By Bob Adamek
The 18th annual Hot August Blues festival was held on the beautiful grounds of Oregon Ridge Park, just north of Baltimore, MD on Saturday, August 21st. This year’s lineup was perhaps their strongest to date featuring Baltimore’s own The Bridge, Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, Keb’ Mo’, and headlining, Lyle Lovett and his Large Band.
The Bridge are local favorites and got the crowd going early with their wonderful blend of southern soul. They feature great vocals from guitarist Cris Jacobs, and mandolin and percussionist, Kenny Liner. The band has great chemistry when running through their instrumental sections and gets some dynamic solos from Jacobs, saxophonist Patrick Rainy and Mark Brown on keys. The large amount of gigs they play has made this sextet very tight. The Bridge’s star is rising and is easily an act worth seeing.
Next on the bill was a force to be reckoned with. Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, from Austin, Texas are touring behind their fabulous debut album “Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is”. They write stories about being down and out and deliver them with a dirty guitar sound, super funky rhythm section and the tightest horn section I’ve heard this side of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. Their set was energetic and fun, fitting in nicely after The Bridge. The three horn players kept moving during the whole show, dancing in step together, giving the stage the appearance of really being alive and the interplay between the horns and Joe Lewis made the set decidedly engaging.
Following Black Joe Lewis, the stage crew stripped the stage clean for veteran bluesman Keb’ Mo’, bringing out only three acoustic guitars, a stool with a couple of harmonicas on it and a mic stand. I thought the task of following the previous two bands was going to be large for the set up in front of me. But Keb’ Mo’ came out with a big smile, telling stories and singing a terrific brand of blues, entertaining thousands of people. This was a very impressive sight and not at all as easy to do as Keb’ made it seem. Keb’ has a natural way of telling stories and a natural way of delivering them in song, making for an easy going hour-and-a-half.
As daylight gave way to night, the next act was about to wow the festival crowd. Lyle Lovett and his Large Band was filled with first call “A” list musicians and a polished stage show, which was amazing down to the smallest detail. There were 15 musicians up on stage and Lovett managed to write arrangements that were able to feature the brilliant playing and singing of each and every one. There was a grand piano, pedal steel guitar, two electric guitarists, fiddle, mandolin, cellist, four male back ground singers, bass, drums, percussion and Lyle, whose voice and acoustic guitar remained out front and easy to hear. The band effortlessly rolled through country, bluegrass, folk, rock, blues and R&B. Lyle told stories and made the show personal, pausing to connect with the audience. The band was dressed in black pants with white shirts, everyone wearing ties. When a band member had a solo, there was instantly a spotlight positioned perfectly on him. The band played for over two hours and didn’t miss a beat, either musically or technically. Seeing a band this well-rehearsed and talented, with arrangements this rich, and a show so elaborate, was indeed a treat.
Hot August Blues was a success; good food, good vending, beautiful setting, $1 waters and superlative talent. I highly recommend this festival for next year.