Bayfront Blues Festival

By Christa Lawler
Duluth News Tribune
The second to last thing anyone would expect to see at a blues festival: A cover of AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell.” The absolute last thing: The classic tune performed by a dream team of three nuevo-blues musicians who are easy on the eyes, hard on guitars.
Blues Caravan 2011 – Girls with Guitars featuring Cassie Taylor, Samantha Fish and Dani Wilde shook things up midafternoon Saturday during Bayfront Blues Festival. The ladies, who each have thriving solo careers, joined forces for a set that caused a ruckus among the thousands of fans who turned out for the second day of the event at Bayfront Festival Park.
They’re young. They have full voices. They have songs that run from girl power to social justice. They’re intense and rip up the stage. Taylor, the band’s bass and keyboard player, has bluesfest in her genes. She joined her father, Otis Taylor, on the stage a few years ago. Wilde, a guitar player and vocalist, is from England. Fish is a Kansas City girl who came into the limelight while playing the Chicago Blues Festival last year. 
Perhaps young Nick Roloff of Coon Rapids, Minn., summed up the spectacle best:
“They play better than the guys – and they’re hot,” he said.
The Roloff family ditched out of the show early for the meet-and-greet area and landed at the front of what would become a very long line. The Trooper Award goes to Nick’s mother, Colleen Roloff:
“I have to take a picture of my husband and two boys with the girls,” she said.
Here are other scenes from the 23rd annual bluesfest, which finishes with headliners Vicci Martinez and Beverly McClellan, who play at 5:45 p.m. today on the main stage.
BIG WALTER SMITH & THE GROOVE MERCHANTS
As long as there has been a Bayfront Blues Fest, there has been Big Walter Smith on the bill. The old man was dressed in all white and propped on a stool for a set that included songs like “Stand by Me” and “I Ain’t Drunk (I’m Just Drinkin’ “).
“Twenty-three years,” Smith said, counting his performances at the park. “Twenty-three years.”
The 81-year-old was the day’s first performer on the main stage and had a full lineup of musicians all dressed in white – a guitar player, a keyboardist, drummer, bassist, trumpet player, sax player and trombone player.
He had fans singing along to “Hey Hey The Blues is Alright.”
“He’s so warm and loving,” said Mary Anne Burns of Maple Grove, Minn. “He’s like our grandpa.”
SHE & HIM
Donna Herula tells breathless stories with the touch of a Midwest accent. But her music has a Southern style. Herula returned – this time with her husband, Tony Nardiello – for a show in the acoustic tent.
They teamed up for Lucinda Williams’ song “Jackson” and Herula showed off some of the Robert Nighthawk songs she covers on her second album “the Moon is Rising: Songs of Robert Nighthawk.”
Following that, Peter Karp & Sue Foley performed songs from their album “He Said/She Said,” which is taken from letters they wrote back and forth while on the road, after meeting years ago at a blues festival.
Karp is a writers’ songwriter, with interesting lyrics that sometimes lean a little sexy. Foley has a deceptively pretty voice. Together they have a twee sensibility, like a bluesy She & Him.
CHASTITY BROWN
Chastity Brown, a Memphis girl-turned-Minnesotan, couldn’t sign on to the “sit down and play nice” style of the acoustic tent. She finally had to kick her chair aside and stand up and dance, her cowboy boots moving and tapping. Brown has a big soulful voice that sounds like her guts are being squeezed.
Andi Spike, a blogger from St. Paul, is a blues fan who was covering the event for her fashion-music-vegan living website Bunny Warrior. She favors young blues musicians, she admitted, and said she likes the way they incorporate modern influences.
Spike said Brown was her early pick for a favorite of the day.
“I think she was the best I’ve seen,” Spike said. “She has surprised me the most.”
This story originally ran in the Duluth (Minnesota) News Tribune on August 14, 2011