Thursday, January 22, 2015

Brian's Summit Summary

The Blues Summit is a biennial conference for blues musicians and industry folks. I always get to meet some new folks, blues musicians and the people who help get the music out there. The keynote speaker was Bruce Iglauer, the founder of the pre-eminent blues label, Alligator Records. He gave a great talk saying blues musicians must not try to just repeat what the old blues guys were doing but to embrace new sounds and subjects. He then recited some lyrics he made up the night before to illustrate: "My Computer is crashing and my network is down..." Well anybody familiar with the Brian Blain repertoire will recognize those words from my song "Computer Club Queen." All week-end, friends were coming up to me saying "Bruce was quoting your song." I never got a chance to tell him personally, but maybe someone else did. I remember when Bruce saw me play a while back and told me later that he liked my set "but it's a little on the folky side for me." I took that as a badge of honour, especially considering I was going to the Folk Alliance conference a couple of weeks later (and I did use that quote a few times - good for a laugh).

I didn't attend a whole lot of other sessions, but I heard a whack of music. We had a Campfire Jam on Saturday afternoon but I never really got around to inviting anybody so it was catch as catch can. Musicians were approaching me all week-end saying they didn't know about it or thought there was going to be another one on Sunday. Truth is, a lot of my potential jammers were enjoying free booze & food in upstairs hospitality suites (and I don't blame them). Some folks had contacted me in advance and they all showed up and like always, I left it to the last minute and there were some great last-minute surprises, especially when I saw Bill King in the hotel lobby and coaxed him into kicking it off with me. Ooops, I wonder if he was a registered delegate? I had already told a few friends that this jam was for delegates only, and to her credit, Kim Doolittle went and bought a registration on the spot and was an integral part of the session, even playing bass when required. It was great to see a veteran like herself playing with an up-and-comer like Sabrina Weeks and it was a precious moment when she leaned into my ear and asked "Who IS that woman?" after Samantha Martin had just belted out a number. Then we were joined by Heather Katz and a larger-than-life fellow called Walter who approached the stage and said "just play some blues and I'll make it up as I go along" and we had a few minutes of freestyle rap-blues. You never know what will happen at the campfire.

My pal Sherman Lee Dillon sat in for the entire session and played some real official Mississippi blues. The renowned violinist Lenny Solomon showed up and gave us a taste of his "blues violin" (That's the title of his new CD). Casey Van Gorkom, one of the regulars at my old Hwy 61 Campfire, played a little bass and brought along his friend Alexander McTaggart from Edmonton who played some barrelhouse piano. The piano got a real workout. Ken McColm backed up Peggy Voigt then Murray Porter showed up and ended up doing some four-handed piano with Lily Sazz. I hope somebody's got a picture of that! I had never met Murray but I knew his partner, Elaine Bomberry and they are some "power-couple."

It's ironic that the Summit was populated with some of the best guitarists in the country, but the two extra guitars I brought sat mostly unplayed.I even put new strings on one of them! Trevor Mackenzie, one of my newest favourite guitarists walked in and I got him up for the finale and several more guitarists trickled in to play as I was packing up. Even my pal Danny Marks did not want to play guitar - he wanted to play DRUMS! Well, that's what the Campfire is all about, mixing things up a bit. Danny is a pretty good drummer and has been a big booster of the Campfire and I think I might have blushed a bit as he gave me props and testified to the crowd about the merits of the Campfire. If we do it again next time, we really have to plan it better. In the course of the week-end I ran into several musicians who were in the audience enjoying the campfire but whom I didn't spot, Shoshona Kish and Kirby Sewell among others. Sorry guys! I think if we do it again we should do it late at night, not in the afternoon.

But speaking of guitarists, what a phenomenal array of great players in Toronto this weekend. The Quebec contingent, Jordan Officer, Paul Deslauriers, Steve Hill and Michael Jerome Browne. Then there was Yukon Slim (aka Brandon Issak) from...yeah, the Yukon, my guitar discovery of the week along with Conor Gains and Ross Neilsen from New Brunswick. Then there's the amazing Steve Dawson, the wild Sugar Brown and that guy playing the baritone guitar with Wicked Grin. It was guitar heaven!

I got to meet a few of the movers and shakers whose names I have been hearing for years, but nice to have a little "face time" with Peter North and Cindy McLeod. Cindy was a great friend of Kathi MacDonald and I was happy to share some of my road stories from my German tour with Kathi.

The awards show was excellent. Even in the second balcony, the sound was just fine. Great performances and some touching speeches. The most memorable line for me came from Raven Kanakatka who said "Blues music is the vein of gold that runs through this mountain of music." Nice. Great to see Nanette Workman getting the Blues With A Feeling Award and had a nice chat with her. She was great friends with my ex-wife and brother-in-law and we had lots of memories of those days. And now, I'm able to tell her about my time visiting Sherman Lee in her home town, Jackson, Mississippi where she still maintains the family homestead.