The 2019 Bradenton Blues Festival – December 7th, 2019
Text and photos by Richard Ludmerer
(Kenny Neal photos courtesy of Laura Carbone)
The Bradenton Blues Festival is an annual festival now in its eighth year. It is brought to us by Realize Bradenton, a nonprofit organization that brings people together to create a vibrant downtown area for residents, visitors, and businesses. As a community-benefit organization, they work to continually strengthen the social, cultural, and physical assets Bradenton.
Food, drink, and an array of vendors complement the live music to create what has become one of the premier blues festivals in the country. Produced by Paul Benjamin for Realize Bradenton it was a wonderful day of music and good friends. It couldn’t have been done however without the sponsors. For the first time the festival was sold out five weeks before the doors opened.
The following photo array highlights the wonderful blues acts we saw on December 7th, 2019.
Zac Harmon is from Jackson Ms. where he grew up in a musical family. His father, a pharmacist, played harmonica while tending to the needs of local musicians including Muddy Waters, BB King, Albert King, Ike & Tina Turner, and Little Milton. Young Zac began his professional career as a guitarist playing with Sam Myers, Dorothy Moore and Z. Z. Hill. At the age of 21 he moved to Los Angeles and found work as a studio musician, songwriter and producer. As producer he worked with the reggae band Black Uhuru resulting in a 1994 Grammy nomination. After composing some blues for a movie score Harmon recorded his first blues album, “Live at Babe & Ricky’s Inn”, and introduced himself as a torchbearer for future generations. Zac Harmon and the Mid-South Revue took first place in the band competition at the 2004 International Blues Challenge. In 2005 Harmon released “The Blues According to Zacariah” and won the Blues Music Award for “Best New Artist Debut”. As an actor Harmon starred in the independent feature film “Black and Blue” in 2010. His latest album is “Mississippi BarBQ”, his seventh overall and first for Catfood Records.
Alonso “John” Primer was born in Mississippi but moved to Chicago where he played the blues clubs on Chicago’s south side; he was a regular at Theresa’s Lounge at 48th and South Indiana Avenue. He was also a member of Willie Dixon’s Chicago Blues All-Stars and The Muddy Waters Band. After Muddy’s death he joined Magic Slim and The Teardrops. Primer has been nominated for thirteen Blues Music Awards and received at least one nomination each year since 2012. Primer won a BMA in 2012 for his work on the album “Chicago Blues: A Living History the Revolution Continues” and again in 2016 as “The Traditional Blues Male Artist of The Year”. Primer was also the lead vocalist and featured artist on the 2016Grammy nominated “Muddy Waters 100” project. Under his own name Primer has recorded for the Wolf, Earwig, Warner, Telarc and Delta Groove record labels; and on his own Blues House Productions. On Delta Groove he recorded two widely acclaimed albums with the BMA winning harmonic master Bob Corritore; including 2017’s “Ain’t Nothing You Can Do!”. This new album on Blues House highlights his history as a soul blues singer; and is recorded with Primer’s own “Real Deal Blues Band”. Included are Primer, guitar and vocals; Steve Bell, harmonica; Ronnie Hicks, keyboards; Charlie Kimble, sax; Chuckaluck, bass; and Lenny Media, drums.
Annika Chambers competed in the 2012 International Blues Challenge and although she did not win her talent was recognized and she was signed to Montrose Records. The gospel influenced Chambers’ released her debut album “Making My Mark” with the Houston All-Stars in 2014. That album co-produced by Larry Fulcher and Richard Cagle, resulted in Chambers receiving a 2015 Blues Music Award nomination in the category “Best New Artist Debut”. Chambers’ follow-up recording 2016’s “Wild & Free”, under the guidance of executive producer Miki Mulvehill, was co-produced by Fulcher, Cagle, and Tony Braunagel. As a result, Chambers’ became an even hotter commodity and for two years running, in 2017 and again in 2018, she was a BMA nominee as Traditional Blues Female Artist of The Year (a.k.a. The Koko Taylor Award). Her tenacious touring schedule enabled her to win her first Blues Music Award in May of 2019 as The Soul Blues Female Artist of The Year. Chambers’ latest effort “Kiss My Sass” is only her third studio album.
Duke Robillard is one of the most heralded recording artists, guitarists and producers in the blues genre. He founded Roomful of Blues in 1967 but left that band two years later to form his own. Between 1985 and 2017 Robillard released thirty-three albums; the last being “Duke Robillard & His Dames of Rhythm”. He has also recorded albums with The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Joe Beard, Herb Ellis, Jay McShann, Ruth Brown, Eddy Clearwater, Jimmy Witherspoon, Snooky Pryor, Pinetop Perkins, Billy Boy Arnold, Joe Louis Walker and Bob Dylan; and that is the short list. Robillard’s talents have garnered him a total of twenty-two Blues Music Award nominations winning that trophy six times. Robillard also has more nominations for Guitarist of The Year than any other, and won more times than anyone except Buddy Guy. The Duke Robillard Band includes Robillard, guitar and vocal; Bruce Bears, keyboards; Brad Hallen, acoustic and electric bass; and Mark Teixeira, drums and percussion.
David Miller was raised on Chicago’s Southside. He was nicknamed “Biscuit” by his grandma as he wouldn’t get out of her kitchen. He learned to play bass from his older brother’s friend. His first professional gig was playing with Mojo Buford formerly of The Muddy Waters Band. One-day Biscuit received a phone call from Lonnie Brooks who asked him to sit in on bass for the evening. Biscuit remained with Brooks for ten years. Biscuit wasn’t that busy during the winter months so he formed “The Mix” in 2000. His debut recording “Come Together” was released in 2002. He sat in one night with Anthony Gomes and spent five more years touring with Gomes. He released “Blues With A Smile” in 2010 and won a 2012 Blues Music Award as “Bassist of The Year”. Biscuit’s third studio recording “Wishbone” won him a second BMA as bassist in 2017. He followed-up with “Live At The North Atlantic Blues Festival”. “Chicken Grease” is only Biscuit Miller’s fourth studio album.
Chicago’s Toronzo Cannon was born on the Southside in 1968. As a youngster he would sit outside Theresa’s Lounge listening to the sounds spilling onto the street. He purchased his first guitar at the age of twenty-two. The blues guitarist’s early influences included Albert Collins and Albert King. Cannon, a Chicago Transit Authority bus driver, worked as a sideman for Tommy McCracken, Joanna Connor and Wayne Baker Brooks. He formed his own band “The Cannonball Express” in 2003 and recorded his debut “My Woman” in 2007. Cannon followed up with two albums for Delmark Records including 2013’s Blues Music Award nominated “John the Conquer Root”. Cannon released, “The Chicago Way”, his first album for Alligator Records in 2016, resulting in four more BMA nominations. Each year for the last three years Cannon has received a nomination for Contemporary Blues Male Artist of The Year. Overall Cannon has seven BMA nominations.
Kenny Neal is the son of the late Raful Neal (1936-2004). Raful was considered the father of Baton Rouge Blues and is an inductee in the Louisiana Blues Hall of Fame. Since his father’s death the younger Neal has become the patriarch of the musical Neal family. He has six Blues Music Award nominations having won twice. He won a BMA for “Double Take” the 1995 Acoustic Album of The Year. He won again in 2009 as “Let Life Flow”, the title track from his then current album, was named Song of The Year. In 2011 Neal received a BMA nomination for Entertainer of The Year. That same year Neal was also inducted into the Louisiana Hall of Fame; like father, like son. Neal’s latest album, his sixteenth, is appropriately titled “Bloodline”.
Don’t forget to purchase your 2020 festival tickets early.