By Wendy Schumer
My annual trek to SoCal this year for Doheny Blues Festival (May 18-19) was accompanied by an extension of the journey to include Simi Valley Cajun and Blues Festival (May 25-26). I made a commitment to write up something for the BluesNotes about each of these festivals so here goes:
Doheny Blues Fest (http://www.dohenybluesfestival.com) carries a pretty hefty price tag –(VIP ~$200 for early bird) and what does one get? Well for starters the grounds are beautiful – right on the ocean. A VIP pass gets early entry, closer seating but also gets you air-conditioned upscale port-a-potties – well worth the extra $$ (IMHO). Attendees get a wristband and a pre-loaded event card so all food and beverage vendors use the card – no cash needed. There are 3 stages 2 of them within walking distance and ear shot – sort of like the 2 main stages at Waterfront Blues Fest. The 3rd stage is towards the back, more intimate and closer to the beer garden. The festival boasts a huge variety of vendors and food offerings. But keep in mind – this festival gets very crowded! I’m lucky enough to have “framily” who get in line around 7am so we are always fortunate to secure enough space since we tally about 20 – mostly consisting of LRBC Blues Cruisers. We were treated to some great music over the 2 days. This year’s line-up featured: Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Jimmy Vaughan & The Tilt-A-Whirl Band ft. Lou Ann Barton, James Hunter Six, Mark Hummels Blues Harp Blowout with a tribute to Little Walter, JD McPhearson, Joanne Shaw Taylor, Harry Manx, Lynwood Slim & Friends, Red Lotus Revue and Dano Forte’s Juke Joint Freak Show – and that was just Saturday! On Sunday we were treated to Marcia Ball with the wonderful Terrance Simien, Joe Bonamassa, George Thorogood & The Destroyers, Robert Randolph & The Family Band, Shemekia Copeland, Toast of the Coast, Guitar Shorty, Janiva Magness, Nick Moss Band, Steve Lucky & The Rhumba Bums ft. Miss Carmen Getit, Kid Ramos and last but not least Gino Matteo. Whew – yes – quite a load of music for a full 2 days. A little bit of everything for everyone. For me – the most memorable was Janiva’s set with Kid Ramos. Check out some of the youtube videos posted for that duo. Beautiful.
Then after a week of work (yes I do work), it was on to the Simi Valley Cajun and Blues Festival. (http://www.simicajun.org/2013) This festival doesn’t carry the price tag of Doheny – a mere $35 gets you in for both days. I was prepared for scorching heat but we totally lucked out and the temps were in the low 80’s. The grounds for the festival do require quite a bit of walking but once you get set up, it’s a piece of cake. There are 3 stages at this fest: a blues stage, a Cajun stage and a kid’s stage. The kid’s area also offers lots of entertainment and kids performers – contributing to the family atmosphere. The Cajun stage and the blues stage both had huge dance floors, neither of which interfered with people wanting to watch the performances. They even put a shade tarp over most of the grounds by the blues stage allowing us to be out of the scorching sun all day. Randy Chortkoff, of Delta Groove, puts on the blues part of this fest. And this year he did Portland proud! Kevin Selfe, Curtis Salgado, Jimi Bott, Peter Damman and Mitch Kashmar made people envious of the incredible blues talent this city offers. I have to admit – Simi is one of the best festivals I’ve had the opportunity to attend. Great grounds including a huge back-stage area for artists to hang and mingle so it was fun for them too. Crowds are manageable and people are friendly. This festival is a fundraiser and Randy gives out tons of CDs to raffle ticket winners between each set. Simi’s lineup this year consisted of: Janiva Magness, A tribute to Finis Tasby w/Elvin Bishop, Curtis Salgado, Rick Estrin, Kid Andersen, Andy Santana w surprise guest Kim Wilson, The Mannish Boys w/Curtis Salgado, Mike Finnigan, Otis Grand, Kevin Selfe, Peter Dammann, and Audrey Turner, Delta Groove Harp Blast with Mitch Kashmar, Big Pete and Al Blake, Sugar Ray and the Bluestones, Rick Estrin & The Nightcats, Nathan James & The Rhythm Scratchers, James Harman, Anson Funderburgh, Andy T and Nick Nixon, Kara Grainger, Smokin Joe Kubek & Benois King w/Bob Corritore, Randy Chortkoff and Big Pete and that was just for the Blues stage. On the zydeco stage they featured J Paul Jr & The Zydeco Nubreeds, Lisa Haley & The Zydekats, Steve Riley & The Mamou Playboys, Andre Thierry & Zydeco Magic, Bonnie Musique Zydeco, Acadiana w/Teresa Russell, Leroy Thomas & The Zydeco Roadrunners, David Sousa & The Zydeco Mudbugs, topping it off with dance instruction by AJ Gibbs. I actually didn’t leave the blues stage as I hated to miss anything but all stages were well attended. The grounds are covered with great vendors of merchandise and food. Add in the extra late night jam hosted by the 44’s where so many of the artists just show up and had a good time – this is a festival I will surely want to hit up again next year!