Johnette Isham, executive director of Realize Bradenton, grabbed bluesman Damon Fowler’s guitar Sunday morning during the Bradenton Blues Fest Brunch and, after breaking into a shockingly huge riff that blew Mattison’s City Grille away, the Fowler-Isham Blues Project was instantly born.
Actually, that didn’t happen.
The truth is that Isham played air guitar during a silly moment with Fowler during the final event of the 2017 Bradenton Blues Festival and dreamed of the Fowler-Isham Blues Project.
But that’s kind of what the just-wrapped, three-day, sixth annual blues festival is all about, Isham said later, bringing blues artists into a laid back Florida city known for its friendliness where everyone just has a good time listening to great music and getting to mix and mingle.
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Every single artist this year was fantastic.
Bradenton’s Tom Goetz, Bradenton Blues Festival fan
This year’s festival, the first one to be sold out in advance, drew 3,000 fans to a free community concert Friday and 3,000 more on Saturday, when eight acts performed along the Bradenton Riverwalk, and a couple hundred more showed up at Mattison’s on Sunday for a blues brunch featuring “greens” egg and ham and leek and bell pepper frittata along with Fowler and fellow bluesman Matt Walker, Isham said.
Fowler chatted with many blues fans at the Brunch, including Bradenton’s Judy Sedgeman, who threw a bill into his tip basket.
“Thank you,” Fowler bowed to Sedgeman. “I’m going directly from here to buy a fresh Christmas tree for my kids and we are going to decorate it.”
“I love his music,” Sedgeman said after meeting Fowler. “It’s really nice to meet somebody who is so talented and is such a nice guy.”
Watching Fowler at a table at Mattison’s Sunday were lifelong friends Tom Goetz, Jim Cashmore and Mark Stefanovich. Goetz, who has been to three festivals, recently moved to Bradenton from Rochester, N.Y., “partly because I love the Bradenton blues festival,” Goetz said.
Goetz turned the festival into a reunion this year. He invited Cashmore and Stefanovich, who traveled from Milwaukee, and other friends who came down from Jacksonville to go to the festival, which was also attended by Goetz’s own family.
“Every single artist this year was fantastic,” Goetz said. “It was a perfect time and being able to enjoy it with so many fine people, especially my old time friends ... was tremendous.”
Blues lineup delivers
For those who missed the festival, probably no one internalizes it more than Paul Benjamin, who booked all the acts and who introduced them all on stage.
We busted out some zydeco for the first time ever at the festival with Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band. People were dancing in the aisles, just dancing all over the grounds. That was a boost of energy for everybody.
Paul Benjamin, booked all the acts for the Bradenton Blues Festival
Here’s how the excited Benjamin, on Sunday, described Friday and Saturday:
“Friday night we got kicked off with a free concert for the city,” Benjamin said. “Doug Deming and The Jewel Tones and then TC Carr & Bolts of Blue. They were both great. Two different styles of blues that electrified the crowd. The crowd had a phenomenal night. It’s a really good concept for the people who can’t afford to go to the blues festival. They get a free concert in their backyard.”
“On Saturday, the Sean Chambers Band went on at 11 a.m. and set the tone for the day with a little electric blues and got the audience fired up,” Benjamin added. “Following Sean was Vanessa Collier, who actually did the Blues in the School program for the kids. She is a young artist, a female saxophone player who is the real deal. She had the crowd on its feet, clapping and yelling. She was probably the most talked about act at the festival all day.
“Following Vanessa was Nick Moss Band,” Benjamin said. “We had to put some Chicago blues in there and Nick Moss is great. After that we busted out some zydeco for the first time ever at the festival with Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band. People were dancing in the aisles, just dancing all over the grounds. That was a boost of energy for everybody.”
After zydeco was Sugar Blue.
“Sugar Blue is a great artist who played on the Rolling Stones hit ‘Miss You’ and he’s the guy who taught Mick Jagger how to play the harmonica,” Benjamin said. “Sugar Blue just brought that energy level up a little more, then we had the amazing Curtis Salgado and he kind of put that soul blues into the mix. Of course we finished up with Joe Lous Walker, who brought that West Coast style of blues to the event, so it was a great mixture of all different styles of blues and a great day for Bradenton.”
Benjamin said the festival will be back in 2018, but the lineup isn’t yet set.
“Give me a moment to enjoy this one,” Benjamin said through a grin.