Monday, November 12, 2012

I got those Bridgetown Blues

There's a sleepy logging town buried in the forests of southwest Western Australia.  You would probably not take much notice of it if you were passing through on your way to somewhere else.

But on one weekend each November, its population explodes from 2970 to over 15,000 as fans and musicians descend on the town from all over the globe for a three-day party.  You would certainly notice Bridgetown then.  There is no "just passing through," because Bridgetown IS the destination.

Besides, they block off the main road.

Friday night at The Blue Owl, a 1000-man tent full of Blues.  Charlie
Musselwhite performing.

This year is the 20th anniversary of the Blues at Bridgetown music festival, and the first year I've been able to attend in spite of A) being a dyed-in-the-wool lifelong Blues addict, and B) living just 3 hours away from Bridgetown for the last dozen years. But this year I finally answered the call.

Literally.  The phone rang Tuesday morning, four days before the event.  My best mate Tim had the news that the West Coast Blues Club had been given a 50-minute slot at one of the five venues on Saturday night, but that their house band had flaked out for one reason or another and couldn't make it.

The club president had asked Tim to put something together.

The gig was unpaid, but the free admission to all areas of the festival was worth $186.  All we had to do was get there.  Oh, and find a bassist and drummer too.  This turned out to be harder than it sounds.

But Tim was persistent and resourceful, and after phoning nearly everyone he had ever played with, managed to put together an amazing lineup of musicians, meeting the following high standards of qualifications:

  1. They have their own instruments and transportation.
  2. They are free during the scheduled performance.
  3. The credible prospect of Public Humiliation does not faze them.
Using these exacting criteria we put together a band that played for the first time together on stage in public at the Bridgetown Blues festival.  No rehearsals, no practice, no warm-up.

Sometimes the light's all shining on me.

You'll have to take my word for it that it came off incredibly well, all things considered.  Because finding someone to take some video was one thing we were regrettably unable to pull off at the last minute.  But it might have been something like this plus bass and drums, and on an outdoor stage in the rain.  Use your imagination.

Tim, drummer Aki and I on stage at the Green Room musicians club.

But that was just one of the amazing experiences we had.  The rest of the weekend was spent weaving through crowds from one stage to another, checking out as many acts as we could, availing ourselves of the services of food vendors when absolutely necessary, jamming with local musicians at The Green Room, and then taking a quick kip in the backs of our utes off the side of a deserted road when caffeine could no longer postpone sleep.

The Utes: our mobile motels, storage facilities, dining halls, research
centres, and rehearsal studios.

But all good things come to an end, including my supply of Dr Pepper, and so it's back to the real world on Monday.  


Here's a list of some of the amazing performers I had the chance to see and hear:

Scottie Miller - a piano player from that historic incubator of the Blues on the Mississippi: Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Also a protege of my great piano heroes: Dr John, Prof. Longhair, and the great James Booker.

Minnie Marks
Minnie Marks - looks like a teenage girl, plays bottleneck like Robert Johnson and Eric Clapton's love child after forty cups of coffee, if that were even biologically possible ('cause you'd probably be dead after that much coffee).  This complete mismatch between appearance and sound absolutely blew the lid off the largest venue at Bridgetown.  I saw hairy tattooed biker dudes jumping, clapping and screaming like little girls at a Justin Bieber concert.

Mia Dyson - Janice Joplin meets Joan Jett meets Concrete Blonde in this Melbourne-born rocker now working LA. Miss this act and Mia will personally and deservedly punch you in the face.  

Dream Boogie - an Australian act fronted by a luxuriously seductive Mississippi Bayou Queen complete with feather headdress and sleeveless sequined gown, and backed by a solid blues trio with an authentic sound.  An unforgettable live experience.

Ali Penney - a piano-playing barmaid from Sydney takes it on the road with a powerful Blues act.  BONUS:  Her bassist Hans Deberitz played on stage with Tim and me!!! How cool is THAT???

Mojo Webb - a hot blues frontman with talent coming out his ears.  It started raining during his performance at the Geegelup open-air venue, but I could not turn away.  By the end of the set, I was soaked to the skin.  No matter, though.  Rain comes and goes, but Blues are for life. 


  1. Rock on Johnnie!


    1. Thanks, Prof. L! Still playing bass?

      (I learned way more than just Physics from this guy.)