Written by Eddie Ferranti

The word “free” usually comes with a catch these days.  Rarely do you get much without some fine print or add on to make it just a lure to buy something.  Working off a tip from some good musical friends, we pursued something free in the state of Louisiana. We were not let down!  The 25th Annual Baton Rouge Blues Festival , originating in 1981, is one of the oldest free blues festivals in America.  The festival is produced by the Baton Rouge Blues Foundation, a non-profit organization striving to preserve, promote, and propel the swamp blues and Baton Rouge culture.  Well, we came over with the intent to do some of the same from a Houston perspective.  The fest is located in and around Repentance Park and Galvez Plaza.  It has a family-friendly fun feel to it wrapped around partyin’ and good grub.  Three main areas supply the musical stages which are Front Porch Stage, Swamp Blues Stage where we camped out, and the big down the hill LA 1 Stage.  The Old State Capitol even provided live acoustical groups to enjoy. For the second year in a row, Saturday’s program was cancelled by high wind and rain.  But as the banners around the streets proudly proclaimed: “Rain don’t stop the blues!”  Two clubs, Jolie Pearl and Register Bar,  came to the rescue and rolled out mini schedules that ran from 2:30pm until well into the night featuring the likes of Kenny Neal and William Bell.
When Sunday rolled out a pretty, but still windy, day the mood was very cool.  Folks were out planting their chairs ready to boogie to the blues. This reviewer put some miles on his “21 year old” body, but it was well worth it.  Marched all over this bad boy including seven trips up and down the hill to LA 1 Stage.  Here are some thoughts on the talented group of musicians that graced these stages that day.

Hogy & The Healers

Hogy and the Healers opened the day on the Swamp Blues Stage and rocked big time.  The five-piece tight band put on a killer display of blues tunes like “Could Love Me Baby” and “I’ll Take Care of You”. Miss Hogy roamed the stage poking fun at her wind blown hair style barking out the blues with some healthy pipes.  Healthy doses of keys and electric guitar enhanced the show big time.

Lane Mack

Lane Mack kicked off the music on the LA 1 stage and brought his cosmic country swamp sound from Lafayette, Louisiana.  Dude had a heavy dose of Fogerty type vocals and packed a lot of enthusiasm which was infectious to the crowd. Mack has graced the stage with numerous national recording artists such as Robert Randolph, Marc Broussard, Eric Lindell, Sonny Landreth, and Royal  Teeth. Dude made it to the Top 48 on The Voice which he says brought him confidence to his vocals and vocal styling. Loved his meshing of swamp blues with rock country!  His stellar version of Albert King’s “Born Under a Bad Sign” was indeed a highlight.

Jonathan Long was an act we were anxious to see since we saw him jump on stage with Samantha Fish at the Rock N’ Bowl in Lafayette 2018. He is signed to her record label, Wild Heart Records, and he is full throttle hard rock blues from the get go.  His style of blasting the blues felt like Molly Hatchet had taken the stage!  The four-piece squad brought it with heavy keys, thumping bass, pounding drums, and of course scorching licks from the very theatrical Long.  Major highlight was when he brought local legend, Chris Leblanc, on stage to do Long’s “Catfish Blues” which smoked.  This Louisiana native is becoming a Dave in this area for sure.

Quiana Lynell

Quiana Lynell hit the LA 1 stage at 3pm and she had the audience in the palm of her hand from start to finish.  Girl is from Tyler, Texas and graduated from the LSU music department so she had local backing for sure.  She went on from the heart how stoked she was to see family and friends from years gone by.  QL’s resume got a big push from being the 2017 Sarah Vaughn vocal competition winner.  She featured tunes from her latest release, “A Little Love”, in a passionate display of vocal range all the while flashing a knock ya out smile!  The last cut on that album, “Sing Out March On”, features four generations of her family on it.  How bout dem apples?!  Her favorite musical influences are Dinah Washington and Irma Thomas. She calls her style “jazz colliding with soul” and it fits.

