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Pennsylvania Blues Festival 2013

Wade Luquet By

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Sacred Steel was used to enhance call-and-response praise music by mimicking the human voice in song. Watching the trio of slide players on the stage, it was impossible not to sense that they were having a musical and spiritual conversation as they played off each others' licks. Each man sat comfortably at his guitar, musically talking, arguing, and finishing his band mates' sentences on this most difficult instrument. It was a divine experience as the group took the Pennsylvania hill side to church. The excitement of their Sunday services can only be imagined.

And when it seemed it could not get any more exuberant, the evening finished with Robert Randolph. Randolph is an exciting young slide guitarist and a member of the same New Jersey church as the Slide Brothers, whose members he considers to be his mentors. He takes the style to a frenzied level, playing tunes ranging from a gospel-infused "Get Ready" to Jimi Hendrix's "Foxy Lady." Opening with Hendrix's "Voodoo Child," Randolph started off powerfully, finishing the tune with a note-for-note solo that somehow managed to make the slide guitar sound like Hendrix's Stratocaster. It was a jaw-dropping moment for many of those who witnessed his power and talent.

Randolph is a rising star, with many TV appearances on programs like Conan and Austin City Limits. Randolph is doing for the blues what Trombone Shorty is doing for New Orleans music by making it accessible to younger audiences. In fact, in a brilliant collaboration, Trombone Shorty has backed several Randolph recordings and they often are on the same festival bills. Producer Cloeren says Randolph is what ..."lets me sleep at night, knowing that the blues has a future with artist like him." But the rooted Randolph has clearly not forgotten where he came from, as he brought his Slide Brothers mentors back to the stage to play several numbers. Words cannot describe four slide guitars playing together as they finished the night with a screaming version of Hendrix's "Foxy Lady." This was truly memorable for those who had the pleasure of witnessing this set.

Intermittent rain did not keep fans from enjoying Sunday's lineup, including bass vocalist Alexis P. Suter with a 40-member choir from her Brooklyn church, the soul blues of Johnny Rawls, New Orleans funk from Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk, the traditional blues of Ruthie Foster and more. This is a festival that attracts regulars from many states across the northeast and beyond and, with a lineup and setting like this, they can hardly be blamed for making this event a part of their summer vacation.

Every July for the past 22 years, Michael Cloeren has thrown a blues party in the Poconos. The man sure knows how to throw a party.

Photo Credit

All Photos: Howard Pitkow


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