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Concert Review of 7th Annual Congressional Blues Festival December 1, 2010

Posted by David W. King in Uncategorized.
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The Congressional Blues Festival is one of Washington D.C.’s premier annual music events. Past headline acts include top artists such as Levon Helm, Taj Mahal, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and more. Bill Wax, XM radio deejay, said it best as this festival presents “a lot of shades and reflections of the blues”. The Congressional Blues Festival is dedicated to giving back to American Roots music and has partnered with organizations like Music Maker Relief Foundation and with The Blues Foundation. Over 1 million dollars has been raised and donated to these charitable organizations.

This year the musical lineup was the incredible Robert Randolph & the Family Band, guitar legend Bobby Parker, the powerful Sol & Funk Root, and the spirited Howard Gospel Choir. The crowd was lined up in anticipation to get inside the National Building Museum, to hear all the great musical acts and enjoy the food and drinks included with the ticket.

As festival goers entered the building they received a taste of great music of the evening: Sol & Funk Root. Sol is an incredible guitarist and vocalist who has performed with musical heavyweights Taj Mahal and Kenny Wayne Shepherd, as well as with a broad range of roots, blues, and funk pioneers. Sol started off strong with an unusually funky twist on the Bob Dylan tune “Serve Somebody”. The band then dove into several spirited originals “Work It For Me”, “Sweet Sugah Momma” and “Your Love”. Sol and his second guitarist Bobby Thompson (who tours with SOJA and Junior Marvin) both energetically played off of each other, trading tasty licks, and complimenting each other perfectly, as the crowd swarmed close to the stage and begin to dance. The drummer Scott Rabino and bassist Mike Tony Echols locked in tight grooves for Sol to dance over with his fretwork. Sol & Funk Root presented an array of funk, blues, r&b, and rock music catering to the festival crowd and ended with the infectious groove of their original “Let’s Get Down”.

With crowd warmed up and ready, the Howard University’s Gospel Choir took the stage. This joyful choir skillfully performed “When the Saints go Marching In”. Their heavenly voices blended perfectly. The director then broke it down for their tune “Thank You for These Blessings” and then the lively “O Happy Day. The choir was around thirty singers or so Their sweet harmonies and arrangements were a nice addition to the festival and reflected some of Robert Randolph’s gospel roots.

Next up was blues legend Bobby Parker and his five piece band. Bobby Parker kicked into high gear with a fast pace instrumental and then hit the audience with a slow blues number. “Breakin Up Somebody’s Home” an Albert King cover and “Superstitious” by Howling Wolf provided two funky blues tunes that allowed Parker to showcase his stinging guitar playing. His playing made it clear to see how he influenced Carlos Santana, Jimmy Page, and John Lennon, among others. The crowd enthusiastically cheered as Bobby Parker performed his 1961 r&b hit “Watch Your Step”, perhaps not even knowing this song was later covered by Santana and others. Throughout his set he graciously showcased his talented saxophonist and also the harmonica player for solos. Parkers’ set ended on the shuffle drag of “Goin to New York”.

Anticipation filled the air as Robert Randolph and the Family Band took the stage for the final performance of the night. Robert began for a few moments with his screaming pedal steel intro echoing in the huge hall of the National Building Museum and then the whole band dropped into the groove of “Look Where He Brought Me From”. Marcus Randolph provided rock solid drum beats and Danyel Morgan locked in incredibly deep bass grooves as well as high vocal harmonies as The Family Band broke loose with “I Need More Love”. Lenesha Randolph with her beautiful soulful vocals sung “Anybody out there feel good?” as she received great response from the packed house. Guitarist Adam Smirnoff (also with Lettuce, Soulive) had a chance to really shine on this jam. Robert then slowed down to a hypnotic beat of “You’ve Got to Move”. On this song there was awesome call and response interplay of vocals and Robert’s pedal steel licks. After letting the crowd relax for a moment the band boogied hard with the up-tempo “Shake Ya Hips” Many Washington D.C. lovely ladies jumped on stage and shook their hips and Randolph shook out some licks on his guitar. Closing out the night Robert Randolph and the Family Band performed their new single “If I Had My Way”. Robert lit up the night with his unique pedal steel guitar and tight vocals, the band swayed, and the audience cheered heartily. What a perfect way to end the evening!

The Congressional Blues Festival continues to give back to roots of American music as well as reflect and present the broad range of music that the blues has influenced. And as the festival organizer commented “This is how it’s really going down in D.C.!” This was an incredible event with extremely high quality acts. Look out for next years Congressional Blues Festival! Be sure to buy your tickets early as this event sells out extremely quickly.

Review by S. Taylor

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