big jay mcneely

Big Jay McNeely

*Long Beach – I returned to the Rainbow Lagoon Park Saturday, June 22nd and Sunday, June 23rd for the 27th Annual Long Beach Bayou and Blues Festival.

This is a great way to welcome in the Summer season in a festive celebration by partying and dancing with family, friends. Natives of Louisiana and Texas were joined by locals to get their weekend dose of Louisiana culture through music, dance and food.

The festival got under with with the Bayou Brothers entertaining the crowd making their way unto the festival grounds. Continous entertainment on the Bayou Stage were provided by various Cajun and Zydeco bands. T-Lou & His Hot Louisiana Zydeco Band, Pine Leaf Boys Cajun Band, Jo Jo Reed & the Happy Hill Zydeco Band and Sunpie & The Louisiana Sunspots.

Blues lovers were greeted with some scorching riffs by Bernie Pearl while playing the slide guitar to open their set on the Blues Stage. Bernie Pearl is deserving of a “Keeping the Blues Alive Award” for his continous involvement in the Blues community. He is a former host of Nothing But the Blues on KJAZZ (formerly KLON, 88.1FM),Festival Producer, musician and educator. Their amazing set featured the tunes “Dust My Broom.” He switched to lap-steel guitar to perform “Tough Times” this is a tune that everyone can relate to during these uncertain economic times. They contined with a spiritual tune “Keep Your Lamp Trim & Burning” with the crowd yelling Amen! at the conclusion of the tune. They continued with a humorous, original tune “Call Your Dogs Off” followed by “Stand By Me” and “The Thrill is Gone” with various members of the band as lead vocalist.

The Blues Stage sweetened the deal with a tight set from Sweet Baby J’ai and The New Day Blues Band. The New Day Blues Band added some jazz, R&B, funk & Latin sounds to the blues. This is a return engagement for Sweet Baby J’ai who always light up the stage with an exuberant set. The crowd was captivated by her dynamic stage presence. The band members were Sweet Baby J’ai on washboard and other percusssion instruments(her toys), Rick Taylor-bass, Ron Bishop-keyboards, Carol Chaikin-saxophone, Charles Smalls on guitar and Peter Buck on drums. They opened their crowd pleasing set with “Neighbor Leave Me Alone” everyone has one or more busy body, noisy neighbors. They continued with a little medley of tunes by Santana “Black Magic Women” and “Oye Como Va” with a touch of Wes Montgomery supplied by Charles Smalls, “Hop on the Pony,” “Sweet Corrine,” and a crowd favorite “Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On.”

sai whatt band

The Sai Whatt Band

Blue Dice followed with a killer set of blues with a mixture of pop and rock. The Sai Whatt Band brought class to the class reunion, performing a delightful set of Old School Jams. The crowd were on the dance floor swaying to “That’s The Way Loves Goes,” “This is for the Cool in You” followed by their anthem “The Smaller the Club;The Bigger the Party,” “Got No Curfew,” “Joy and Pain,” and a slow dance number for the lovers in the house “It Takes a Fool” by the Spinners.

The first day of the festival concluded with a set by Peter Tork & Shoe Suede Blues. Press material state “Peter Tork is most well known as a member of the Monkees. The band consist of seasoned pros who brought their brand of blues rock/pop in a heartful, soulful, uplifting and quite unforgettable mixture to the festival stage.” The band got down with some serious blues and threw in their own version of a few tunes from the Monkees catalog. The blues tunes performed were “Annie Had a Baby,” “Crash Course in the Blues,” “Cross Cut Saw,” and a blues version of “Your Molecular Structure” by Mose Allison. The classic tunes by the Monkees were “She Hangs Out,” “I’m a Believer,” “Daydream Believer” and “Last Train to Clarksville” with the crowd participating in a sing-a-long. The Shoe Suede Blues Band members are Arnold Jack-bass and vocals, Joe Boyle-lead guitar, and Sturgis Cunningham on drums. Peter Tork alternated between guitar and keyboards.

The festival continued on Sunday. I like to call this “A Louisiana Sunday Afternoon” with the Pine Leaf Boys Cajun Band, Sunpie & The Louisiana Sunspots, Brian Jack & The Zydeco Gamblers and Jo Jo Redd & The Happy Hill Zydeco Band providing the Cajun and Zydeco grooves to make your body move on the Bayou Stage.

The Blues Stage got under way with some smokin’ boogie woogie blues served up by Art Work Jamal and his band. Vocalist Sherry Pruitt returned to entertain the crowd with some classic blues tunes and some originals.

Legendary saxophonist Big Jay McNeely made his festival debut with his distinct, robust sound. It was quite apparent that the crowd was there to see him the minute he started wailing and singing on “I Can’t Stop Loving You” while strolling and serenading various women. He continued with “Let The Good Times Roll” the official theme for the Long Beach Bayou and Blues Festival. He upped the tempo on “Pretty Girl” and slowed it back down for his classic “There’s Something on Your Mind,” followed by “For You My Love.”

The crowd and I returned to school to revisit some old school sounds provided by Seville. The future of the blues is in god hands. Thirteen year old guitar wiz Ray Goren closed out the festival while establishing his rightful place on the ladder of success leading up to greatness in the global blues community. People were left in awe of the phenomenal performance by this gifted young man.

Ricky Richardson is a Southern California based writer, music reviewer and photographer.Contact him via: liltampared@netzero.net