By Rhetta Akamatsu
Photos by Takesi Ken Akamatsu
Norcross, GA is a perfect town for a music festival, nd every year they have one, the Bluesberry and Beer Festival, featuring some of the best local blues acts. The festival is totally free, and people come out in droves. This year’s festival took place last weekend, June 17.
Things started out delightfully, with a fair number of people out already when the Wasted Potential Blues Band wound its way through the square. playing their way to the park where the stage was set up. A few dancers were on their feet from the first notes as the band entertained with New Orleans-style horns, rhythm and vocals. What a way to start things off!
Next came a long-time crowd favorite all around Atlanta, The Cazanovas. Founding members harmonica player and vocalist Maurice Nazarro and lead guitar player Danny Vinson have added amazing keyboardist Valerie Waters and veteran bassist Harold Patillo to drummer Pete Maier for a fantastic lineup! I have long stated my belief that Vinson is the best guitarist in Atlanta and one of the best anywhere, while Nazarro is a fiery harmonica player. a powerful vocalist, and a born entertainer. Add the rest of the lineup and this is a killer band! The dancers were really getting busy at this point.
Now it was time for Beverly “Guitar” Watkins. I was so excited to see her! This 79-year-old blues guitar virtuoso, singer, dancer and songwriter just slays me, and she was performing with her son Stan, who I had never seen with her before. He was looking and sounding sharp, too, on bass guitar and wearing a dazzling beaded jacket, sharing vocals with his mom. But the wind was rising and we knew a storm was coming. “Just let Ms. Beverly finish,” I prayed. Veteran that she is, she stayed on the stage until thunder rolled and drops started falling but just at the end of “right String But the Wrong Yo-Yo,” she exclaimed, “We gotta get out of here, ya’ll! Thank you!” And they hurriedly left the stage.
We struggled to lay our camp chairs down as the skies opened up. We were soaked to the skin in seconds as we ran for shelter. We huddled in a few doorways before making it to Cafe 45 which was doing a brisk business with half-drowned people. We ordered burgers and waited to see if the storm would blow over and by the time we got our food it did. So we took our food back to the park just in time to see that Albert White was onstage with his band and began to play a shortened but excellent set.
As we shook out our soaked chairs people all around us were doing the same and realizing that we were not going to get any wetter than we already were by sitting in them. So with dripping clothes and sopping hair we ate our delicious burgers and listened to Albert as the dancers resumed in full force. It seemed that almost no one left and by the time The Real Deal Blues Band came on the park was packed and dancers outnumbered watchers. By my unofficial observation, Norcross is the dancing-est town in Georgia at least during Bluesberry!
Cody Matlock miraculously started his set around 9 pm as planned! Cody is one of the most talented (and nicest) young performers in Georgia and he has put together an amazing band, with local favorites Jon Schwenke on bass and local drumming legend John McKnight as part of it.
Cody Matlock started playing at 13. We first saw him at 16 and now suddenly he is 21 and already a veteran of the Atlanta scene! He’s become a great performer, and his soul, blues and funk sound really crosses generational lines to appeal to everyone who loves music and a good time. I really feel that he and his band could break out!
As always, it was a great festival. Kudos to organizer Mike Holley for the great lineup and for letting the show go on despite the 45 minutes of rain, and for all the performers who did not let the rain stop each and every one of them from putting on great shows!
Bluesberry is my favorite festival. Get there next year, and wear your dancing shoes!