Photos by Laura Carbone
Set in the smaller and pretty city of St. Petersburg, the destination-event Tampa Bay Blues Festival has been bringing top talent to the shores of West Florida for the past 22 years. By day under the palms of Vinoy Park, at night the patty continues at an after-hours show at The Palladium, where featured performers from the day can be enjoyed up close, in a comfortable and historic venue.
Tampa Bay performers all have a foot in the blues, but they span the spectrum from rock to soul. This year, the Reba Russell Band, led by one of Memphis’s most talented female vocalist started the party, followed by funk with Biscuit Miller and the Mix, when the BMA awarded-bass player brought the crowd to their dancing feet. The much-beloved Victor Wainwright and his band The Wildroots showed the audience why they are the top contender for this year’s BMA’s “Entertainer of the Year” award as he wielded his piano at a full tilt boogie and ventured into the audience unplugged, demonstrating his au natural vocal prowess. Blues Cruisers-favorite Tommy Castro and The Painkillers delivered his tight set of blistering hot blues. The headliner on Friday night was Blues-rock guitar icon Kenny Wayne Shepherd, record holder for the longest-running album on the Billboard Blues Charts. KWS captivated the audience with his fast and mesmerizing blues/rock licks as Noah Hunt added his vocal signature to the lyrics. Of note, Kenny Wayne was discovered by Florida Blues native Bryan Lee who was in attendance at the concert that night.
Saturday’s performance started swinging with the high-energy Chicago-based Cash Box Kings, then Danielle Nicole, formerly of Trampled Under Foot, endeared the crowd to her natural beauty and musical charm. No doubt that she is one of the blues newest and fastest-rising vocal divas, in addition to laying down a heavy bass line. Curtis Salgado testified to his long-standing career as one of the blues top vocalists, and JJ Grey transported his highly hip swamp rock to an energized crowd of all ages who danced with the rapture that just pours out of his performance. This show was a festival highlight in its upbeat musical message of overall love.
Saturday ended with the finale by five-time Grammy winner, Aaron Neville. Considered to be one of the world’s top singers as well as a member of one of New Orleans most respected music families, his stage presence was muscular both in body and voice, and he commanded the audience with standards as well as an outstanding original of “Creole Moon.”
Sunday I caught the opening act Jarekus Singleton, a young guitarist and songwriter from Mississippi who has been called “the Future of The Blues.” His performance was electrifying, with force and clarity in his guitar playing as well as the originality of his compositions.
Fans continue to return to the Tampa Bay Blues Festival year after year to experience world class blues in beautiful tropical setting. So will I.