Simi Valley Cajun & Blues Music Festival 05.27.17

Although the Simi Valley Cajun & Blues Music Festival has been going on for almost 30 years, I’ve only been going the past handful of years. What had I been missing?

Some incredible “soul” food that is finger licking good, good ol’ American patriotism with a singing of the National Anthem at the opening of the festivities, and let’s not forget some of the best heartland sounds from the USA, Cajun and Blues.

This year, even though Jo-El Sonnier and Doug Kershaw were on stage at the Cajun stage, I spent all my time at the Blues stage, and it was time well spent, listening to sounds from 4 generations of masters.

Starting things off was the husband and wife team Kelly’s Lot, which is kind of Ventura County’s answer to the Tedeschi-Trucks Band. Kelly Zirbes has an incredible range, and mixes it with an earthy growl reminiscent of Janis Joplin. Her husband, guitarist Perry Robertson, is quick on the frets as he leads a hip team of rhythm, keys and horns. Kelly sang, moaned and cheer lead the band through blues that stomped (“Don’t Give My Blues Away”), boogied (“Happy”) and were southern smoked (“Rise Above”) as she and the band delivered material from their slinky new album Bittersweet. The rhythm team gave the Kansas City shuffle on “You’re the Reason I Got the Blues” and Kelly slithered like a slinky on new tunes like the booga-looing “Mr. Chairman.” What a way to start the day!

Legendary leather voiced  vet Lazy Lester mixed the blues with Cajun spices with a band that swung tighter than Kim Kardashian’s sweater. His harp could rock the boogie on “No Use Baby” while his electric guitar playing mixed with accordion sounds to produce a celebrative “Jambalaya” while on instrumentals like “Jack Rabbit” they got the audience doing the Louisiana Two Step. Claiming “I’m a lover, not a fighter, the veteran delivered a gospel gem on “Take Me Back Home” while closing the set with an infectious “Paradise Stomp.” Zydeco blues!

Legendary drummer Jim McCarty stated that “this is the best band I’ve had since the 60s,” and he got no argument during his 75 minute set that had the audience cheer for TWO encores.  His team of Johnny A/g, John Iden/g-voc, Kenny Aaronson/b and Myke Scavone/perc-harp have been together for a few years, yet deliver the various shades of blues with a fresh feel and sound. Iden’s vocals, teamed with harmonies on the popular tunes “Heart Full of Soul” and “Mister You’re a Better Man Than I” are a perfect foil for the searing and wailing harp delivered by Scavone on “Muddy Water”  and the searing “Smokestack Lightning,” while Johnny A made the guitar strings snarl on “I’m Not Talking” and the classic “I’m A Man.” McCarty, for his part through in a hip little drum solo, boogied with bassist Aaronson on “ Lost Woman” and threw in some lead vocals as well. The closing medley had the leader quip “Here’s one Jimmy Page took from us” before laying down the mood for a torrential “Dazed and Confused.” Still bluesy after all these years.

Celebrating  the 50 year anniversary of the first Doors album, guitarist Robbie Krieger dusted off his strings and brought his son Waylon to the microphone to lead a loose rocking band through a series of vintage material. Starting by paying honor to the recently departed Gregg Allman, Krieger did a mini-tribute by leading the band through an opening “One Way Out” before segueing into “Break On Through.” Krieger delivered his patented slide guitar sounds on material like “Roadhouse” and “Changeling,” while delivering some psychedelic riffs on “Wild Child” and “5 to One.” Son Wayon had the  Morrison attitude, if not the vocal veracity on pieces like “Alabama Song” but by the time the team closed with the So Cal classic “LA Woman” and anthematic “Light My Fire,” there were few complaints.

Food, fun and frets. Can’t wait till next year!

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