Well it’s over, Bluestock that is. The much publicized 3 Days of Peace, Love and the Blues to be held August 26, 27, 28, 2011 is in the books. What a story it turned out to be.
No one quite knew what to expect, but what we got was a true mix of Blues Fest, Woodstock revisited, Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise, and disaster area all in one. That’s not a bad thing, mind you it’s just the hand we got dealt. Scheduled to be held over three days on Hunter Mountain, a Central New York State ski area, it was to be a gathering of the tribes at one spectacular event, combining all the good from each faction and making it’s mark on the history of festivals and become one of the largest of it’s kind. It succeded in ways unimaginable by anyone who was there or that I had talked to.
What I will offfer here for your approval is a story of what went on, pre, during and post. Combined with personal experiences, and group experiences since sometimes they were inseparable.
With people arriving from all over the US and the world, we set out Thursday mid morning hoping to arrive at our shared condo around 4 or 5 o’clock. Well first part of trip was cool, nice weather till we turned South and headed down thru the Cobleskill area – the rain picked up, roads were closed and detours were in place because of bridge construction/repairs. We wound up coming in the back way on a one and a half lane road in the rain (not storm rain – just normal Central NY mid afternoon summer rain – which can be heavy at times). Well, I was freaking since I had no bloody idea of where we were – even tho’ we had a GPS system – I didn’t believe it since we were hearing banjos and bad teenage summer horror movie music. My partner, Leslie, was driving and reassured this city boy we were fine. As we headed by the Gilboa dam, there was a moment that she might have sided with me, since that main road was closed and we were being diverted down a steep hill. Yet we made it, arriving at Hunter Mountain and meeting up with friends who all had arrived before us (we were the closest, and should have heeded this subtle, but firm warning on what was to come).
That night had a feel of pre-LRBC cruise night. People showing up, gathering in a common area, joining each other at tables, rooms and common areas of the lodging. All excited about what was to come, each planning on what they would be scoping out, acts they were looking forward to, and acts that they thought would be surprise bands. We strolled around the grounds to get the feel for the lay out, vantage points and other tactical preparation that often accompanies festival gatherings. Interesting set up, with two stages side by side allowing attendees to shuffle to the left – shuffle to the right to see the bands in action. It worked really well, and did not create overcrowding or insurmountable congestion either. A nice thought for some other larger festivals to consider. Later that night the cruiser faction kicked in with dinner at the Hotel dining room, and cruiser ‘framily‘ making their arrivals seen and heard in the usual fellowship of the Blues method – a great time to see and hang with lots of folks whom we have come to know and love over the years.
Friday broke upon us gently with a soft mist floating over the area, it burned off by 10:00AM, and left us with a comfortable shroud of clouds to get our chores and ‘whatevers’ accomplished before the 5:00PM kick off. Establishing a beach head with good vantage points was pretty easy and folks were set up and ready to rock the mountains as never before. People were still arriving when Steve Simon introduced the Lionel Young Band and they kicked it off in such grand style that they made many new fans based on their performance. Part R&B revue, part amalgam of new and old style Blues and one hundred percent kick ass they ushered in a joy and spirit that stayed with us all for the entire event.
As Bob Margolin & Matt Hill hit the stage and kept the spirits burning bright (to be joined by the aforementioned Lionel Young) there was serious conferencing and logistical planning in the staff trailers due to the oncoming approach of Hurricane Irene. It’s path seemed to be headed straight for us – not a good thing at all. By middle of the nights’ performance the brain trust of Bluestock had wisely put together a plan that would bring us the most acts possible in the shortest amount of time allowable with the least amount of danger to us all.
Sunday would be canceled, Saturday would start at Noon with Robert Cray Band opening the day. Buddy Guy would follow and then we would all move inside to the Hunter Mountain Ski Lodge & Hall. It would be tight but if we keep our collective heads in the right place we would be partying till the break of day and enjoying it.
As the crew and pit bosses scrambled to get things in place the show went on featuring just spanking performances by everyone, no exclusions. From Trombone Shorty to Tab Benoit & the Gator Hat Crew (LOL) to Elvin Bishop having Donna Placco join him on stage for guitar lessons, the attendees were exposed to a wide variety of Blues that we don’t often get to see, a great mix indeed.
Friday ended with Mitch Woods and the Rocket 88 Revue featuring Billy Gibson, Dave Fields, Pete ‘Hop’ Hopkinson and a cast of jamming artists bringing us to a joyful end of day one. A great few numbers by Shakura S’Aida, Johnny Sansone and Mitch Woods with enough sexual tension that Ms. S’Aida looked up from her efforts with Mitch to ask, who all these people were in her bedroom ! Great work, perfect timing and sultry enough for any, and every one there.
Damn, Saturday morning rolled around pretty quickly. A noon start is stretching it for a lot of us folks ! But with the star power scheduled we all got there and the weather cooperated till the end of Buddy’s set in which he brought out young guitarist Quinn Sullivan to show us that the Blues is alive and well with the younger generation. Moving inside the hall with two stages in adjoining rooms, sort of like Chicago’s Kingston Mines on steroids, every single act gave it their very best. It was wood shedding without the bad parts. As for the rain, it was so-so, raining hard enough that we were glad NOT to be outside but it wasn’t overpowering or effecting us in any real way. Well that lasted till Sunday when the heavens opened up, but more on that later.
