Over the Weekend: Buddy Guy at the Bedford Blues & BBQ Festival

Buddy Guy, Buddy Whittington, Jim Suhler, The Rick Kelly Band, others

Bedford Blues & BBQ Festival
September 4, 2011

Better than: sitting outside and soaking in the blues when the summer hasn't ended.

As a stiff breeze blew the last remnants of excessive heat from the area, legendary bluesman Buddy Guy headlined the second and final evening of the Bedford Blues & BBQ Festival Sunday night in -- where else? -- Bedford. And what a finale it was. 

At 75, Buddy Guy still has the same energy and guitar chops that he first exhibited in Chicago some five and a half decades ago. Looking fit, Guy hit the stage promptly at 9 p.m. and proceeded to rock the packed festival to the proverbial rooftop.

In many ways, the show was like a history of the blues. Guy and his top-notch band would introduce songs and styles from the likes of Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and B.B. King in order to show how the blues has evolved and transformed the face of music itself.

And yet new songs such as "74 Years Young" and "Let the Doorknob Hit You" were performed with the same intensity as classics such as "Hoochie Coochie Man."

The only problem was -- at least at first -- that the crowd wasn't paying enough attention. During a call and response on "Hoochie Coochie Man," Guy was let down by the meager crowd reaction, so much so that he stopped the song and told the family-friendly crowd, "Look, you just fucked that up."

Luckily, the beer had been flowing all day long and the crowd laughed heartily and became more engaged.

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Indeed, with Buddy Guy, the songs are always good, but the presentation is even better. This dude is simply the complete epitome of a showman. His guitar bag of tricks is seemingly bottomless; Guy did everything, including rubbing his instrument on his chest to get a percussive effect. It's no wonder Eric Clapton calls Guy the best guitar player alive. Hearing Guy live is like hearing Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan at the same time. His influence on rock cannot be overstated. One can even hear echoes of Guy's anarchistic style in such post-punk bands as Gang of Four and The Fall.

Grinning from ear to ear, Guy told stories about his beginnings and the pride he takes in delivering the goods night after night. But the stories never lingered too long. Nor did the tasty solos. 

As the moon rose over the Mid-Cities and the temperature hit a blissful spot in the 70s, the crowd just sat back and ate up the music as it had done with the barbecue over the entire weekend.

It was simply one of the best festival performances I have ever seen. I walked away with the sense that I had witnessed something beyond mere guitar playing and fine showmanship. 

This was music at the very heart of the American music experience.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
Ever since I first stumbled into the blues as a teenager, I've always been a big fan of Buddy Guy. Early on in his career, he wasn't that great of a singer and his best playing was found when Guy gave up the vocal reins to Junior Wells. But that just isn't the case anymore, as Guy can go from a whisper to a shout and deliver emotion in spades.

Random Note: Both Buddy Whittington and The Rick Kelley Band performed nice sets on the main and second stages respectively before Buddy Guy made his appearance. Whittington is more of your classic blues rock belter whose songs come across like prime ZZ Top. Kelley, on the other hand, is a talented bluesman with an intense funky side that kept even the nerdy white kids dancing away in the dirt.

By The Way: This festival had the best food ever. And the rather seedy carnival tagged alongside the music area was a nice touch to keep the kids occupied. There hasn't been this much rigging since a Pirates of the Caribbean movie, but when the music is as solid as it was this weekend, folks can excuse a few sleight of hand shenanigans.

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