very agreeable to fans coming up and engaging in conversation. Years ago I sat on a lawn chair next to bluegrass pioneer, Ralph Stanley, and we chewed the fat for quarter of an hour before his next set began.
Last year the headliners included British blues and rock legend, John Mayall, fathers of the blues Pinetop Perkins, Willie Smith and Hubert Sumlin, James “Super Chikin” Johnson, John Lee Hooker, Jr., and many more. I was very fortunate to have witnessed Perkins who, at close to 100 years old, passed away just a few months later.
Several great bands and singers started this year’s fest and got the crowd prepped for the evening’s star power. First on stage Friday evening was award winning singer-songwriter, Candye Kane. Kane is an excellent performer who revels in her “trailer trash” up bringing. My one problem with her is she talks too much between numbers. It’s the music, lady, the music!
Kane was followed by Paul Oscher, a multi-talented, multi-instrument, musician who made blues history when he became the first white musician to play in a major blues band. In his case it was the man himself, McKinley “Muddy Waters” Morganfield.
Oscher wowed the crowd with stories about having lived in Muddy’s basement along side blues piano great, Otis Span. Oscher was a young harp player and had been hired by Muddy to play harp in a band that is famous for its harp players. He learned to play piano at the hands of his roommate, Spam. His mastery of the guitar, he said, came from simply peeking over Muddy’s shoulder.
The difference between Oscher’s talking and that of Kane is , Oscher’s has a direct relationship to the blues and its history. Kane’s ramblings were too much about Kane.
Finishing the evening’s joy was the master blues guitarist, Bob Margolin. Margolin, who is white, has been on the blues scene for decades and was also a member of the Muddy Walter’s band. It appears that Waters didn’t care much about skin color, just talent. Judge me not by the color of my skin, just by how many notes I can bend out of these guitar strings.
Margolin was billed as Bob Margolin’s Vizztone Blues Revue and was joined on stage by some legends as well as a relative newcomer to the blues. Mac Arnold is a South Carolina bass player with a history in the genre. He awe struck the audience with his take on T-Bone Walker’s classic, Stormy Monday. Preceding that he brought people to their feet with a demonstration of blues as played on a 3-string gasoline can guitar. Such instruments are the very roots blues and folk music sprouted from.
Matt Hill backed up Margolin on guitar and though he is a newbie, he’s making a name for himself, having been chosen this years Best New Artist Debut. He plays a unique one-off solid-body electric that bares no label. Undoubtedly a home brew but proving that in the right musicians hands a piece of drift wood could melt the paint off walls.
Gaye Adegbalola came on stage for several fast numbers whipping the crowd into an even greater roar. Just by chance Gaye and I met while we were both sitting on a concrete wall enjoying some of the festival food. She has an incredible story having taught 8th grade science for 18 years before pursuing a full-time career in music. For a number of years she was a founding member of the group Saffire – The Uppity Blues Women. Since 2009 she has been appearing with various groups while focusing her attention on song writing. Not everyday you meet a bump and grind blues lady with degrees in biology, chemistry and a masters in education. This is the kind of person I love, someone with great depth of knowledge and real-life experience.
Here are some links to YouTube videos I shot and uploaded of the various Friday night acts:
Bob Margolin and Mac Arnold doing a number in which Arnold displays his talents playing a left-handed gasoline can guitar.
Gaye Adegbaloga shakin’ her “money maker.”
Paul Oscher doing a number on his old Harmony and playing some harp along with it.
Bob Margolin and Mac Arnold play their take on T-Bone Walker’s classic Stormy Monday.