Tall City Bluesfest: Doing Midland Proud

For a variety of reasons, we attending only the final evening of this year's Tall City Bluesfest, but if what we experienced was representative of the whole event, Midland is going to make its mark in a big way in this musical genre. We were very impressed not only with the talent the event attracted, but also with the organization of the event, and with the obvious public and corporate support.

The crowd at the Tall City Bluesfest

As with any music festival, there were vendors and merchants, both local and from out of town, but it's really all about the performers. And, wow, did they ever deliver!

The venue - Centennial Plaza in downtown Midland - is utilized to maximum benefit, with two "headliner" stages set up on the north and south ends of the plaza, an indoor acoustic set stage inside of Midland Center, and the "Community Stage" for lower-billed acts in the plaza's amphitheater. The benefit of this arrangement is that the music is continuous. While one performance is going on, the next act is setting up on another stage. This also ensures that the crowd circulates, and the movement helps maintain a sense of excitement.

Of course, not all the performance venues are created equal, and some of the performers found themselves on a stage that mimicked a solar oven. Fortunately, the temperatures in the mid-90s didn't faze the local band Weatherstone, as they rocked the crowd without missing a beat.

Stylized photo of Weatherstone

Meanwhile, inside the air conditioned comfort of Midland Center, Dallas musician Aaron Burton was providing a pleasant musical backdrop for the shoppers browsing through the vendors' booths. 

Stylized photo of Aaron Burton
Aaron Burton

The festival organizers did a great job in turning Midland Center into an inviting place to escape the heat, with bar-height tables scattered in front of the stage, inviting people to linger but not plant themselves. There were even a few arm chairs set out for those who were in more desperate need of relaxation.

Even though we were at Bluesfest to catch the headline act, we greatly enjoyed hearing musicians that were hitherto unknown to us. A prime example was Guy Forsyth, based in Austin. Forsyth has won awards for best blues musician and best male vocalist in Austin, which is no mean feat, and he's also been recognized as the "Best Miscellaneous Instrument Player" for his mastery of the saw. (He's modest about this accomplishment, being quoted as claiming "...you don't have to play the saw very well to be the best saw player most people ever see...I'm just sayin'.")

The saw was just a peripheral part of Forsyth's act. He's an outstanding guitarist, an incredible harmonica player, and by far the best and most versatile vocalist we heard. He's also great with the crowd, possessing a dry, self-effacing humor. He reminded me a lot of Alan Tudyk, the actor well known for his roles in Firefly and Serenity, among many others.

Stylized photo of Guy Forsyth
Guy Forsyth

The primary reason we made time for Bluesfest (in fact, we skipped a dance, so you know how serious it was) was the appearance of Tommy Castro and his band, The Painkillers. If I had a musical bucket list, seeing Castro in concert would be close to the top of the list. He rarely appears in Texas, something he acknowledged, and I hope his experience in Midland (with a stop in Austin to "visit friends") succeeds in luring him back more frequently.

Photo - Tommy Castro
Tommy Castro and his bass player

Castro is the real deal. He's got a great blues voice, and is one of the best guitarists you'll ever hear, and he's surrounded himself with other musicians at the top of their games (his keyboardist in particular was, in a word, astonishing). But what really sets him apart is his obvious love for what he does. At one point, he climbed down from the stage and mingled with the enthusiastic fans crowding the front of the stage, all the while playing a blistering solo without missing a beat, and with a big grin on his face throughout.

Photo - Tommy Castro
Tommy Castro and some adoring fans

Midland should be proud of what Lisa Grissom, the festival producer, has pulled off. This is a first-lass event that has the potential of being world-class. The only impediment to success is the landlocked venue, which will never accommodate more than a few thousand attendees. And to be honest, from my perspective, that's not a drawback. I hope the musicians are willing to trade off quantity for quality.

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This page contains a single entry by Eric published on July 30, 2012 8:50 PM.

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