by Gene Marrano
Down By The River felt more like Down IN The River at times, with rain and damp weather, but those that braved the elements and came out for one or both days of the concert last weekend got their money’s worth. A smallish crowd – maybe 1500 or so – last Friday night saw headliner Amos Lee display his versatility on stage, backed by a large ensemble. Before that, Jay Farrar, with just one accompanist on guitar, impressed as well.
A somewhat larger crowd turned out on Saturday for an all-day affair that included local musicians The Pace Brothers, as well as the Music Lab tent, featuring youth bands.
The Courtyard Hounds – two thirds of the Dixie Chicks – took the stage last after a set by crowd-pleaser Neko Case. The Hounds, working on a second album during their hiatus from the Dixie Chicks, displayed many of the harmonies and impressive musical talents that have made the Chicks a top-selling country group.
In addition to a large tent and the stage at the former site of Victory Stadium, there were food and beer vendors and a number of booths selling other goods. Also on hand was Kerry Hurley and the Blue Ridge Blues Society. Hurley, a former restaurateur who founded the Blues Society, was promoting his own Blues Bash & BBQ Festival (July 16, Elmwood Park) and something called Spring Fling, this Friday (May 20) at a venue known as The Sanctuary (1217 Maple Ave.)
“The Spring Fling goes to support our ‘Blues in the School’ program, where we go to the schools and play blues for the kids,” said Hurley. “We teach them about the roots of popular music and they love it.” Hurley even does a Power Point presentation on the birth of the blues. The Sanctuary, an old church, has been converted into a music venue. Hurley said the Kirk Avenue Music Hall people have put on some shows there.
“Its got a really neat feel to it, it’s a cool place,” said Hurley. This Friday’s 7pm show ($10 at the door) features The Nouveaux Honkies with special guest Jesse Ray Carter. As for the Blues Bash in July, Hurley said the lineup (Clarence Bluesman Turner, Tommy Castro Band, Albert Castiglia) is in place. “It’s going to be fantastic,” he promises. Hurley calls Castro a “Delbert McClinton protégé;” Castiglia used to play with Chicago bluesman Junior Wells.
The only real downer about Down By The River had to be the wet weather (it rained hard at times on Saturday), which held down the walk-up traffic that Ed Walker and Gary Jackson (Kirk Avenue Music Hall, which produced the event) were counting on. “I feel sorry for the people that put on this concert,” said one vendor as she packed up a tent full of unsold merchandise.
Hurley, who understands full well the perils of putting on outdoor shows, said he felt for the promoters as well. “But Ed Walker is such a special person that he was sitting up there in that tent having a good time, smiling, grooving to the music, not letting it get to him. There’s absolutely nothing you can do – it’s the weather. There should be 5000 people out here right now and I wish there were. But we’re making the best of it.”
That’s the attitude those on hand seemed to take – and they were rewarded with two days of solid music, during the second year of what many can only hope continues to be an annual event – the Down By The River concert series.