Cedric Burnside

Cedric Burnside has some great pedigree in his grandfather, R.L. Burnside, and his daddy Calvin Jackson.  Dude was literally born to the blues! He acknowledged that fact and described his music as Mississippi Hill Country music.  He still hails from Mississippi. CB has lost a lot of family over the last few years and he says music helps funnel the pain to powerful blues feelings on both guitar and drums.  In fact, he won drummer of the year award four years in a row from Blues Music Awards and his 2015 release, “Descendants of Hill Country”, was Grammy nominated in 2015.  He added another musician half way thru the set and they traded off on drums and smokin’ geetar!  The sun bathed crowd got into it major.  These lyrics stayed with me: “Somebody coming to make me lose my cool…….sometimes it’s hard to stay cool!”  Amen brotha.

John “Papa” Gros

John ‘Papa’ Gros had some issues and took the stage about thirty minutes late, but no problem with that after the steaming non-stop funky blues sheet he threw out to the hill @ LA 1!  Dude is a New Orleans native and I swear Dr. John had taken over the gig. Gros is a masterful keyboard player who knows how to lead and deflect to his awesome band he had this fine afternoon. The tight arrangements, rip it up electric guitar jamming, and stand up and take notice rhythm section rocked the damn place upside down.He dropped six albums with the band Papa Grows Funk, but now is solo. In name only because with this band and the following he showed that there were many souls stirred and toes tapped!

Deacon John Moore

Deacon John Moore in a nutshell does it all.  Another New Orleans native who can handle anything from jump blues, R&B, rock and roll, and just high energy entertainment.  He was some kind of photo op for me full of dance moves and hoisting umbrellas!  Moore is an excellent band leader who was a session player with the likes of Irma Thomas, Allen Toussiant, and Ernie K. Doe.  This gent started his first band in 1960 and at 77 shows zero sign of slowing down.  For a half century he has made a good living singing in a music rich city that loves him.  You should, too if you get a chance.

Mavis Staples

Mavis Staples brought the curtain down on this year’s festival and the hill at LA 1 was packed with adoring fans.  What can you say about her that has not already been said?!  At 80 it is amazing how much get up and go the lady displayed.  She says she goes to the gym three days a week and boxes.  Classic.  A powerful singer with a voice that was strong as ever.  She is an icon of gospel, blues, R&B, and truthful songs that talk about injustice in the world.  Loved when she said stuff like : “Y’all gotta look at your own self before you call out others!”  Her auto biography, “I’ll a Take You There”, is quite the story indeed. Mavis has such a good attitude on death that she was quoted in a recent Rolling Stone: “I have done what I was put here for. I don’t want to die no time soon, but I’m ready…….”  Let’s hope that does not happen anytime soon!

In closing, this was definitely worth the drive over from H-Town.  Tip of the hat to fellow Houston “animals of the blues”, Mr. & Mrs. Vaughn, for contributions to this piece.  They can be heard in Houston-and streaming on line Louisiana- on KPFT.org every Sunday morning from 8-11 with Blues on the Move!  Talk about musical blues spirit.   Rose and I have been visiting Louisiana for 28 years running
and never regret coming. Early on the crowd was busting my chops about being media from Houston, but they quickly warmed up when they saw how I was everywhere all day covering the event like a blanket.  Security at the pits of the stages were especially impressed and made me feel special.  They died laughing when I asked them where the “tow line” was from the bottom to the top of the hill at LA 1 stage!  Friendly nature is a quality I have always loved about the state of Louisiana.  Love to talk at ya and make you feel like you have known them forever.  Of course the food is a major draw , especially jambalaya , which was available along with easy to get goodies of all varieties.  Getting around was easy and if you felt like partying hard you could score VIP which was a major party at both major stages.  Checkout Baton Rouge Blues Foundation and Baton Rouge Blues Festival to keep up with good musical adventures next time you visit……..AND try the 26th Annual in 2020!   God bless free live music!!!