What a show! What a line up of stellar performers! What a rare opportunity to sit in the sun and listen to amazing music and hang with fellow blues lovers.
It was a rare privilege to be at the 1st Annual RVA Blues and Brews Fest that was held at Steam Bell Beer Works yesterday, March 25th. Starting at 1:00 p.m. and running until just past 10:30, seven top groups ripped through electrifying sets that had the audience enraptured.
Along the way, they tried out several of the brewery’s best beers, including the launching of an Old Salt Gose (pronounced “GO-za” I learned the hard way), that by all accounts was the alcoholic star of the event. Not being much of a beer connoisseur, I didn’t get a chance to sample it myself, but I did hear from a number of very satisfied enthusiasts that absolutely loved it!
With so many blues festivals experiencing financial difficulty these days – more and more are taking extended hiatuses or just giving up the ghost – it was great to see one here in Richmond that exceeded all expectations and has planted seeds that should bloom year after year. Kudos to the organizers of the event, Karen Haab, Sandra Faulkner, and the owners of Steam Bell Beer Works for having the vision and the gumption to make it happen.
Of the seven acts, the first four were some of the best Richmond has to offer: The Mike Lucci Band, Band of Brothers, Blues Flash, and Andrew Alli and The Mainline. Of these groups, I’ve had the pleasure of catching Mike Lucci and company and Blues Flash on several occasions and was very much looking forward to seeing them again.
Trust me, they did not disappoint. Lucci’s band has a great line-up that includes Mark Saurs on guitar and vocals, Rich Manson on harp and vocals, Bob Stufflebeam on drums, Lucci on bass, and Shelly Thiss on vocals. They started the show by setting the musical bar pretty high and challenging the other bands to reach it.
Band of Brothers was a new band for me and I liked their sound very much. They have a high energy approach and drove through their set winning over a number of new fans, myself included. They unleashed a dynamite cover of Whipping Post that left me wanting to see them do a full set.
Blues Flash is one of the great secret weapons of the Richmond Blues Scene. John Howe is a very good harp player and a real entertainer. He makes it his mission to get his audience up on their feet dancing and moving around. He’ll even take a stroll through the audience, playing his harp through a wireless mic and getting the audience involved in the performance.
Speaking of harp players, Andrew Alli is quickly getting a reputation as one of the best around. While still young in years, he’s got an old soul and knows how to play like a demon. He’s finding his way as a performer and has really grown in that department. I could very easily see the group take that next step and gain a big following.
While every one of these groups could headline a show, here they set the table for the next three groups to follow: Eli Cook, Anthony Rosano And The Conqueroos, and Albert Castiglia.
Cook, who is based out of Charlottesville and who has played with the likes of BB King, The Robert Cray Band, and Johnny Winter, fronts an amazing power trio. Together they cranked up the volume and the attitude whipping the crowd into a frenzy. The sun, which had been shining so brightly all day, began to sink lower in the west throwing some beautiful shadows on the stage area and cooling off the audience that had been sitting in the sun for most of the day.
How good is Cook? He brought three different CDs with him and I bought every one of ‘em. Yeah, you’ll be hearing a lot more from this man and his band.
Next up was one of my favorites, Anthony Rosano And The Conqueroos from the Tidewater area. Rosano is one of the highest energy performers around and there is a reason why the group is in such high demand to open for a number of the A-list groups that play in Virginia. Fortunately J.B. Bustillos who doubles on sax and harp, tripled tonight and brought out some LED lights he had in the van for emergency.
Under the glow from these four sets of lights, The Conqueroos got ROO’D and conquered the few members of the audience who had not already been converted.
A highlight of their set was bringing up Albert Castiglia for an amazing jam version of the Rolling Stones’ classic “Sympathy For The Devil.”
Finally, under dark skies and the glow of Bustillos’ LEDs, Albert Castiglia (and thank you to the lovely people who tried to correct my pronunciation of Albert’s last name, but I have it straight from the man himself that I was correct, it is pronounced “Ka-STEEL-ya”) took the stage with his drummer and bass player and proceeded to explode.
While the audience had been tired out from the long day under the bright sun, few if any left and they all crowded the stage feeding off Castiglia’s energy. He ripped through songs from his most recent release, Big Dog, on Ruf Records as well as many from previous releases, or just songs he loves to play.
Along the way he connected with several audience members who shouted out questions or comments, and Castiglia was very personal. He wished one young woman a happy birthday, and renamed his drummer “Paisley” for the night as the crowd had already done so.
Castiglia returned the favor and invited Rosano back on the stage to join him for the last couple of songs of the night.
I hope you were there for the event, and if you were, I invite you to leave your comments below. Personally, I had a wonderful time, and even though running this kind of operation takes a lot of time and effort – and volunteers – I’m already looking forward to next year.
Let’s make the 1st annual only the beginning of many more to come!
(Photos coming soon. I need to download them first!)