The crowd in Betty Maulden Park were happy and excited, waiting eagerly for Mike Holey to hit the stage and kick off this year’s bluesberry Festival, which he did by announcing The Colin Alvarez Band. It was our first time hearing them, and we were favorably impressed. The crowd was still relatively small and the dancers weren’t out yet,with everyone content to lounge in their lawn chairs and enjoy the music in the shade of the parks’s big old trees. Alvarez was joined by drumming legend John McKnight and Cody Matkck, who we will talk about shortly.
It really is a great place for the festival. We remember the first year, when the bands performed on the back of a truck, and the year the bands performed next to the railroad tracks so they had to stop whenever a train came through. We had a great time those years too, but this location is so much better.
For those not familiar with it the Bluesberry and Beer Festival takes place annually in June in the charming town of Norcross, Georgia. it celebrates blues music, blueberries and beer. The organizer, Mike Holley, said he had lost count of how many he has organized, but he believes it is eight.
After Colin Alvarez came Little G Weevil. Originally from Hungary, Gee came to America to learn more about the blues he loved. he landed in Memphis and then came to Atlanta some years ago. In 2013, he represented Atlanta at the International Blues challenge and won, both Solo act and Guitar. At the festival, he was solo again, being the first artist to perform an acoustic set at any Bluesberry Festival. It is not his first time ar a bluesberry Festival, but it is his first time acoustic, without a band. As Mike Holley said to me, “If anybody can do it, its Little Gee Weevil,” and he did.
The crowd was so into it that no one left and more people came, even as the sky clouded over and thunder rumbled in the distance. But thunder does not like to be ignored, and right at the last note of Gee’s “Put a Dollar in My hand,” there was a tremendous boom! “Wow,that was an ending wasn’t it?” said Gee.
Nevertheless, the musicians ventured on. Next was a favorite of ours, Cody Matlock, with his amazing band.Cody has been playing the blues around Atlanta since he was about 14. He was 15 when we first saw him, so now at 22 he is a seasoned performer. He has assembled a great band of Atlanta blues veterans, with Tony Eric on bongos and Dee Harper on drums. Micheal Westbrooks on piano and Brad Cannata on bass. They were fabulous for two or three songs. People were dancing and really getting into it when suddenly the rains descended and they had to get offstage.
Despite the waterworks, almost nobody left. Many had come prepared and huddled under umbrellas. A few, like us, found the edge of a tent. We were sitting right in front of the sound equipment so ducked in there. One way or another, we persevered. The crew put tents over the stage and as soon as the outburst became a drizzle,Cody and the band resumed their set. The area in front of the stage filled with dancers of all ages and everybody was filled with good feeling.
After Cody, Mike Holley’s own band came out and did a solid set, making me eager to hear more of them.
Then it was rime for The Cazanovas, who have long been my pick for best Atlanta blues group, The crowd already loved them and they seemed particularly on fire for this performance, but maybe I always think that. They did a mix of great originals and covers, all high-energy and perfect festival fare.
Once again, Norcross, Mike Holley, and all the musicians gave us a fabulous day. This is my favorite local festival. Can’t wait til next year!