By Roy Kasten
By Kris Wernowsky
By Chaz Kangas
By Joseph Hess
By Julie Seabaugh
By Mike Appelstein
By Rachel Brodsky
By Kelsey McClure
It doesn't get any bluer than Bobby "Blue" Bland, who, at 73, is widely considered to be the greatest blues singer living today. Bland's voice has lost some of its youthful elasticity, but it's still a force of nature. Bland is one of those rare blues artists whose appeal isn't defined along racial or gender lines. Thanks in part to his longtime association with B.B. King, Bland has experienced broad crossover success. But he's also managed to maintain a rabid following among black audiences thanks to his constant touring along what is affectionately known as the "chitlin circuit," a sprawling trail of down-home blues clubs that cater to black audiences throughout the South and Midwest. Bland's delivery, equal parts swagger and seduction, makes him popular among both male and female audiences.
Although he's played St. Louis countless times over the past four decades, this year's festival appearance is sure to win Bland some new fans. "Festivals are a little different. I like the club setting. It's closer and more intimate. You can feel out the crowd a little better. But festivals are good, too," he says. "You get to play for people who might not normally attend a Bobby Bland gig." Those who fall into this category are in for a special treat when Bland performs at the Budweiser Stage on Sunday, August 31, from 8:30 to 10 p.m.
The highlights of this year's Big Muddy Blues Festival neither start nor stop with the aforementioned artists. Also appearing will be no fewer than four former bandmates of Muddy Waters (guitarist Bob Margolin, harpist Carey Bell, drummer Willie "Big Eyes" Smith and bassist Calvin "Fuzz" Jones), Howlin' Wolf's longtime guitarist Hubert Sumlin and famed Delta drummer Sam Carr. Local legends ranging from Oliver Sain and Johnnie Johnson to the Soulard Blues Band also will be on hand.
Those not yet convinced that the marriage between St. Louis and the blues has what it takes to last would do well to remember the old adage: The family that plays together, stays together.