Tampa Bay Blues Festival was celebrating it’s 25th year in Vinoy Park on the shores of The Gulf of Mexico in Saint Petersburg, Florida between April 12th and 14th 2019. Spring in Florida usually has mild weather, but this year it appeared to be a little unseasonably warm with temperatures touching 90 degrees. This Blues Festival was laid out perfectly, with the edges lined with food trucks and booths with a great variety of things to eat like Cuban food, Thai food, Hawaiian ice cream, and Southern barbecue to name a few. VIP seating and tents were available with food and drink included in the VIP Package. Several portable rest rooms accommodated the crowd without waiting lines. Everything was perfect for a great 3-day weekend of fun and music.
Making the trek from Norway, Spoonful of Blues and J.T. Lauritsen & The Buckshot Hunterskicked off the festival. Both bands were perfect to get things started, playing a bit of Chicago style blues. The crowd was then treated to the soulful voice of Curtis Salgado, the 2018 Soul Blues Male Artist of The Year. For those that have seen and love the movie “The Blues Brothers, John Belushi’s inspiration for his character Jake Blues, was Curtis Salgado. Curtis didn’t disappoint as he belted out earth shaking vocals and played the harmonica dressed in a suit wearing sunglasses; the stereotypical bluesman.
Samantha Fish was next on stage with her Marilyn Monroe looks, wearing a multi colored/multi patterned mini dress with knee high black boots. Samantha began by shredding her signature 512 hollow-body Delaney guitar. Samantha Fish is a serious guitar player and the audience was energized by her performance.
After the sunset, promptly at 8:30pm, the first day’s festival headliner Jonny Lang exploded on stage from the beginning of his set to the end. I don’t think I have ever seen such emotion as Jonny’s face contorted with each note. A child prodigy whose career started at age 13, Jonny Lang has had 5 albums charting on the top 50 of the Billboard 200 Chart and won a Grammy for “Turn Around”. Jonny Lang was energizing, and the fans went wild. The bill for the day was perfect, choosing artists that built into the crescendo leaving those in attendance wanting more at the conclusion of the day. Excitement was in the air as the crowd left wondering if tomorrow would top what they had experienced this day.
Blackburn Brothersfrom Canada started day two as the crowd shuffled in to find their seats. Many were lagging as some of the local bars and clubs held after parties that went late into the early morning.Vanessa Collierwas next on the schedule as she played the saxophone, the guitar, and sang. Her talent and infectious smile warmed the hearts of the audience. Vanessa was enjoying the moment as well and cast a genuine appreciative smile as she thanked and waved to the audience as she walked off stage. Vanessa Collier was the darling of the festival, and the fans lined up after her performance to meet her at the autograph tent.
Castro Coleman was a Mississippi gospel guitarist, but in 2013 he changed his name to Mr. Sipp and just exploded onto the blues scene. Mr. Sipp’s popularity has made him one of the most popular blues acts today, touring heavily in the US, South America, Europe, and China. His set brought smiles to all as the fun was just getting started. Welch Ledbetter Connectionfollowed the strong performance of Mr. Sipp. Those in the blues world were cheering on the strength of Monster Mike Welch as he continued on without his partner, lead singer and guitarist, Michael Ledbetter, who died January 21 of this year from complications from epilepsy at the age of 33. Monster Mike put on an inspired performance as he was supported by Curtis Salgado on vocals (from day one), and Vanessa Collier on saxophone. It was my favorite performance of the day! How could it not be?
Shemekia Copeland was up next with her powerful yet sultry blues vocals as the festival was still filling up for the headliner of day two, Boz Scaggs. Like the day before, the sunset and the stage lights were turned on. At promptly 8:30pm, Boz Scaggs opened his set with “JoJo” and continued to play all of his hits including “Lowdown” and “Lido Shuffle”. The set was quite a contrast to the rest of the day, but it swelled the crowd to about 20 thousand in attendance, in my opinion. Day two was another great day and temperatures were in the mid to high eighties with the humidity peaking around 1pm giving way to the warm gulf breezes of The Gulf of Mexico.
The third and final day which was unofficially named Louisiana Day started withRosie Ledett and The Zydeco Playboys.Zydeco musicis known for a sound that is predominately produced in New Orleans with Creole influence; a fast tempo music dominated by a piano accordion and a washboard or rub board. The crowd again was slowly getting to their positions as another night of after parties at the local clubs went late. Rosie was clearing the cobwebs out of those a bit weary. This day started at 1pm, a bit later than the two previous days. The weather today was extremely windy and the backdrop on the stage was removed. Cloud cover was heavier and that kept the temperatures in the mid to low 80’s. But today was different as a storm was bearing down on the Festival from the West out in The Gulf of Mexico. The audience and the event planners were watching their weather apps to see if rain was going to ruin this party.
Next, Mike Zito took the stage. Although Zito isn’t from Louisiana, he was still welcome as he combined blues and soul the same way they do down in N’awlins. Zito started his career at an early age and by his late teens he had begun his career in the St Louis music scene. This was another great performance and an introduction to me of a great musician. Then it was time to get back to Zydeco with the funky C.J. Chenier & The Red Hot Louisiana Band who really brought down the house with his show. It made me want to jump on a plane to New Orleans as Zydeco music is just plain fun. The next artist was Kenny Neil. Kenny Neil is The Real Deal when you speak about blues. He comes from a family of musician and I believe he was related to everyone in his band. Kenny sings, plays guitar and harmonica. I found my feet moving from beginning to the end of his set. Kenny Neil has a Grammy nomination and two BMA’s (Blues Music Awards).
With the sun setting and the storm on the horizon, a quick turnaround got the final days headliner on stage – Tab Benoit, winner of B.B. King Entertainer of the Year in 2007 and consecutive winner of Blues Music Awards Contemporary Blues Male Artist in 2012 & 2013. Benoit was also inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2010. Tab Benoit was a great choice to close this festival out and everyone in attendance was glad he got his set in before the storm.
Musically these were the three best days of music I have experienced, and I will definitely be counting the days until the 26th Tampa Bay Blues Festival in 2020.