Michael Cloeren’s Pennsylvania Blues Fest
Part 1: Friday night and Saturday
Previously called the Pocono Blues Festival, the Pennsylvania Blues Fest has been in existence for 23 years; now located at Blue Mountain just outside of Palmerton, Pa. Michael Cloeren produces the finest Blues Festival in the country. He doesn’t book the biggest names in show business but caters instead to real blues fans and books those national and regional acts that are either established or “up and coming”. When you go to one of Cloeren’s festivals you always see some blue artists you already have an appreciation for and some that you have not yet heard. His festivals are exciting as they are always a learning experience.
The festival always kicks off with a Friday night show and ends late as a blues jam. This year it was hosted by BC and the Blues Crew. BC is Beverly Conklin who has been instrumental in the Pa. area as she has been involved with the local blues society. Sittin’ in with Conklin was Slam Allen former lead guitarist for James Cotton, Rooster Blues recording artist Lonnie Shields and harp ace Mikey Junior. The pre-fest Friday night is always a great party.
The music began on the Main Tent Stage at 1 PM with Severn recording artist Tad Robinson. Robinson has one of the most beautiful voices in the blues. He is also an accomplished harp player having spent his blues “internship” in Chicago. Robinson has a huge repertoire but for me the highlight was “Sunday Morning Woman” an original co-written with his organist Kevin Anker, from his latest recording “Back in Style”. Rounding out the band was guitarist Paul Holdman and drummer Jeff Chapin.
Shawn Holt and The Teardrops were next. Shawn Holt is the son of Morris Holt aka Magic Slim who passed away in 2013. Holt performed a set that would have made his father proud especially when he sang the title track from his new album “Daddy Told Me” on Blind Pig Records. Holt inherited his father’s band The Teardrops, Levi William, guitar; Vern Taylor, drums; and Chris Beidron, bass. They performed a set that showed why they won “Best New Artist” at this year’s Blues Music Awards.
Seldom seen in this area is Barbara Carr who hails from St. Louis Missouri. A Blues Music Award winner for “Female Blues Artist of The Year” her latest recording is 2012’s “Keep The Fire Burning” on Catfood Records. She was also a nominee the last two years as “Soul Blues Female Artist of the Year”. This classy but sexual lady once had a song written about her by NRBQ’s Terry Adams. Her newest album “Keep the Fire Burning” includes songs written by Johnny Rawls. My favorite song in her set was Howlin Wolf’s “All Night Long”.
Ronnie Earl won a Blues Music Award this year for “Best Instrumentalist Guitar”, his third in this category. Earl has the ability to make each listener feel like he is playing just for them. His band, The Broadcasters includes Dave Limina, keyboards; Jim Mouradian, bass, and Lorne Entrees, drums. They perform instrumentally without a vocalist; they reprised songs from their latest album “Good News” on Stony Plain Records. Earl received the greatest audience response of the day and a standing ovation for his fabulous set.
The living legend, James Cotton closed the day on the main tent stage. The harpist extraordinaire has played with everyone including Muddy Waters. His latest Alligator Records album “Cotton Mouth Man” received a Grammy Award nomination. His band includes vocalist/harpist Darrell Nulisch and guitar slinger Tom Holland. It doesn’t get better than this.
The Adventure Stage featured performances by Snooky Pryor’s son Richard Rip Lee Pryor; and by The Ursula Ricks Band. The Saturday night Jam was hosted by Dave Weld and The Imperial Flames.
This blues day was one of the best I’ve had this year as my wife and I slept like a dog next to a log.
Part 2: Sunday
Sunday began with a brunch exclusively for VIP members. The Murali Coryell Band performed. Special guest Dave Keyes was added on keyboards. Performance highlights included Coryell singing the title track off of his new album “Restless Mind”; and Keyes version of Marie Knight’s “Didn’t It Rain”.
Sunday on the Main Tent Stage the day started with an acapella gospel hour from The Coco Mama’s. Their beautiful voices helped begin another weather perfect day.
The audience was introduced to Alligator recording artist Jarekus Singleton whose debut album reached number one on the Roots Music Blues Chart. The Jarekus Singleton Band and The Chris Cain Band both received standing ovations for their respective sets.
The Heritage Blues Quintet featuring Bill and Chaney Sims and Junior Mack followed. Zydeco master CJ Chenier closed the Main Tent Stage (his photo was taken at The Pocono Blues Festival in 2010).
Appearing Sunday on The Adventure Stage was a solo performance by Super Chikan and also A Little Bit of Blues featuring Warner Williams, Jay Summerour, and Eric Selby.
My wife and I left tired but happy that we were able to attend this fabulous festival. Outstanding performances and near perfect sound made for a great weekend. We are already looking forward to the festival again next year. Thank you, Michael Cloeren.
Written and photographed by Richard Ludmerer