Webster, Massachusetts (just outside of Worcester) is where you will find the kitschy Indian Ranch, right where it has been for 68 years. Mostly known for hosting country acts, this self-professed Nashville of the North has had everyone from Johnny Cash to Keith Urban grace it’s outdoor stage. Over the years, fans have asked for other acts, and Indian Ranch answered on Sunday July 13th with a great big Blues On The Beach celebration.
Parking is easy and the lot had a tailgating feel to it. The ranch is in actuality a camp ground; the option to reserve a space for the entire summer season comes with tickets to the shows they put on. It was a very eclectic mix of seasoned campers, day trippers and long time summer residents.
The main stage is beautifully situated on Lake Chaunbunagungamaug, (Yes, that’s the actual name of the lake. It’s a truncated version, as well). Friendly Janie at Will Call somehow pronounced it and let me know that the loose Algonquin translation is, “You fish on your side, I fish on my side and no one fishes in the middle.” Ticket holders with assigned seats are under a covering while general admission prices still get you a bench seat with a great view of the stage and everyone will enjoy their sound system not matter where you are.
The smaller Corral Stage hosted the Cannibal Ramblers, 10 Foot Pole Cats and the Throw Down Band. They provided a very nice mix of hard rocking blues and enthusiastic playing for the growing crowd.
Shemekia Copeland took the main stage at about 2 and boy, did she take it. Ms. Copeland electrified the audience with her powerful voice….so powerful, in fact, that at one point she stepped away from the microphone and sang out to us from the edge of the stage. We went wild and were up on our feet in appreciation before the song closed. Besides singing about “Dirty Water” and “Lemon Pie”, off her latest release, 33 & 1/3, Shemekia paid tribute to her Dad, the legendary Johnny Copeland, with “Ghetto Child”. Shemekia stuck a perfect balance of connecting with us between songs with personal stories but jumped right back into the music. It was a wonderful set that included Saturday night bar room blues and take us to Grandma Jessie’s church Sunday gospel blues as well.
The audience loved her and it was a struggle for her to make it off stage to the merchandise tent, everyone wanted to connect with her, including me. I asked Ms. Copeland about sharing the bill with BB, “Anytime I get to share the stage with BB, it is a great honor”. She gave me a quick hug, a compliment to Elmore Magazine, (she is a reader!), and she was off to greet her fans.
Many of the people there on Sunday had not seen Robert Randolph and the Family Band before. From what I gathered, Robert Randolph’s larger-than-life pedal steel guitar playing was a welcome shock to the system. The band got us “Amped Up” and helped us keep on moving through the afternoon. They won over many new fans Sunday and did not disappoint those of us that have seen them several times before. They looked like they were enjoying the audience and the beautiful breeze off the lake just feet away. There were lots of people dancing in the bleachers, and several standing ovations were given before they closed to make room for the King, B.B.
B.B.’s eight-piece band warmed up the audience with some hot solos on guitar and horns. B.B. travels with a mess o’ talent and they were here for us to enjoy. B.B. made his way through adoring fans to the stage and got comfortable, like, “I’m glad to be here, let’s hang out” comfortable. If you go to see B.B. and are expecting to see the BB that plays on in countless Youtube videos, you won’t find him. This more seasoned King holds court on the stage. B.B. tosses guitar picks to those lucky enough to be sitting up close and actually engages in conversation with fans yelling out to him. He sings and when he does, the voice we are so in love with is there, clear, strong, familiar…a gift well used and shared.
“I Need You So” and “Rock Me Baby” had the crowd jumping for joy. Especially joyful must have been the parents of the two little girls in pink-and-blue cowgirl hats that B.B. brought on stage for a moment of a lifetime. “You Are My Sunshine” went on as B.B. interjected while the band played on. B.B. closed with “The Thrill is Gone,” but it sure isn’t for the fans that gathered Sunday to see the King before he decides the road is not where he wants to be anymore. One telling remark came mid-set as BB reminded us that time has a way of sneaking up, “everything is going along real good, and then it isn’t.”
I am glad to have been in the audience, and I think he was glad to be on that stage, doing what keeps him going. Several times Mr. King let us know he wanted to come on back and I for one will be in the front row. Until then I will keep playing the records and be glad I spent a spectacular summer day at the ranch making memories with Kings, Cowboys and Campers.