My first foray into the long-standing Briggs Farm Fest proved to be at once exciting and comfortable. Held on a lovely working farm, many of the attendees camped in the mowed fields or surrounding woods, and even sissy, motel-addicted fans (like me) got into the laid-back blues groove the minute we walked through the gate.
The big draws—Eddy “the Chief” Clearwater, Lonnie Shields, Bernard Allison, Rory Block, Sam Lay and others—put on exceptional shows, practically a miracle since the entire country was hotter than Tina Turner. Alexis P. Suter Band, a personal favorite, pulled out the stops and pulled out the mops as the songstress belted out blues and spirituals in her distinctive bass/baritone register, while drummer Ray Grappone gave his typically animated performance without missing a beat. I lost ten pounds just watching them.
A camera crew followed the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, led by guitarist Jimmy Vivino (Conan O’Brien, Fab Faux, Levon Helm and others) and drummer Gabriel Butterfield, Paul’s son. The two chose masters to honor the Butterfield legacy, including Sam Lay (Butterfield’s original drummer), Pete Levin on keyboards and harmonica virtuoso Steve Guyger playing the part of Paul Butterfield. Butterfield, of course, broke color lines, broke any number of now-famous artists (Elvin Bishop, Michael Bloomfield, Mark Naftalin, Jerome Arnold) and broke barriers between Chicago blues and mainstream music without getting his due. “Wake up, Jann Wenner!” Vivino shouted from the stage. Happily, Elmore already knew. On the other hand, every attendee but me knew Mikey Junior. I was blown away by the music and stage presence of this young harpist who should—and probably will—go far.
Beside the excitement onstage and the camera crew roaming around, we were hit by a sudden and violent storm lasting only 15 or 20 minutes. Vivino raced out to keep his guitar dry while a drenched-to-the-skin audience anchored the Back Porch Stage by its legs. Some of the vendors’ tents were not so lucky, and a few suffered real damage. Minutes after the sky cleared, the festival resumed and perhaps 100 attendees swarmed around any damaged vendor tents, re-erecting the booths as if they were their own. People say “it’s about the music,” but it’s not. It’s about heart.
- Suzanne Cadgene