The 2000 San Francisco Blues Festival was one of the most thrilling presentations in the history of the event. It was full of drama, pathos, and raw blues energy, which encompassed a wide range of blues diversity and performers to complement a huge and enthusiastic audience who came ready to enjoy the warm weather, magnificent views and some great music. It was a party of the first order!
Rhythm and Blues pioneer and rock 'n' roll Hall of Famer, Johnny Otis, headlined a vintage revue in the great tradition of the 1950s R&B package shows. The Otis Caravan, one of the last of its kind, featured the incredible vocalists Barbara Morrison and Jackie Payne. The legendary Otis performed on piano and vibraphone and shared vocals with his singers, who included Gail Muldrow and the young, emerging Heather Marie. Backed by a big band, the Johnny Otis Show really swings. It was a great, historical performance. S.F. Mayor Willie Brown declared September 24 Johnny Otis Day in San Francisco, in recognition of his contributions to R&B.
The great soul-funk masters, Tower of Power, were in top form and wowed the crowd with tight arrangements and super tough soul vocals. They were a huge hit for the home-town crowd that reacted enthusiastically to TOP's many hits. They were awesome, to say the least. ... Keb' Mo' was also a big crowd favorite, with a blend of traditionally inspired blues that conveyed a rich and deeply original vision that has made this performer so magnetic to concert goers. Performing on acoustic and steel guitar, as well as banjo, Keb' Mo' was a pure joy to hear. He gave the Festival a meaningful perspective of the future of the blues.
Koko Taylor is the undisputed Queen of the Blues and her performance was a typically tough, gut-bucket ride of Chicago blues from a woman's point of view. Koko's presence made a deep impression on a crowd that could not get enough of her or her band. They are a tight unit ... Joe Louis Walker's Allstar set, featuring Billy Branch, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Alvin Youngblood Hart and Kenny "Blues Boss" Wayne, was one of the weekend's many memorable moments. This assembly of prominent performers gave the crowd a feel of blues to come. Certainly that was the case in Brooks' stunning guitar explosions and Walker's courage to continue to experiment in all forms of the music. This was Walker's second allstar aggregate to perform at the San Francisco Blues Festival! Walker really connected for a home-town crowd that holds him in high esteem.
Shemekia Copeland was one of the giant hits of the 2000 SFBF. She is utterly talented and extremely charismatic and the crowd connected to her immediately. She dominated the stage from beginning to end. To think -- she is only 21 years old! ... Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers proved again why they are one of the best blues ensembles on the scene today. A high energy group, Piazza is perhaps the best harmonica player out there, certainly the best on chromatic harmonica. The Flyers just rock in every way.
Boozoo Chavis travels infrequently, which makes his shows all the more significant because he is beyond question the "King of Zydeco." Chavis projects depth and authenticity with a sense of downhome humor and Louisiana charm. His presence lent a lasting resonance to the concert. ... For emotion and drama alone, complete with a sense of anticipation, Elvin Bishop and Smokey Smothers provided the Festival with an awareness of the importance blues has in people's lives. For Bishop, who had lost his daughter earlier, the Festival was a sense of relief as he spoke to the crowd about his deep pain and how blues had helped to transcend some of the ache. Both guitarists poured out their emotions, content to reflect on their long history together dating back to the pre-Butterfield days in Chicago.
Sunday's audience was treated to a surprise appearance by Paul Pena and Big Bones. Pena, who is battling cancer, and is featured in the recent award-winning documentary, "Genghis Blues," gave an emotionally filled performance of "Sweet Chariot," backed by Big Bones on harmonica. There were a lot of tears and a lot of joy. It was a deeply felt moment by all.
Roy Gaines was the surprise hit of the Festival! Few had heard of him but everyone was bowled over by his stunning T-Bone Walker-style guitar playing that projected a depth and freshness not often heard. Gaines put on a show and had people talking about the set all day. ... Queen of the Honky Tonk, guitarist-singer Rosie Flores gave a stinging set of rockabilly with a strong touch of blues. For Flores, who currently resides in Nashville, her set illustrated how close the two styles of music truly are. The influence that Sun Records has had on her career was obvious throughout her set.
Detroit moved west with the performance of Johnnie Bassett, Joe Weaver and Alberta Adams. This classic package of veteran musicians gave the crowd a taste of vintage Detroit blues. Bassett's smooth blues guitar technique paved the way for a short, killer set by Alberta Adams, who has to be the find of the decade! Wow! She reminded the audience of Ruth Brown -- classy, uptown, downtown and in the alley! Where has she been? Joe Weaver was a groove all the way. He gave the crowd a taste of the early Detroit vocal group sound and showed that he could carry the blues as well. A very satisfying revue package!
The Dynatones, headed by vocalist Marcus Scott, were also huge crowd favorites, as they gave one of the truly surprising sets of the weekend. They were tight, looked distinctively cool and packed a wallop with an authentic soul-felt show. ...San Francisco favorites, Lavay Smith and Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers, gave the Festival that little big band component and the crowd just soaked up their jazzy blues arrangements, which provided a delightful rendezvous with the great era of Dinah and Billie. As always, they were enormous hits! ...Fillmore Slim is a legend in San Francisco's blues history and there were a number of articles written about him prior to his appearance. He had also been featured in a recent documentary and so he was ready, replete with his '50s vintage-sounding backup unit, the Blue Mirrors, which included French guitarist Paris Slim. Fillmore Slim slammed because he's so different sounding and his songs so deeply personal.
Sunday morning's gospel show was a huge crowd pleaser, with Roy Tyler's vocal quartet, New Directions, which drove the uptempo harmonies high enough to get the audience to their feet. No one missed church that morning!
Friday's Annual Waterfront Concert featured a free mid-day excursion of vintage Mississippi blues, all the more poignant as that great waterway, the San Francisco Bay, lay just across the way from the stage, amidst the piers and ships. Super Chikan, Sam Carr and Robert 'Bilbo' Walker, and a Delta band, gave the audience of a 1,000 people a marvelous taste of raw, down-home Clarksdale blues. Super Chikan comically rooster-talked one of his songs, much to the delight of the crowd, while Walker ended his set with a duck walk a la Chuck Berry that had the audience moving on their feet. This group of musicians from Mississippi proved to be the perfect beginning to the big blues weekend in San Francisco. With a deep sense of dignity, charm and down-home flavor, they made for a memorable afternoon on the Bay.