By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
Though budget constraints and the changing development landscape of Laclede's Landing will once again limit the 2008 edition of the Big Muddy Blues Festival to two days and three stages, organizers say the free event will continue to offer a wide variety of music from the blues diaspora.
"The objective is to present a good music event that will cross a lot of lines, a lot of boundaries," says John May, who books the talent for the festival. "There are so many different facets to what we know as blues music, with multiple genres that appeal to different people. We're trying to cover a lot of ground so it will be a good musical experience for everyone." May adds that the Big Muddy headliners this year have been selected with that variety in mind, ranging from the old-school Texas sound of Sonny Rhodes, who helped pioneer the use of the lap steel guitar in blues music, to the more rock-oriented West Coast style of guitarist Coco Montoya.
The varied musical traditions of Louisiana will be represented by multi-instrumentalist Kenny Neal (who's bringing his seven-piece band with horn section), while singer and guitarist Michael Burks, an Arkansas native, plays hard-edged blues in the tradition of fellow Midwesterner Albert King. May also touts the presence of soul singer Bettye LaVette, a Detroit native who's enjoying a well-deserved late-career renaissance and will close the festival on Sunday night. And he seems especially enthusiastic about Ruthie Foster, a gospel-influenced singer-songwriter from Texas whom he calls "a major artist, although she's young. You can't really put her in a niche," adding that she's "a crafter of songs" who's "almost like a female Keb' Mo'."
Big Muddy 2008 also will offer a multi-generational sampling of St. Louis' deep pool of homegrown blues talent. Venerable acts such as Big George Brock and the Houserockers, harmonica player Arthur Williams and the Boo Boo Davis Blues Band will offer a direct connection to the original era of electric blues, balanced by up-and-coming young musicians such as Brian Curran, the Bottoms Up Blues Gang, teenage phenom Marquise Knox, the Rum Drum Ramblers and Carbondale-based singer-guitarist Ivas John.
From the generations in between, there will be a diverse selection of St. Louis blues, R&B and soul musicians, including singers Anita Rosamond, Kim Massie, Roland Johnson, Renee Smith and Marsha Evans, singer-guitarist Leroy Pierson, and popular working groups such as the Soulard Blues Band, the Ground Floor Band, Rough Grooves, and David Dee and the Hot Tracks.
In addition, the Big Muddy will mark a homecoming for pianist David Krull, a former St. Louisan now living in Alameda, California. Krull, a staple of the local blues scene here in the '80s and '90s, nearly died last year from kidney and liver failure, but was saved by a last-minute transplant. Now well enough to resume performing and traveling on a limited basis, Krull will team up with guitarist Ron Edwards for a set on Sunday afternoon. — Dean C. Minderman
3 p.m. to 11:15 p.m., Saturday, August 30 and Sunday, August 31. Laclede's Landing. Free.
Diamond in the Rough
The climactic moment of Cheech Marin's Chong-less 1987 film Born In East LA arrives as hundreds, maybe thousands, of Mexicans storm the United States border while Neil Diamond triumphantly announces, "They're comin' to America!" For most, this scene was nothing more than an impractical resolution to a forgettable film, but this clip is credited as the beginning of a fascination with Neil's "America" among Mexican immigrants. The song's allure has only snowballed over the years; "America" is now the song of choice for sing-alongs at immigrant-rights rallies. Diamond's pop gems have always benefited from their comprehensive appeal, so it is not surprising that specific subcultures have adopted his venerable tunes as anthems for their causes. Let's examine some other anthems in Neil Diamond's catalog — and the people that need them the most.