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What Next for Blues Fest? Optimism for Next Year Ignores Long-Term Funding Challenges for the MVBS PDF Print E-mail
Mississippi Valley Blues Festival
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 23 July 2015 05:41

The announcement came 10 days after the final notes of the 2015 Mississippi Valley Blues Festival should have filled LeClaire Park: There would be no 2015 Mississippi Valley Blues Festival.

Citing financial difficulties, on July 15 the Mississippi Valley Blues Society (MVBS) said that it had canceled the festival. This followed a decision in February to move the blues fest from its traditional Independence Day weekend to the Labor Day weekend, and to reduce it from three days to two – changes designed to lessen the chance the event would be flooded out of LeClaire Park, to give the blues society the opportunity to raise more money, and to cut costs. The board was sharply divided on both the date-change and cancellation votes.

There are several cruel ironies here.

The cancellation comes a year after the Blues Foundation honored the festival with a Keeping the Blues Alive award for U.S. festivals, citing the Quad Cities event as “one of the longest-running, most-prestigious blues festivals in the world.”

And there was no Fourth of July flooding in LeClaire Park this year, and the weather was rain-free and just about perfect. Had the festival happened at its normal time – as it had for the past 30 years – the MVBS would very likely have shored up its financial position significantly. “It would have been the best weather we’ve had in 16 years,” said MVBS Board Member Ric Burris.

Instead, the organization now faces an existential crisis. Will the MVBS be able to put on a festival next year – as its president and many board members hope to? How will the group rebuild its board and fundraising efforts in the wake of this year’s cancellation? And would a Mississippi Valley Blues Society without the blues fest be a shell of its former self – or could it perhaps be a stronger organization more focused on its education programs and smaller concerts?

Photos from Camp Euforia 2015 PDF Print E-mail
Feature Stories
Written by Lars Rehnberg   
Wednesday, 22 July 2015 12:25

Photos by Lars Rehnberg ( from the Camp Euforia festival, held July 16 through 18 in Lone Tree, Iowa.

Jeff Austin Band

“Resistance” Transforms Potential Into Maturity: Lewis Knudsen, “The Way of Most Resistance”; July 23 at the Redstone Room PDF Print E-mail
Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Saturday, 18 July 2015 12:42

Lewis Knudsen. Photo by Mike Aubrey.

Lewis Knudsen kicks off his album The Way of Most Resistance with a track titled “Death & Cats,” featuring the slightly ominous lyric “Death and cats are taking over / You better look over your shoulder.”

It’s not the most musically arresting track on the record, but in addition to its great title and chorus, it has a gently infectious (and not at all ominous) slink in both verse and chorus. It’s a low-key charmer announcing that Knudsen’s artistic potential has quickly become confident maturity.

I liked much of what the singer/songwriter/guitarist/pianist and his band were up to on last year’s Joy, Pain, Love, Songs – although its mishmash nature made it hard to divine how its disparate threads could or would be woven into a coherent artistic vision.

While Knudsen admitted that his 2014 album was a collection of unrelated songs, he said via e-mail that he conceived The Way of Most Resistance as an “alt-funk/neo-soul” album. That description is a bit of a stretch given the restraint in tempo and dynamic range – and how well Knudsen’s voice and his band fit within them.

The sax, keys, and bass on “Fire Inside Me” fit that funk/soul description, but the vibe on Resistance seems more rooted in the carefully orchestrated pop of Badly Drawn Boy. (Remember him?) Knudsen’s palette isn’t quite so broad, but his arrangements (as on his previous album) make smart use of saxophone, violin, and vocal textures, while his heartfelt singing and the wit in his songwriting complete the package.

Back from the Bottom of the River: Walter Trout, July 21 at the Redstone Room PDF Print E-mail
Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Wednesday, 08 July 2015 05:33

Walter Trout last month at Royal Albert Hall

Last year was meant to be a celebration of 25 years as a solo artist for Walter Trout. For much of the year, it looked more like an obituary.

“Provogue Records for the last five years has been planning this big push,” explained the guitarist/singer/songwriter in a phone interview promoting his July 21 performance at the Redstone Room. “They financed a biography to be written of me; they financed a documentary to be made about my life; they released all my back catalog on collector’s item vinyl. And the whole record label was going to call 2014 the Year of the Trout. And to me, being an artist, my ship had come in.”

Trout – a five-time nominee in the Blues Music Awards’ Rock Blues Album category and a veteran of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers band – also had a new album, The Blues Came Callin’. “I’ve got this label and they’re way behind me, and as soon as the record started to come out, I was sick and I canceled an entire year of touring.”

Fast forward to the present. Another new album, Battle Scars, is nearly finished and is slated for release in October. One line from one track neatly summarizes, with a light touch, the fact that Trout missed his own party: “My ship came in and sailed away again.”

You won’t, however, hear the man complain – which is clear by his use of the vague and grossly inadequate word “sick.”

In late May of 2014, Trout had a liver transplant.

Earthy, Elemental Explorers: Mondo Drag, July 9 at RIBCO PDF Print E-mail
Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Wednesday, 01 July 2015 08:30

Mondo Drag

Describing the evolving musical philosophy of Mondo Drag, keyboardist/singer John Gamino said the band is learning patience: “Letting parts breathe. Kind of letting the listener ease into something. ... Letting things develop. Not rushing them along too much.”

Patience has also been required in other ways for the Oakland-based psychedelic/prog band that got its start in the Quad Cities and will return on July 9 for a show at RIBCO. (Three of the band’s five members hail from the QCs: Gamino and guitarists Nolan Girard and Jake Sheley.)

In 2011, the year after Mondo Drag’s New Rituals debut was released, the rhythm section left. The follow-up album was recorded and co-produced by Pat Stolley in the Quad Cities in late 2011 and early 2012 with Zack Anderson and Cory Berry (both of Radio Moscow), who then moved to Sweden as members of Blues Pills.

“So we didn’t have a band, essentially,” Gamino said. “We didn’t have a rhythm section. We couldn’t promote the album on tour.” And the record didn’t have a label, either. He added that the group had difficulty finding compatible musicians in the Midwest, so in April 2013 Mondo Drag set out for California.

Sophomore album Mondo Drag was finally released this year (on RidingEasy Records in the States) – three years after it was finished.

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