Bluesfest Lands on Solid Ground Print
Music - Feature Stories
Wednesday, 04 July 2001 18:00
For far too long, the 2001 edition of the Mississippi Valley Blues Society Bluesfest was a topnotch lineup in search of a venue. It was late last week that festival organizers finalized details on where more than 30 performers would play this weekend. Although the floodwaters fell back into the river more than a month ago, LeClaire Park’s new sod isn’t yet ready for thousands of feet – precluding the festival’s traditional site. And then there was a Saturday-morning conflict with the Farmer’s Market in the John O’Donnell Stadium parking lot.

But now everything’s set for the annual festival, which runs Friday through Sunday off River Drive in downtown Davenport. The main stage will be set up in the Florian Keen parking lot north of John O’Donnell Stadium. The tent stage will be in the parking lot of the Freight House.

Lu Gaeta, co-chair of the festival committee, didn’t sound overjoyed at the flood-forced setup. “We feel it’s going to be accommodating,” he said. “There will be plenty of space. … It’s not the grassy sod of LeClaire Park, but in order to be close to the river, it’s the best we could do.”

Organizers are also hoping for good weather, because they’re fearful the change of venue will cause attendance to sag. “There’s not going to be any grass,” said Mary Pedigo, a member of the entertainment committee, and parking lots don’t lend themselves to lounging around on the ground.

But while LeClaire Park is a beautiful setting, the festival is more about what’s in the air than underfoot. And the lineup features some great blues artists, many of whom haven’t been to the festival since before the Great Flood of 1993.

The main stage features some huge names – with Koko Taylor headlining on Friday, Charlie Musselwhite on Saturday, and Buddy Guy on Sunday. (Headlining shows start at 10 p.m.) Musselwhite hasn’t been seen in these parts since 1992, Guy last played the festival in 1990, and Taylor hasn’t graced the Quad Cities with her pipes since 1988.

Pedigo said that Guy and Taylor have generated a lot of buzz this year. “We’re going to draw a lot of people with those two names,” she said. Harp player Billy Branch, a local favorite, should also draw a big crowd at the main stage Saturday at 6 p.m.

The festival is also noteworthy for its divergences from traditional blues. The committee that books bands tries to get a variety of styles in the festival, including jazz and gospel.

The Holmes Brothers [see sidebar] take the main stage at 4 p.m. on Sunday and should blow the audience away. As much gospel as blues, Sherman and Wendell Holmes (and honorary brother Willie “Popsy” Dixon on drums) make the blues seem holy and heaven pretty funky.

Even farther removed from straight blues is Malachi Thompson & The Africa Brass, playing the tent Sunday at 5:30 p.m. The renowned Chicago trumpeter and composer would be a feather in the cap of any jazz festival, let alone one concentrating on the blues. (The Sunday tent lineup is something to behold, with the gospel of the Campbell Brothers and the folk music of Odetta jostling the likes of Iowa blues legend Joe Price and the jazz of Thompson.)

Women are also prominently featured in the festival, most notably with Taylor and Rosie Ledet (“The Zydeco Sweetheart”) closing out Friday’s action on separate stages, and Saffire: The Uppity Blues Women [see sidebar] shutting down the tent stage on Saturday night.

Among the bigger names, Ledet is the only one who hasn’t previously appeared at the MVBS Bluesfest. Her appearance in notable for several reasons, primarily because she’s one of the few women playing Zydeco music at all. The 29-year-old works within the strictures of traditional Cajun and Zydeco, but she writes her own songs and infuses them with blues touches.

The explosion of blues in recent years has meant more competition for performers at festivals, and that’s affected the Mississippi Valley blow-out, even though it was one of the first. “People want more money,” Pedigo said. Because the festival is one of the better known in the country, performers’ expectations for payment are often unrealistic. “We do have to talk money a lot,” she said.

But although festivals in larger cities can pay more for talent, the Quad Cities always have one thing in their favor: hospitality. Gaye Adegbalola of Saffire: The Uppity Blues Women called MVBS “one of the best blues societies in the country” and added that the organization “takes a lot of pride in the presentation.” She said the society treats performers extraordinarily well: “I can’t wait to be there.”

Tickets to the 2001 Mississippi Valley Blues Society Bluesfest are $10 a day or $25 for a three-day pass and are available at Ticketmaster outlets and the Adler Theatre box office.