Blues, and other colourful sounds of that genre
Attending any event that announces itself as “house full” always provides additional pleasure of feeling privileged, and so it was with the 10th anniversary of the Mahindra Blues Festival held at Mumbai’s Mehboob Studios on February 8 and 9, 2020.
As has been the trend since inception, the programme activities were divided across two evenings, with the pride of the opening placement going to The Homegrown Blues Collective, with the common thread across the musicians being featured being Soulmate – comprising of guitar wiz Rudy Wallang and the very distinctive-voiced singer Tipriti Kharbangar – who also received ample opportunity of showcasing their musical finesse. As Kharbangar moved aside to allow other musicians to present their respective talent, the stage was soon up for grabs for Rohit Lalwani, the amazing guitar prowess of Arinjoy Sarkar, who is working on a follow up to his fabulous debut album, and the excellence of vocalist Kanchan Daniel. However, the coup of sorts was the arrival of Loy Mendonsa on keyboards and Ehsaan Noorani on guitar, who had fortunately parked their Bollywood initiative on the side, and moved into their true Western music calling with their brand of distinguished Blues, culminating with all the balance artistes returning on stage as they ran through the now standards, “Keep The Blues Alive” and “Let The Good Times Roll”.
Keb’ Mo’ was next, and appeared to be a shadow of himself – this was his second appearance at the Festival – as his initial live music offerings this time around revolved around all genres but the Blues. In showcasing selections from his June 2019 album, ‘Oklahoma’, that had guest contributions from two other Festival musicians from the past – Robert Randolph, and Taj Mahal – the guitarist’s performance was smooth and soulful but, at 90 minutes, the set was certainly over stretched.
However, the concluding act for Day 1, the Kenny Wayne Shepherd band, fronted by the guitarist whose name adorns the group, perked up the Blues by returning to a more bluesy and driving style, reminiscent of the late, great Stevie Ray Vaughan. The six-piece backing band, including a two-member horn section, provided perfect support for Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s setlist that ranged from riff-driven cuts – you could hear influences of Rolling Stones, Deep Purple, and Led Zeppelin – to instantly memorable hooks. Not shy of focusing on covers, Shepherd ran through Elmore James’ ‘Talk To Me Baby’, Eagles’ Joe Walsh’s ‘Turn To Stone’, and Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Voodoo Child’, replete with guitar playing behind his back. Shepherd also provided an opportunity for his band members to showcase their talents. No doubt, this set was a solid, enjoyable outing!
Day 2 commenced with a duo who are arguably the long-lost sisters of the Allman Brothers – Larkin Poe – an American roots rock band originally from north Georgia and currently from Nashville, fronted by sisters Rebecca Lovell (lead guitar, songwriter) and Megan Lovell (playing slide on a lap steel guitar). With their brand of blues combined with harmonies, with a bassist and drummer as their rhythm section, the line-up ran through Rebecca’s compositions to covers, which included a powerful, rocked up version of Leadbelly’s “Black Betty”, not unlike fellow American band Ram Jam’s 1977 rendition, as also Son House’s “Preachin’ The Blues”, and a cover of the traditional song, “John The Revelator”. Larkin Poe’s rock leanings were the dominant sound, with remarkable harmonies and a pristine arrangement, supported by a well-crafted set list. Indeed, impressive work although, on occasion, the sounds did appear repetitive.
Ending the event was multiple Grammy-award winner Buddy Guy, who made his umpteenth visit to Mumbai, and played, once again, to predictability; be it his polka-dot shirt, his set list [largely], his chatter, and his on-stage and off-stage antics. However, nothing changes the fact that, at 83, Buddy Guy is the last of the Chicago Blues exponents who was privileged to have performed with legendary Muddy Waters during the glory days of Chess Records. The Festival ended with the expected all-star line-up bringing the event to its inevitable end.
The Mahindra Blues Festival grew from the remnants of One Tree Festival, which was held at the MMRDA Grounds at Mumbai’s Bandra Kurla Complex during the 2000s, also promoted by Oranjuice Entertainment and supported by the passions of Brian Tellis, Jairam, and Owen Roncon. Nevertheless, it is indeed a pleasure to note that these passionate event organisers are doing their level best to ensure that the niche of Blues moves beyond the realms of being a mere colour and, further, taking the initiative of pursuing a talent hunt contest with the winners, this time around, being the Meghalaya-based Quiet Storm that performed both originals and renditions during intervals between the international musicians’ performances on both days of the Festival.
But the thrill of attending the “house full” event had a downside too, as a lot of genuine Blues fans missed out on an opportunity of furthering their musical interests as the event had been largely taken over by an audience that believed it to be a social occasion, spending time on everything between snacks to spirits, but the Blues…