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Southern Avenue from Memphis, Tennessee

Take Me to the River

Sep 1, 2017
by Robert Feuer

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Above: Southern Avenue from Memphis, Tennessee. Photo by David McClister

Jazz musician Vijay Iyer once described a genre as an emergent property of the music of a certain community. In this era of identity politics and cultural upheaval, musical styles are being constantly melded, twisted, and broken apart into new forms by current events.

Maybe, that explains the variety at this year’s Russian River Blues Festival, Sunday, Sept 10 at Guerneville’s Johnson’s Beach. With most of the classic blues artists of bygone years safely tucked away into history, the definition of blues has become increasingly fluid.

The music of Louisiana-born Kenny Wayne Shepherd is best described as blues-rock. Sporting a surfer boy look, his appearance here in 2007 featured a pulverizing version of Hendrix’ “Voodoo Chile.” That same year, Shepherd and his band toured the South to record with classic bluesmen B.B. King,Hubert SumlinPinetop Perkins, and Honeyboy Edwards, all now deceased, for the album “10 Days Out: Blues from the Backroads.”

In 2013, he teamed with 1960s veterans Stephen Stills and Barry Goldberg in the band The Rides. The following year, he recorded with Joe Walsh,Warren HaynesKeb’ Mo’, and Ringo Starr. Shepherd has sold millions of albums worldwide and received five Grammy nominations, two Blues Music Awards, and two Billboard Music Awards. Television performances include Jay LenoDavid Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel, and Jimmy Fallon. Shepherd’s been featured in Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair.

Southern Avenue consists of five young Memphis musicians who blend gospel-tinged R&B, soulful vocals, and roots/blues-based guitar work for the Stax label. Key members are Israeli-born guitarist Ori Naftaly and sisters Tikyra (drums) and Tierinii Jackson (vocals). The latter once said “This band can be a platform to do a lot of positive things for the city of Memphis. I want to change the world, but Memphis is first.”

Con Brio, a seven-member San Francisco band formed in 2013, is into the Bay Area funk and psychedelic/soul sounds originating with groups like Sly & the Family Stone. A favored theme of theirs is the modern struggle for equality amid the desperation of city life. They’ve played at Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, and Outside Lands. Vocalist Ziek McCarter, whose father died at the hands of East Texas police in 2011, has vowed to make Con Brio’s music a place of serenity, compassion, and euphoria.

Beth Hart, who came out of the Los Angeles club scene, can croon an old standard or soul ballad, then quickly move to blues-rock. She’s fronted for Jeff Beck and Slash, and her 2013 release with Joe Bonamassa was Grammy-nominated. She’s also been nominated for a Blues Music Award as Best Contemporary Blues Female Artist.

Tower of Power has been performing horn-driven R&B and funk non-stop since the late ‘60s in Oakland. Of the ten current artists, four are founding members.

Brooklyn-born Mitch Woods, a veteran of this event, and a master of jump boogie and R&B piano, will take you way down yonder to New Orleans, where he absorbed the music of people like Fats Domino and Professor Longhair.

Real Music by Robert Feuer

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