California Simi Valley 25th Anniversary Cajun & Blues Music Festival May 24th & 25th, 2014
Saturday’s headliners included the British blues godfather: John Mayall, surviving members of blues-rock heroes Canned Heat, and Guitar Shorty. Appearing on Saturday and Sunday was C.J. Chenier & the Red Hot Louisiana Band. Sunday closes with the soulfulness of Swamp Dogg and the rollicking pedal-steel expeditions of Robert Randolph.
On Saturday’s Blues stage Canned Heat took us on a trip of late sixties classic anthems like “On the Road Again” “Let’s Work Together,” and “Goin’ Up the Country.” Drummer Fito de la Parra” ignited the skins, and bassist extraordinaire Larry Taylor roared on a rousing “Rollin’ and Tumblin,’”that closed their set. Note: Sorely missed on guitar (for the Heat) was guitar-god Harvey Mandel, a longtime favorite of mine has been battling cancer for three years, and needs to raise significant dollars to pay for his doctor bills, see more at: www.HelpHarveyMandel.com Guitar Shorty, carved his craft playing with everyone from T-Bone Walker to Big Joe Turner to Little Richard and Sam Cooke. Shorty exhumed Jimi Hendrix on his set that covered “Hey Joe” as well as “The Star Spangled Banner” and closed with “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” A youthful looking (now eighty years old) John Mayall concluded the first day of the fest with his attentive blues band of Greg Rzab, Rocky Athas, and Jay Davenport. Mayall shifted from keyboards, harp and guitar performing songs from his 2014 release “A Special Life.”
Sunday’s blues stage featured Swamp Dogg, Tommy Castro, and Robert Randolph. I was very moved by Jerry Williams Jr. aka Swamp Dogg. The Virginia native began writing and producing old-school R&B in the fifties. Although he makes most of his living from royalties (“She’s All I Got” is a favorite of country acts,) the seventy-one-year-old still enjoys performing, occasionally with his ninety-two year-old mother Vera Lee as his opening act. Cary Baker tells me that Swamp Dogg will be releasing a new album later this year. Based on Swamp Dogg’s tight performance – we all should be looking forward what he conjures up for 2014, stay tuned. Unfortunately I do not have any kind words about Tommy Castro’s set. Castro has always been a favorite but has recklessly abandoned his affinity for classic rhythm and blues, and has turned his unit into a hard-nosed rock band. Castro also fired his trumpet player and his longtime saxophonist Keith Crossan.
Without going on and on, I won’t be making any efforts to see the Tommy Castro band anytime soon; that is unless he changes his act. Wrapping up the festival was the always invigorating Robert Randolph who rarely disappoints. Randolph’s set at Simi Valley was riveting!
For both days the Cajun – Zydeco stage was a non-stop party that featured well- known bands like: Nathan Williams, C.J. Chenier, Dwayne Dopsie, Feufollet and others. They also offered two Mardi-Gras parades, one for each day.
Director of marketing for the festival Jeff Newby opined that around four-hundred volunteers, sponsors and nonprofit organizations have helped make the event possible. One-hundred percent of the money raised at the festival goes to local nonprofit organizations. The festival has earned between $40,000 and $65,000 each year. And since 1998, the Cajun and Blues festival has donated an estimated $1.6 million to various charities. Newby also said that for this 2014 two-day event there were nearly twenty thousand paying fans who attended this very admirable event. Congrats to Simi Valley for their twenty-fifth anniversary festival, may there be many, many more!
For fifteen years Bob Putignano has been pivotal at WFDU with his Sounds of Blue radio show: www.SoundsofBlue.com – Previously a senior contributing editor at Blues Revue, Blueswax, and Goldmine magazines, and Music Editor for the Westchester Guardian. Putignano can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bob Putignano: www.SoundsofBlue.com