With the non-food vendors set-up inside also (nice touch for them), and the bar offering food to go it ran really well. With Michael Cloeren, Tony Colter, Steve Simon and others manning the stage announcements the shows criss-crossed the stages till later in the night when confronted with a rural curfew they had to double up some acts to get it all in. This really wasn’t a problem, though it did make it sometimes difficult to swing back and forth between acts. It seemed to take a bit away from the full effect of the sets involved, but hell no complaint here, just an observation. Energy that was electric emanating from the stage as Ronnie Baker Brooks brought some of that Chicago Blues to us all, and Curtis Salgado’s Big Band grabbed us by the hearts and made us breath just a little bit heavier for his effort.
The last two acts were the Port City Prophets up from Charleston, SC a hard driving power trio who, though they may have not been well-known, certainly left the audience knowing who they were when they left. The other act was Alexis P. Suter Band from Brooklyn and metro NY. Having to play without two members of the band due to the Irene, they came out swinging and captivated the, at times, overly stimulated crowd, leaving everyone worn out and frayed but with just enough thread to left to enjoy the final session of Club 88. Mitch Woods closed up shop on time and got everyone headed back to where they came from, thus ending the ‘official’ Bluestock Festival.
I cannot say enough about Steve and crew for managing a very fluid situation and accomplishing what they set out to do. Nothing was ignored, safety first, music for everyone, and goodness abounding. Another thing is that this day was so similar to the LRBC cruises with music going on all day, and the excitement and anticipation that emanated from the crowd equalled the fevered pitch that we experience on the boats of the bluescruise. And no ports !
Sunday brought about the ‘unofficial’ festival. With attendees and artists alike situated in various hotels in the area we should have been able to gather and party during the day. Well Hurricane Irene took care of that. Mitch Woods, Billy Gibson and others were stranded in a flooded Tannersville, but still managed to put on a show along with Moreland & Arbuckle and a few other hearty souls to the enjoyment of all in that part of town. Ahh, Main street in Tannersville was flooded, and no power did not stop them.
Meanwhile at the Kaatskill Mountain Lodge, where we were based was desperately trying to keep power supplied – and by mid afternoon we managed to put on a small revue featuring Kirsten Thien, Erik Boyd, Kit Holiday, Pat Pepin and other adventurous musicians to keep the spirit alive and well. Then the lights went out, and while some hung downstairs others went to their rooms. We hit up the restaurant who had limited food, and got some grub, and partied back in the room with friends. All the while the storm raged. When we did have power we would watch the local news and weather channel to see what was up with Irene, and she was stuck between the mountain ranges and we were getting upwards of fifteen inches of rain. Bridges washed out, as did evacuation roads and later we learned that the NY State Thruway was more of a waterway than auto way. UGH ! The hotel did a great job of digging berms and diverting the rising water level to keep it from totally washing out the roads, but they could only do so much. Also they offered up cookies and good stuff from the fridges that were going to be without power for a good long time, thanks y’all.
Monday was clear, a bit chilly but showed hopeful for getting out of Dodge. But the bridge across the stream turned river just below was closed and with power lines down it was going to be dicey at best getting off the mountain. Fortunately the front desk was very helpful keeping us up to date on options and we set off to try a semi-closed road where power lines were down, but with no power and none expected it seemed to be the thing to do. A two-lane road now a one and a quarter path with a straight drop off the end was where we headed. Time consuming but eventually successful we made it down and to the NY State Thruway in Saugerties and headed North toward Albany hoping to scoot west and be home.
Well who knew that the Mohawk River was going to crest at 2PM on Monday, and was already flowing over the thruway ? So as we and a few other hearty Bluestockers hit the rest area, we waited it out hoping that they would open the westward passage – ahh not gonna happen. All the ancillary roads were also closed to traffic, so we headed back to Albany to a hotel to eat, sleep and shower and try again. Several funny asides here, as we hit the hotel the front desk guy had a Bluestock band on his wrist so we asked if he was there and yes he was with his mom ! He saw Wendy and I on stage Saturday night when we spoke of the newly created Framily between Bluestockers and Bluescrusiers and his mom even snagged a few Blues411 buttons – who knew.
The other was Leslie’s niece Kali hailing from New Hampshire was camping in Niagara Falls and stopped by our house to visit, but since we were not there she called/texted us and said they were headed to Albany to stay in our hotel since they needed to get back to NH the next day. Well here’s to the intrepidity of this younger generation, they made it thru the ‘closed’ roads and we hung out had a quick visit and breakfast and then they headed toward Vermont and eventually made it back to New Hampshire – cool !
So after the ‘kids’ departed we struck out to re-create their path westward, and made it through to the Thruway just near Syracuse where we finally made it back to Rochester. We went thru some of the devasted areas, and could see the high-water marks on trees and houses (the ones that were still standing) and then we saw this scene of cows just lazing as if nothing had happened. Oh, did I mention that Wendy Schumer was with us, she was scheduled to fly out of Boston back to Portland but the path of the storm (when last seen) was headed directly there, so she changed to fly out of Rochester – all we had to do was to get West which was supposed to be easy – WRONG ! So Wendy got to visit and spend the night as we ate along the bubbling and historic Erie Canal, and we got her to her flights and she eventually made it home.
So if I can reference Dickens – it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. The festival ran smoothly and to a person was successful and enjoyable. Hurricane Irene did a job on the area though, and residents suffered from her treacherous rains and floods. They are still fighting against it, with more rains this week their lives seems to be double cursed. But I know that these hearty folks will prevail as best as they can.
There are several sites that are offering opportunities to help out area residents get their lives back in some order, on facebook:
Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
photos: Courtesy of Leslie K. Joseph, Kathleen Blandini