Forget the Playboy Jazz Festival; the Simi Valley Cajun & Blues fest beats the older and richer sister. This is coming from a jazzer, yet still, pound for pound and dollar for dollar, I have more fun here than in Hollywood. The parking is free, the show is ten times cheaper, the crowd and attitude is much more fun and the food…we’re talking Memphis and Louisiana, folks!!!
For the Sunday show, opening was a group I’d never heard of before, Kelly’s Lot. Lead by the gloriously rough and ready vocals of Kelly Z, the band included a swinging horn section, deeply grooved rhythm team and a two guitar set of slingers of Perry Robertson and Rob Zucca. The band performed sizzling and stomping originals, coming across like the best alternative to Tedeschi-Trucks with a dash of Bonnie Raitt, with Kelly Z using delivery, power and timing like Mariano Rivera as she belted out the blues served on a dry rub platter. YUM!
The festival has a “separate but equal” pair of stages for blues and Cajun. Over at the New Orleans-friendly stage, Jo-El Sonnier had the crowd doing the Louisiana two step with a shuffling mix of zydeco, waltz, boogie woogie and polkas. Switching between three squeeze boxes, Sonnier displayed an infectious and irresistible set of solos as well as duets with his violinist, daring anyone in the audience to sit still. Two steps to heaven!
Back at the Blues Stage, up comes Booker T Jones with an air tight quartet which included his son Ted on lead guitar. The blues were brewing as Jones and company seared through tenacious riffs from “Hang “em High” and “Respect” but what opened up a few eyes was when the venerable B3er sang in a level that rivaled BB or Albert King as he moaned through “Born Under A Bad Sign” and “Mannish Boy.”
Almost causing a wave of celebration, Leon Russell ambled on stage to join the band for an incendiary read of “Green Onions” that created a tidal wave of energy as father joined son on guitar for a rage of riffs. Closing the set with the classic “Time Is Tight” Jones and company showed the difference between music that was made to last and the mere transience of today’s so called “artists.”
While Leon Russell jokingly confessed to me before his set that “jazz wasn’t allowed to even be mentioned in our home” his selection of tunes like “I Got A Woman” and “Kansas City” revealed his true allegiances. As Ellington famously said, “There are two kinds of music; good and the other kind.” Sunday in Simi delivered music made to last.And, while the blues, cajun and jazz may live in different neighborhoods, they are all connected to the same power source.
Can’t wait until next year.