The Blues is a Chair, and We Don’t Care

Blues IN a chair: Branded entertainer BB King is the thickening agent in the BBQ sauce, as Ribfest comes to the corporate gazebo of the Pee ‘N See Arts Center this weekend — a weekend that further features some intriguingly affordable options to hear The Blues, whether real or imagined, in all its myriad hues.

Let us tell you ’bout The Blues. Actually, don’t listen to us — as much as we live the blues every hour of every day, we’re in no position to tell you what The Blues IS any more than the legion of po’boy-wearin’ poseurs who purport to purvey the Real Thing, three sets nitely.

All we can tell you with any certainty is what we like (anything by Howlin Wolf, older Fat Possum, newer Slim Harpo, The Stooges, Captain Beefheart…us and Jon Huntsman…plus Shore goodguy Gary Wright, who recently blew us away with a brief but astonishing set of solo folkblues right here at the historic house where we hang our hat). That and the fact that Asbury Blues is Temporarily Closed like Venice is temporarily sinking.

THAT, and the fact that John Lennon said “the blues is a chair.” Can’t argue with that.

This weekend, like so many other weekends up and down the Upper WET Side and all around the calendar, offers a shipload of opportunities to get a handle on this inscrutable commerce we call The Blues — from old-timey victrola back-porch scratch ‘n skronk, to matching jacket/union-card casino showband clam ‘n pomp. From barely-blues classic rock repositioning, to beyond-blues jam culture mixology and everything in between all those things, which, this being blues, ain’t a huge patch of turf.

What makes THIS particular weekend extra relevant is its almost cosmic confluence of events that illustrate the very State of the Blues in 2011: the tightly controlled and vetted museum-piece kind; the thinly veneered showbiz kind by which soulless suburbanites get to live with themselves one more day at premium-seating prices — and the intimate, almost underground vein that points most directly to the amazing past AND hopeful future of the form. It’s a tour that begins with a freebie festival on Saturday morning, and a kid-gloves flip of the vintage 78…

Winners of the International Blues Challenge taste-test, Lionel Young and his band get the sweet spot on the schedule at the Long Branch Blues Festival, happening Saturday on the mean streets of the Pier Village condo and retail complex.

Argue all you want that organizations like the Jersey Shore Jazz and Blues Foundation ultimately do more hinder than harpin’ help to the organic innovations that made The Blues what it am in the first place — this by-the-book nonprofit (monthly board meetings, selection committees, education initiatives) has evidenced the proven savvy to survive like the most bottle-battered of the old bottleneck masters. Having seen the dissolution of the old Jersey Shore Jazz & Blues Festival in Red Bank (a weekend-long tradition whose tenure in Marine Park often came under attack by cranky locals, frustrated musicians, froze-out businesspeople and Mother Nature) — as well as the non-renewal of their replacement event in the parking lot at Monmouth Park Racetrack — the JSJBF declared, not incorrectly, that “there’s music all around this year;” cobbling together a simulacrum of a J&B Fest by cross-marketing three separate events, in three separate towns, in each of three consecutive months.

Unfortunately scheduled on what turned out to be a record-breaking hottie of a day, July’s event in the Blues mecca of Middletown Township drew sparse crowds and likely slimmer chances for continuity — although still to come in September is a first-ever fest on a downtown block of Mattison Avenue in Asbury town that looks like the series’ best matchup of vaudeville and venue. On Saturday afternoon and evening, the Great Lawn area within the planned-community precincts of Long Branch’s PierVillage complex becomes the setting for the Long Branch Jazz & Blues Festival, a daylong dingus that’s actually been going on around this time each year for most of the past decade.  of three local (and relatively lo-key) events designed to take the place of their increasingly more difficult-to- weekend-long festivals. Featured on the (ocean breeze-kissed) outdoor stage are the Big Band/Village of the Damned stylings of the JSJBF Youth Project Band (1pm), acousti-blues from veteran Gary Cavico (2:15pm), some intriguing electric jazz guitar by Andy Rothstein (3pm), bloozie-chantoozies from Gina Fox (4:15pm), and, at 5:30, an interesting set of session aces banded together as the New York Blues Project — a combo that boasts one of our favorite rock drummers, Billy Ficca (from the unspeakably awesome Television, and two-hit New Wave wonders The Waitresses).

The free music continues with Jonny B & The Blues Blazers at 6:45pm, and sounds Last Call with an 8pm headline set by the Lionel Young Band, recent winners of the thing called the International Blues Challenge). The JSJBF, of course, operates a number of outdoor concert event series around the wetside every summer, one of which (Jazz in the Park at Red Bank’s Riverside Gardens) just wrapped, and two of which (Thursdays by the Sea at Pier Village, and Blues by the Beach in LB’s West End Park) sound a last, long, lunar note this week with sun/stars sets by Kirk & the Jirks and The VooDUDES respectively. A Thursday night diversion continues on the pocket-park side of Front Street in Keyport through September 1st — and hopefully resuming at the end of September is Reckless Steamy Nights, a very cool monthly house party affair at Red Bank’s Woman’s Club (the historic Anthony Reckless estate just south of the Broad Street bizzy blocks). Check the JSJBF’s website for updates on this and other doin’s.

Come Back, all is forgiven: The J. Geils Band is BACK the way the Lord intended, with a chastened Peter Wolf out front and a Sunday support slot to a platter of baby-back ribs in the Holmdel hills.

