Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Snoqualmie Blues Festival '06

By Phil Chesnut

This August 5th and 6th the blues will again ring out in the foothills of the Cascades with the 6th Annual Snoqualmie Blues Festival. Located in the historic logging hamlet of Snoqualmie, which is just a half hour drive from Seattle, the blues is the featured sound of the long running Snoqualmie Railroad Days. Now in it's 68th year, Railroad Days has many crowd pleasing features unique to this amazing summer celebration. Besides two days of great blues, Railroad Days also offers a giant classic car show, chainsaw art display and auction, and Snoqualmie's own Thunder in the Valley, a top notch classic motorcycle show. Other crowd favorites of the '06 Railroad Days include the annual Grand Parade along with many interesting arts & crafts booths and a good selection of food vendors. Of course there is a beer garden too, located next to the Blues Stage.

This year's location of the Blues Stage is a bit different from years past, now located closer to the street (Railroad Ave). With room for the audience on a paved street, rather than the former gravel surface, this year's show will now be conducive to a real street dance too.

As the founder and music director of the Sno-Blues-Fest part of Railroad Days, I have continually tried to offer the finest blues talent in the region. Always conscious of the fan's opinions, much of the featured talent are current nominees and winners of the Washington Blues Society's annual BB Awards (Best of Blues). Compared to some of the other area blues fests, Sno-Blues is small in size but makes up for it as the only blues fest that features true blues and only blues.

This year's all blues format is no exception. Opening the '06 Sno-Blues-Fest on Sat. Aug 5th at 2pm will be Chicago-style harmonica master, Dave Prez & Combo Nation, featuring vintage blues guitarist Jack Cook. Next up on stage will be the Hudson Blues Band, a longtime Seattle favorite, who are well known in the Snoqualmie Valley as well. Drummer, David Hudson has compiled a true crowd pleasing combo which is fronted on vocals and harp by Michael Wilde.

The next featured band comes from Ballard, the heart of the Seattle blues scene. Harmonica Playboy & the Midnight Movers have long been acclaimed as one of Western Washington's top blues bands, with the Harmonica Playboy, Mike Lynch, and his true blue, fat tone harp along with his encyclopedic list of blues tunes and the superb guitar of Tim Sherman. This solid, genuine blues band promise to be a highlight of the show.

The next set features the multiple award winning Becki Sue & Her Big Rockin' Daddies. As the '06 BB Award winner for Best Band, these hugely talented musicians will set the mood with their high energy performance that have made them one of the Northwest's most sought after blues bands. This year, the BRDs not only took home the BB for Best Band, they were also recognized for their individual talents. Known for decades as one of the state's top note benders, Tom "T-Boy" Boyle was voted Best Electric Guitar, while Les "Wild Child" White took the BB for Best Bass, doing things with an upright bass that are truly remarkable. Drummer and blues pilgrim, Jeff Hayes received the well deserved Keeping the Blues Alive Award. Finally, the multi-talented Jim King was nominated for both Best Vocals and Best Harp, taking the Best Horn award for his outstanding tenor sax. Of course the band's namesake, Becki Sue will certainly punctuate the band's set with her own powerful vocal presentation.

Closing Saturday's blues celebration is this year's headliner, the world renowned Paul deLay Band. Long recognized as one of the pre-emenent blues ensembles in the country, headlining festivals throughout North America and Europe. The Sno-Blues Fest is honored to have this important figure of modern blues grace this year's stage. With his brilliant vocals and harmonica stylings that are simply remarkable, Paul deLay stands alone in the blues world. His extraordinary diatonic harp reaches far beyond the understanding of even the best players, with his unique phrasing and dynamics, often in a minor key. Then there is deLay's mighty chromatic Harmonica which is unequaled, for the huge tone and phrasing style that is embraced by many but re-created by none. If deLay's powerful vocals and harmonica weren't enough, it's also important to note that Paul is an amazing songwriter as well. Turning out tunes in rhythms far beyond your basic shuffle and with always clever lyrics, deLay is truly one best storytellers in today's music business. This multiple award winning blues giant is backed by an amazingly talented band that features Louis Pain on the Hammond B-3, Dan Fincher on tenor sax and Peter Dammann on guitar. Peter is also the award winning boss of the second largest blues fest in the country, Portland's Waterfront Blues Festival.

On Sunday, Aug 6th, the blues will continue with Seattle's favorite eclectic party band, Jeff & the Jet City Fliers. Frontman Jeff Herzog will set the days tone with his masterful harmonica and great original songs with a statement. After a break for the Chainsaw show & auction, there will be just enough room left for one more set of blues with the Chris Stevens Band. Long recognized as one of the area's top guitar slingers, Stevens and his veteran band will show yet another spin on the blues. A perfect ending to another fantastic Snoqualmie Blues Festival.

Phil Chesnut is an award winning photographer and keen observer of the Northwest blues scene. All of the photographs that appear in this article were created by Phil.

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