Photos by Laura Carbone
When I attend a music festival, I not only want to see my favorite bands, I also want to experience new discoveries. That was certainly my hope this April, in St Petersburg, Florida. Staged on the beautiful waterfront, surrounded by palm trees and open bay views, the KBA award- winning Tampa Bay Blues Festival was the perfect location for a world class blues festival, with both tried-and-true and undiscovered gems.
My quest for a new musical find was fulfilled on Sunday afternoon, when Florida’s own Backtrack Blues Band kicked off the day with a rousing set of mostly original music. The band was tight and solid, as you would expect from musicians who have played together for over 30 years. The sound was deeply rooted in traditional Chicago blues, with an infectious backbeat that got my hips shaking. Their authentic blues, reminiscent of the old Chess Records sounds, added excellent Texas-style blues guitar in the mix.
These guys have brought their high-energy blues to many main stages, opening for blues legends like Stevie Ray Vaughan, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Johnny Winter, Robert Cray, Gregg Allman, and others. That history was evident on Sunday at Tampa Bay, as they raised the musical bar with a stellar show, and showed that Florida blues is a real force.
Front man Sonny Charles, with a deep growl to his voice, played some heavy, full-throated harmonica in the school of Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson II. Kid Royal flashed his fiery Texas style guitar licks, displaying the talents that make him one of Florida’s best blues guitarists. The rhythm section included Grammy winner Stick Davis on bass, Little Johnny Walter on rhythm guitar, and the impressive Joe Bencomo on drums. These guys define the “band ” concept, with each musician adding just what each song called for, without ego or pretense.
Their latest studio album, Way Back Home charted at Number 8 on the US Roots Music Blues radio charts, and received extensive air play in Europe as well. The record was selected among the world’s top 50 blues releases for 2016. Keep an eye out for this band at future blues festivals, and experience an exciting voice in the genre—true to its roots, masterfully played, and lots of fun.