Regular readers of this blog — all three of you — have surely gotten the hint that we’ve never been particularly fond of the whole PNC Bank Arts Center concert experience (particularly in the Evil Nation era of Gold Circle seating, preferred-chargecard ticket chicanery, ridiculous concessions markups, confiscations and misdirected security issues in a joint where people have actually died for their right to party). Whatever the old gazillion-dollar gazebo is good for — high school commencements, Slovakian food festivals, county-fair classic rock trade names — it surely wasn’t designed to play roadhouse to a Ribfest. Still, on Sunday afternoon/evening the arena that we affectionately dubbed the Pee ‘N See plays host to what’s possibly the only Rib Rock Fest you’ll ever attend in which you can’t watch the mainstage acts AND eat ribs at the same time — but those of you who are inclined to dismiss it as so much Pulled Pork should take a closer look at the featured entertainment.

While we’ve actually never been partial to the brand of big, blowzy, casino showband blues purveyed by B.B. King over the decades (and its inevitable adoption/misinterpretation by a generation of Brit rockers and flav-of-the-month teen guitar sensations), we’ll always grant an old dues-paid dog a pass when it comes to collecting on accounts in his rocking-chair years.  A branded commodity and a still-busy roadmaster at an age that most of us can’t even count to, the King will be parked in his chair with his latest Lucille, an ill-fitting lounge jacket and a precise ‘n pro-ey backup band, placing a hefty imprimatur upon a show that’s really constructed around the latest reunion of the classic 1970s/80s J Geils Band lineup. The garage-blues veterans who won millions of fans (but arguably lost their collective soul) with a string of slaphappy-but-slick 80s pop hits have reteamed once more with Beantown beatnik beanpole (and former movie star fucker) Peter Wolf, a genuine Master of Ceremony and from all reports a man who can still work a crowd from all angles. Expect a mid-set slab of more traditional blues-rock, bookended by the sort of freezeframers and flamethrowers that this band has always specialized in (and that all in attendance are secretly there to enjoy).

All well and fine, but this hootenanny in the Holmdel hills packs a secret weapon that just might flip any remaining fence sitters. In an interview we did with him on the redbankgreen site, Derek Trucks described the big new band he assembled with wife Susan Tedeschi as “something new and different…it’s the first time I’ve been in a band where I don’t see any limits.” The guitar whiz-kid turned grownup linchpin of the re-energized Allmans and diverse musical projects has moved with ease and native intelligence from trad blues to southern rock to freeform jazz and even a heartfelt affinity for South Asian flavorings — and we’re counting on him and the missus to provide some real spice in this BBQ sauce recipe, for which tix from Live Nation range anywhere from the price of a coupla McRibs to just this side of a prize steer.

Between the covers: Well-traveled, well-read veteran Roy Book Binder — two words — headlines a Sunday-side Evening of Rags and Blues at Lakewood’s Strand Theatre; one of Mike Patrick’s always unique and intriguing Suburban Roots Concert Series. 

Last time we looked in on Michael Patrick, the locally based singer-songwriter was at the unusually hi-class honkytonk setting of Tim McLoone’s Supper Club, fronting his acclaimed Johnny Cash tribute project Michael Patrick’s Ring of Fire Band during an evening that boasted a short but sure set by special guest star (and former part-time resident of Asbury Park, in the days when his famed parents had a stake in the Berkeley Hotel) John Carter Cash. It was another in an ongoing series of Suburban Roots Concert Series events around the Upper Wet Side — and as impresario/ringmaster of these always-intriguing little offerings, Patrick was his usual man-in-perpetual-motion self; rushing around and sweating all the details in a way that brings to mind your grandmother’s modus operandi at family get-togethers (“Ma! Siddown and eat, you’re makin’ everybody nervous!”).

The proof, as always, is in the Sunday Sauce — and while too many of the Suburban Roots events have flown well beneath most folks’ radar, what cannot be denied is that Mr. Mike is a man of impeccable taste in the best local-organic sounds out there in the big world beyond the GSP — a man who’s taken it upon himself, for little real reward, to bring such amazing talents as Justin Townes Earle and the incredible Pokey LaFarge to a Jersey Shorescape that otherwise didn’t appear to offer those acts happy harbor; booking them into such unorthodox outlets as the Claddagh Irish Restaurant and Pub, the Bradley Bowl, and the historic Strand Theater in downtown Lakewood.

It’s to the Strand that Suburban Roots returns on Sunday evening for a “Blues Who’s Who” shot of authentic Americana styles — an Evening of Rags and Blues headlined by a guy whose decades-long career has largely been lived as the music-biz equivalent of an off-grid hobo. Queens-born singer/ guitarist and raconteur Roy Book Binder (that’s a two-word surname, bub) earned his bona fides in NYC’s 60s folk scene and studied with no less than the Reverend Gary Davis — and, the book-binding business not being what it used to be, has enjoyed best-kept-secret status among peers, students and aficionados of acoustic Americana. Pegged by Patrick as “a real Leon Redbone,” Book Binder will preside over an intimate, unplugged gathering on the stage of the auditorium; a session augmented by the old-timey Piedmont-blues fingerpicker Frank Fotusky, as well as by Thomas Wesley Stern — not a man, but a new Ocean County based band that Patrick describes as “an Avett Brothers folk thing; almost a Seeger Sessions feel with songs like ‘O Mary Don’t You Weep’.”

Sounds like a good gambit for followers of true-blue Blues. Patrick, who’s forever on the lookout for new and different venues in which to host his rootsy rollickers, will be having a CD release of his own new material on October 22 inside the rock-bar boxcar of The Saint in Asbury Park — an endeavor that promises as opener “a jug band from Staten Island! Two jugs, a saw, the works!”