Written by Jim Bille
Jan 12, 2013 at 08:00 PM

ImageBlues harmonica overload was served up as the main course the other night at the Napa Valley Opera House when Mark Hummel hosted his latest incarnation of Mark Hummel’s Blues Harmonica Blowout.

Hummel has been hosting his blowout production for a number of years now and can be seen performing around the country at any given time.

As usual Hummel had some of the cream of the harmonica crop assembled for this incredible show as well as one of the best who’s who lists of Bay Area guitarists in tow.

Besides the master of ceremonies himself, Hummel was again able to gather an amazing group of players that included Rick Estrin, Lazy Lester, Ron Thompson, Joe Louis Walker, Kenny Neal, Little Charley Baty and Kim Wilson as well as RW Grigsby and Wes Starr on bass and drums.

ImageBlues legend Jimmy Reed’s music was the theme of the show and much of Reed’s classic work was performed throughout the evening. Hummel did mention that some of the music featured on the bill would at least be Jimmy Reed like as each artist would take their turn honoring the blues great.

 The show opened with a short film showing Reed in concert sometime back in the 60’s as Hummel gave a short biography and history lesson on the artist.

That was about it for the talking as Hummel kicked things off with a few jumpin’ numbers that set the tone for the rest of the evening.  After that, one by one, each guest took the spotlight and gave us all a good blues harmonica whippin’.

Kenny Neal, mostly known to me as a world class blues guitarist, didn’t touch a string this night choosing instead to blow some fantastic tunes on harp.

Rick Estrin of the Night Cat’s fame was in fine form and fine sharkskin suit fashion treating the audience to some of the stellar harmonica antics for which he is so well known.

ImageBay Area native Ron Thompson actually played with Jimmy Reed as well as many other notable bluesmen from the day and judging from his performance it was evident that he had learned his lessons well.

Lazy Lester Johnson was the evenings living legend. He’s now pushing 80 but you’d never know it from the way he sounded as he held the crowd spellbound performing some of his own classic material including “Sugar Coated Love”.

You know that Kim Wilson is the best because that’s just the way it is and has been for a long time. Wilson’s Fabulous Thunderbird days served as a stepping stone for the harp master and he showed us all why he’s still on top.  A couple of Wilson’s Jimmy Reed contributions for the show included “Ain’t that Lovin You”, and a smoking version of “Bad Boy”.

I was particularly excited to see Joe Louis Walker since I have never had an actual live sighting of this guitar beast before. Not only did he thrill the house with some hot guitar work but his harp playing stood up nicely too. Walker really hit one out of the park when he performed “Got to Find My Baby”.

No doubt one of my favorite guitar players, Little Charley Baty, worked his behind off the entire evening. This guy has been and is still about  the hardest working guitar player on the blues scene today. Although not as road active as he once was Baty still makes appearances for special shows with special friends like the ones featured on this roster.

ImageLed by Hummel, the entire ensemble joined in on Jimmy Reed’s “You Don’t Have to Go “for the final song of the evening. The artists soloed and played together for an extended harp jam version of the classic number and brought the house down with one of the best tunes of the evening.

If you are ever off wine tasting in Napa California you should schedule it around a visit to the Napa Valley Opera House located in the heart of downtown Napa. This little theater has got it all when it comes to great acoustics, great seating, great staff and of course great performances.