Blesok no. 33, July-August, 2003
Sound Reviews

Skopje Blues & Soul Festival, 2003

Vasja Ivanovski

    Seventh edition of “Skopje Blues & Soul Festival” which took place on July 1st and 3rd in “Colosseum”, nice outdoor venue in City Park, has proven once again its credibility among blues lovers as respectable event in global family of world blues festivals. With participation of artists from USA, Italy, France, Russia and Macedonia, festival offered various layers of blues segments which created positive vibes in the audience which came in large numbers when blues called!

    Conception of the first evening was thought out as a blues and rock oriented happening with disparate artists such as “Juke Joint Express” from Macedonia, Russian “Blues Cousins” and Alvin Youngblood Hart’s “Muscle Theory” directly from USA. Local favourites “Juke Joint Express”, young and promising band that has been together for only one year, took the stage and did a short dynamic set which has confirmed their potential. Their club tested material went very well among the audience and which was based on their love for Texas blues enriched with highlights of British blues boom of the late sixties. Their own songs combined with those of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson and “Fleetwood Mac”, Naum and his friends (including special guest Christian Cvetkovski on guitar) has justified their being on stage with temperamental and inspired performance creating fine atmosphere. Legendary “Albatross” by Peter Green which included short song intro by Italian Tolo Marton dedicated to Stevie Ray Vaughan was a perfect end of “Juke Joint Express” performance. It’s quite obvious that this young band has its own attitude to the idiom which should bring their potential to the fullest.
    After a short break Russian “Blues Cousins” took the stage and proved once again why they are the first band from this big country that will soon tour the USA, where it all began! Fronted by their leader, incredible guitarist Levan Lomidze, these cousins in blues did a set which will be talk of the town quite for some time among local blues fans especially guitar players and their air-guitar counterparts. There’s no much philosophy in “music of “Blues Cousins”, from the first moment it’s get-go situation which suggested there would some additional sweating among blues fans in that already humid Summer night. Band’s repertoire is successful combination of electrified Robert Johnson, old Chicago blues style of masters like Otis Rush, Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters with due respect to B.B.King and some contemporary blues authors with rockier edge to their blues with plenty of space for Levan’s guitar exhibitions. With tight rhythm section deeply involved with blues finesse and rock inhibitions, Levan, Slava and Victor presented their brand of blues in the best possible way. They even included a couple of songs by “The Beatles” in their playlist which irritated few blues purists but went down well on general level. Although their set was a bit too long for some, it was anticipated as a fine performance by the band we shall be hearing a lot more in the future and it was a fine introduction for the next participant Alvin Youngblood Hart and his “Muscle Theory” band.

    According to his already big world-wide reputation Alvin was announced as one of the stars of this year’s festival. With accolades from experts and fans alike, gigs at most prestigious blues festivals (including our festival from now on too!) he and his band presented material from his last two albums. Yet his stage act caused different reactions among local blues fans, some claimed that it was the best blues concert ever in Skopje, while others could not trace any blues in his music. Whatever it was, we have witnessed a polished, professional performance of quality musicianship (his bass player is a regular member of “Greg Allman Band”!). Music of Alvin Youngblood Hart is a stew with many spices that add to the taste, once you try it you feel better! We could hear some reggae, funk, even some country stuff performed with verve and style, yet we were able to feel that blues vibe that Alvin has been known for. In any case, fine ending to excellent first night of blues in Skopje.

    According to many spectators and blues fans, second night of the festival was even better, real exposion of mixed music of primal sounds of Mississippi Delta blues, hot Louisiana spiced music and what is today anticipated as quality European kind of blues.
    Proceedings began with Nico Wayne Toussaint, one of the leading European exponents of blues harmonica. His impeccable musicianship pushed to the limits by his excellent backing band was a real revelation for local fans who enjoyed every minute of his set which included fast shuffles, slow blues and everything in between. His basic repertoire consists of stuff by his mentors and friends James Cotton and R. J. Mischo, his own material where one can even feel discreet charm of French chanson nicely packed in blues idiom which went down well. His backing band followed perfectly his refined blues feeling presenting attractive blues picture. Finally Nico was mucician who signed most autographs at the festival, especialy to members of the gentler sex who might not know much about blues, but surely know what they like! Whatever we had hoped for was delivered by Nico and his band showing that his future is colored pink. His performance built a tension that had to be kept by the next participant, blues legend David Honeyboy Edwards, musician who is blues history himself.

    David has been to all blues crossroads sometimes joined by his close friend, legendary Robert Johnson! Applause and sounds of approval greeted David the moment he took the stage accompanied by Michael Frank, his friend and associate for the last thirty years. David Honeyboy Edwards played and sang the same way he did throughout his more than half a century long career. His life and stories transformed into music were an exciting experience, authentic and deeply emotional and warmly received by fans in the audience. In his 90th year of life David Honeyboy Edwards confirmed his reputation of a bluesman with legendary status not only in USA where he represents an icon of American culture. It was a real pleasure and privilege to have such a person in Skopje!

    Italian band “Mama’s Pit” had the honour to close this year’s festival and they did it in style! The band had the audience jumping and asking for more with their brand of blues including classic blues and R&B material, some Stevie Ray Vaughan stuff, a couple of funky pearls, some rock memories of Janis Joplin and good vibrations in general which were greeted with excitement of music lovers. Five excellent individuals featuring excellent guitar player Alessio Menconi and exceptional vocals of Barbara Vulso made a party to remember. Barbara really tore the place apart with her performance which included material road-tested throughout countless European gigs.

    Perfect ending of a festival which has maintained its tendency of prosperity that says we can expect more exciting blues happenings in the near future!

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