Review and photos by Andy ArgyrakisThere's really only one word capable of describing the all star line-up of performers at the "Jammin' for the Kids" benefit concert and that's simply "magical." To get a roster of the nation's top blues, gospel, and southern fried soul artists on one bill for one evening was truly astounding as they each weaved their wands of musical mastery to the concert hall full of Lawrence Hall Youth Services donors. Granted, some moments were more majestic than others, but the list of highlights far outweighed any of the evening's minor shortcomings as the likes of Bo Diddley, Buddy Guy, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Edgar Winter, Mavis Staples, Sugar Blue and a even a surprise guest took the stage. Sugar Blue opened the evening with a brief set of spirited blues followed by the blonde haired sax man Edgar Winter's leaning on soulful rock and roll. With a long ZZ Top styled blonde goatee to match his flowing locks, Winter was backed by the superb Debby Hastings Band, who helped him romp through an extended version of "Tobacco Road," which he meshed with a sampling of the Isley Brothers classic "Shout." Winter's commanding presence on the saxophone and his deep-throated vocals whipped the crowd into a frenzy, paving the way for none other than Mother of Soul Mavis Staples.
Although no longer accompanied by The Staple Singers (after the unfortunate passing of her father Roebuck "Pop" Staples in December 2000 and her sister Cleo's recent acquisition of Alzheimer's disease) Mavis looked better than ever. Her curly brown hair, vibrant smile, and sequined outfit accented her already lively personality and her backing band sizzled while laying down their mini-set packed with grooves. Staples brought the crowd to church with "I'll Take You There," giving fans an opportunity to rejoice for the blessings the event was bringing to the charity's beneficiaries, followed by a trip down memory lane for many of her other hits. Staples spoke of personal empowerment on "Respect Yourself," steamy love on "Let's Do It Again," and re-opened the gates of heaven one last time with a reprise of "I'll Take You There" before leaving.
Further exemplifying the bill's diversity, The Fabulous Thunderbirds followed Staples with their trademark brand of hell raisin' southern fried blues rock in the tradition of Stevie Ray Vaughan. The quartet unloaded a tried and true jam fest on the Vic that evening, often breaking out into improvisational guitar solos, busting bass beats, and nearly 10 minutes worth of the lead singer sequencing his harmonica playing with the bristling rhythm section. However, it was The Fabulous Thunderbirds biggest hit "Tuff Enough" that faired best in their time slot, during which a swarm of fans clad in leather biker jackets and an arsenal of tattoos raised up their drinks in toast of the rebellious anthem.
By the time Buddy Guy landed in the spotlight, what seemed like the entire audience crammed their way down front to watch the Chicago bred blues master do what he does best. From his trademark vocal snarl to his patient playing style, Guy cast a spell on the city, which included the sax smothered empathy found in his chants of "And It Feels Like Rain" and his straight to the bone blues approach on "Feels Like Gray." As if seeing Guy and his seasoned band of professionals wasn't enough of a treat, he was responsible for bringing out the evening's surprise guest Pinetop Perkins. The appearance of the 89-year-old keyboardist truly shocked the crowd, and watching Perkins and Guy trade notes and licks for over 15 minutes was truly delightful.
Unfortunately, after Perkins' brief appearance, a stagehand told Guy he'd have to wrap up his set in order to make way for the evening's headliner. Buddy pleaded with the schedule bound set time Nazi for just a few more minutes and at first it seemed like he'd have his way. However, after just a moment of an improved slow jam, Guy reluctantly stopped the song and announced to the crowd that he was done for the night. By the time the evening's headliner Bo Diddley took the stage just before midnight, most of the crowd made their way towards the exits as an impeding work day hindered their ability to stay out too late. In one sense, they missed seeing the biggest name of the evening (the creator of the monumental "Hey Bo Diddley" beat) but after Guy's potent set, Diddley's drawn out growls and somewhat scaled back accompaniment by the Hastings Band were not nearly as entertaining. Regardless, it was an honor to be in the presence of the bill's primary legend, and for those that stuck around, at least they can say they saw Diddley before its too late.
Pinetop Perkins and Buddy Guy
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