Bradenton Blues Festival musicians elate capacity crowd

wtatangelo@bradenton.comDecember 2, 2012 

BRADENTON -- Ruthie Foster closed an amazing day with a most fitting song.

A song that spoke to the overwhelming success of the inaugural Bradenton Blues Festival.

For her encore, the Grammy-nominated singer performed "Grinnin' in Your Face."

Most famously recorded by the legendary Son House, the song is a spiritual about triumph in the face of adversity.

For far too long, Bradenton struggled to establish itself as a destination spot for music lovers.

Not anymore.

On Saturday, The Bradenton Blues Festival, which was produced by Realize Bradenton with much appreciated help from the Village of the Arts-based Blues Revue Magazine, attracted a crowd of 3,126.

That's more than triple what was expected for the debut event, organizers said.

And it's doubtful anyone in the audience, which included attendees from as far away as Canada, left disappointed.

Foster did a superb job as the headliner, elating the crowd with her singular brand of gospel-infused blues.

Her set, which ran from about 6:20 to 7:35 p.m., included intimate originals and potent covers of songs such as the Son House classic and the Pete Seeger chestnut "If I Had a Hammer."

She kept the crowd spellbound from start to finish.

And that was just the proverbial icing on the cake.

Bradenton Beach resident Damon Fowler brought his new super group Southern Hospitality on stage shortly after 1 p.m. to rock a crowd of at least 1,500.

Joined by fellow Florida guitarist/vocalist JP Soars and Memphis-based keyboardist/singer Victor Wainwright, Fowler premiered his reggae original "I Don't Feel Like Going There Today." It was one of several highlights during the hour-long, crowd-pleasing set of mostly new material that will appear on the band's upcoming Blind Pig Records debut album.

Singer-harmonica player Johnny Sansone came on next, bringing the party sounds of his hometown of New Orleans as well as his award-winning gritty blues cut "The Lord Is Waiting and the Devil Is Too."

Swamp blues master Kenny Neal, of Baton Rouge, mixed things up with a fun, festive cover of "Merry Christmas, Baby" shortly before Foster took over.

On a separate stage, Central Florida one-man band Ben Prestage sang and played an assortment of instruments in between acts.

"I've never seen a first-year festival this successful," Fowler said backstage after his performance.

"They did everything right and the people are loving it."

Wade Tatangelo, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7057. Follow Twitter.com/wtatangelo.

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