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Wet and Wondrous Blues Blast 2011 Wows Fans

By Dave Cooper
and Mariah Fleming

Tommy Castro appearing at Blues Blast 2011, image by Ray Bowen

Blues legend Elmore James’ tune The Sky is Crying could have been the theme for the 20th Anniversary Blues Blast 2011. The signature annual Phoenix Blues Society event took place at the Mesa Amphitheater on Feb 19th, where throngs of ardent blues enthusiasts, undaunted by tempestuous skies, roared and rumbled right along with the weather.

The Phoenix Blues Society has been putting on this event for two decades, and their expertise served the crowds well. Cold Shott and the Hurricane Horns guitarist Rich Brydle told Music And More AZ: “The fact that the Phoenix Blues Society did not cancel because of a little bit of cold, wet weather and the crowd stayed to the end is a testament to the support blues music enjoys in our community.”

From start to finish, the Phoenix Blues Society Blues Blast 2011 was top notch. It featured an impressive lineup, headlined by the Tommy Castro Band, winners of the 2010 BB King Entertainer of the Year and Album of the Year Blues Awards. A clearly pleased Phoenix Blues Society President, Kyle Deibler remarked: “Tommy Castro had a blast organizing the (first ever) jam at the end and there was just this great sense of camaraderie and friendship amongst everyone who played.”

That "great sense of camaraderie and friendship" was obvious in the audience throughout the day too. Cold and wind-swept rain didn't diminish the crowd's craving for this stellar day of blues. Blues Blast 2011 was in full groove as the players delighted a ravenous blues brigade, lawn sloshing and puddle stomping, amid the vibrations ringing out on this cold, rain-soaked day. “This is fun, it's like Woodstock out here!” enthused Blues Blast 2011 photographer Ray Bowen.

Deanna Bogart, image by Ray Bowen

Spirits remained high as a crowd of several generations of blues fans weathered the storm, memorializing this day as a triumphant success. Opening the show, popular Valley performers The Krimson Chord, fresh from representing Phoenix at the Memphis International Blues Challenge, kicked off the event in grand style.  Setting the bar high, Krimson Chord jolted eager fans with a brand of blues they've christened "Southwest Blues" getting the day off to a high-octane start. 

Next on the bill were Arizona favorites Cold Shott & the Hurricane Horns. With their trademark showmanship and excellent musical chops, Cold Shott's energy thrilled the crowd. The band's 20th year performing in the Valley happened to coincide with the Blues Blast 2011 and Cold Shott and the Hurricane Horns played a jubilant set, while fans responded with wild applause and happy dancing.

Next it was time for Trampled Under Foot, the 2008 International Blues Challenge winners. Once they set up, what started out as droplets turned to high gusts and windswept rain. Braving the suddenly volatile weather, guitarist Nick Schnebelan, 2008 IBC Albert King Award Winner, hunkered behind the drums for protection from the high winds, took out his slide guitar and awed the crowd with a solo set that rivaled the howling wind.

Precision blues riffs and soulful vocals were the order of the day. When the other members of this family trio from Kansas City joined him onstage, Trampled Under Foot thundered on while happy, diehard blues fans covered themselves in rain gear so as not to miss a lick. Trampled Under Foot bassist and lead singer Danielle Schnebelen showed off a vocal range that soared between Janis Joplin and Bette Midler. Her brother, drummer Kris Schnebelen, teased his younger sister saying “Danielle used to practice singing (Midler’s hit) Wind Beneath My Wings into a hair brush when she was little!”

Following Trampled Under Foot was a highly impressive performance by Deanna Bogart. Surrounded by a band of well-seasoned blues veterans, she layered her multi-instrumental performance with gritty vocals and feisty keyboard play. As a three-time Blues Music Award Winner for Horn Instrumentalist, Bogart powered through a series of arrangements, at times dueling with band mates.

She ignited her tenor sax with intense, searing licks one moment, complementing her performance with seductive, alluring tones. When Bogart did an extended saxophone set, she wooed the audience with extraordinary charisma in a flirtatious and endearing performance. When asked about playing at Blues Blast 2011, Deanna told MAMAZ, “I’m originally from here, so playing for the home town crowd, especially family, was great. I just have to work it out and get back here for good. Hopefully soon.”

Anchoring this special daylong blues feast in the Valley were headliners The Tommy Castro Band, a multi award winning group whose four 2010 awards include 2010 BB King Blues Entertainer of the Year and Album of the Year Awards. The Tommy Castro Band played an electrifying, spell binding set. The audience was a little wet for the wear, but in high gear for the band's knock out set.

Undaunted blues fans, image by Rich Brydle

The crowd who remained to the end were treated to a sensational wind-up to the day: a first-ever, wondrous sensory overload Blues Blast All Star Jam. “It’s an honor to be part of Blues Blast’s 20th Anniversary." jam organizer Tommy Castro said. “Congratulations to the Phoenix Blues Society folks who really keep it alive in the local blues community. It’s a treat being here, you get this chance only every couple of years!”

The tie-in of natural elements combined with thunderous horns and a driving backbeat produced a unique synchronicity of ingredients that carried the wondrous mood of the day. Memorable images included scenes of kids with matted hair, twirling and spinning with wagging tongues and great-big smiles pointed towards the heavens like little Blues Ballerinas.

The day took on a mystical form as the crowed watched cold air vapor emanating from the singer’s mouths and rising from the bell of band horns. Upon leaving the venue, climbing the stairway, a weary looking sunset appeared through cloudy skies, blues-drenched memories cascaded down in puddles on the stairs, and even still, you could see people dancing about while they found their way home.