Old Black Water

The Big Muddy Blues Festival is back and bigger than ever, while B-Sides finds out that Michael Bolton isn't an assclown and spotlights photography superstar Tammy Leahy,

Shemekia Copeland

Rebirth of the Blues

After some lean financial times in recent years, the newly renamed Budweiser Big Muddy Blues Festival is back and bigger for 2006, with more than 50 bands playing this year's event.

Though money troubles led to fewer days, bands and stages in 2004 and 2005 — and threatened Big Muddy's continued existence — things have improved this year. Big Muddy executive producer Dawne Massey says that with Anheuser-Busch stepping up as title sponsor, plus additional major support from Lohr Distributing and the Regional Arts Commission, the festival was able to restore a third day of music for 2006 (although it's been moved from Monday to Friday). Having three major sponsors "has made it so much easier this year," Massey says. "We weren't scrambling trying to come up with another $5,000 here and $5,000 there."

The festival has also added a new, larger main stage on Leonor K. Sullivan Boulevard that will operate on Saturday and Sunday, bringing the total number of stages on those days back to five. And while the larger 2006 budget isn't quite enough to accommodate top-dollar names such as B.B. King or Robert Cray, the touring headliners should provide plenty of good music in a diverse mix of blues styles from Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Saturday's main stage performers will include Austin's Fabulous Thunderbirds — two decades removed from their days as unlikely pop hitmakers but still featuring the potent blues harp and vocals of Kim Wilson — and Papa Grows Funk, a New Orleans act that's a particular favorite of Massey's.

"I saw them when I was down there at the Jazz and Heritage Festival this year," she says. "The band members are from some really prominent New Orleans bands [including the Meters, Galactic and George Porter Jr.'s Running Partners]. They're really a fun band. We put them on in front of the Fabulous Thunderbirds, because I want the people of St. Louis to see this band. I really think they're going to love them."

Sunday's headliners include Mississippians Jimmy "Duck" Holmes and Eddie Cotton, Louisiana guitarist Sonny Landreth and singer Shemekia Copeland.

While the new main stage will feature primarily touring acts, the other four stages will be loaded with local bands. "We've increased the budgets for local bands this year by 50 percent, thanks to Budweiser," says Massey. In addition, the former main stage at First Street and Lucas Avenue has become the "St. Louis Headliners Stage," providing a bigger showcase for selected local acts.

Friday's musical menu will feature sixteen St. Louis-area performers, including David Dee and the Hot Tracks Band, guitar slinger Steve Pecaro, singer Erma Whiteside and teenage phenom Marquise Knox.

On Saturday eight local and regional bands will appear, including perennial favorites such as Bennie Smith and the Urban Blues Express, Soulard Blues Band, the Mighty Big Band and Billy Peek, while Sunday's lineup will include seventeen more St. Louis acts, including Big George Brock and the House Rockers, Tom Hall, Mojo Syndrome and the Marsha Evans Coalition. Saturday, September 2, has also been proclaimed "Bennie Smith Day" by Mayor Francis Slay. — Dean C. Minderman

5 p.m. Friday, September 1, and 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, September 2 and 3. Various stages on Laclede's Landing. Free. For more information, see www.lacledeslanding.com or www.bigmuddyblues.com.

Bolton Lives!

Michael Bolton is the type of celebrity who makes almost every average human feel incredibly lucky to have no talent whatsoever in the realm of entertainment generally (and singing specifically). Because of Bolton, it's not just bearable to have unremarkable mousy brown or dishwater blond hair — it's desirable. For a longtime life partner or casual date, it's a far better thing to be dull than Desperate.

Since the 1980s, when Bolton began inflicting soft-rock standards such as "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You?" upon FM radio and VH1, the New Haven, Connecticut, native, now 53, has endured a steady stream of critical and popular invective. He has taken criticism normally reserved only for the most cloying and annoying (Celine Dion, Jerry Lewis), razzing limited not just to his artistic oeuvre but also to his hairstyle (once frizzily mulleted, now Seacrested out) and his woman (Nicollette Sheridan).

But even now, as Bolton launches an assault upon the classics on his recent album, Bolton Swings Sinatra, he is known to millions as the ridiculous conceit of a Hollywood comedy construct, much the way A Flock of Seagulls is recognized by cinephiles not for "Telecommunication" but for Samuel L. Jackson's sneering reference in Pulp Fiction.

It was in this spirit that we electronically elbowed into a group teleconference interview that Bolton was giving to shill his Sinatra covers. We were able to salvo just one question. Judging by the length, complexity and passion of Bolton's answer, B-Sides hit the mark.

B-Sides: Mr. Bolton, how do you feel about being known to millions of people as a "no-talent ass-clown" as a result of the film Office Space?

Michael Bolton: Office Space is funny. I've autographed a lot of those DVDs. But seriously...first of all, what do you do when someone knocks you when you've been nominated for Grammys — Best Male Vocal — four times? When you're looked at with respect in the industry? When you write with Bob Dylan, Joe Cocker, Kanye West? The answer is, you kind of don't have to be insecure about ever being a no-talent anything. You are light-years beyond that possibility. But I admit that sometimes I am a clown.

One of the things that comes with mainstream success is that people are going to love what you do. But there are also a lot of people who take shots at what you do, people who just don't get what it is you do. Here, you've written with Dylan. You've written rock & roll, country and rap. You've sung with Ray Charles, Pavarotti. You kind of have to be so grateful about the long list of victories and for the mountains you've climbed that you have to look down from.

Before you get famous, you don't take heat from anybody. Your rent checks are bouncing. You're a starving artist in a blues band. When I started recording pop ballads, I learned to take the knocks.

This happens in every great career. They use you to set up a joke in a film. But did I mention that I recorded with Ray Charles and wrote with Bob Dylan? I mean, seriously, I'm pretty cool. — Jean Carey

St. Louis Scene Trading Cards

Name: Tamara "Tammy" Leahy
Birthdate: July 20, 1980
High School: Parkway South High School
Can Be Found: Shooting live-action and promotional photos for local and national bands.
Career Highlight: Tammy appreciates the intimacy of small venues around town, so when she photographed the now-infamous Dresden Dolls at Frederick's Music Lounge, she understood she would never have an opportunity like that again.
Fun Fact: Forget coffee — Tammy doesn't function in the morning until she's done her daily round of Sudoku.

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