Blues Blast 2014 - Hance Park - 3/8/14

Blues Blast 2014 Margaret T. Hance Park 3/8/14

It might have been a bit warm this past Saturday when the annual Blues Blast went down at Margaret T. Hance Park in Phoenix, but that didn't keep both local musicians and fans of the genre alike from attending the outdoor music festival.

While a few of the musicians and patrons present at the event, which is organized and sponsored by the Phoenix Blues Society, sang the blues about the weather, the air was largely filled with 12-bar melodies and plenty of down-home harmonies.

Most of the hotness at Blues Blast, however, was limited to the scorching sounds coming from the performers, such as local bands like The Mike Eldred Trio, Leon J and Juke Joint, the Paul CruiZe Blues Crew, and Sugaray Rayford and the Rhythm Room All-Stars.

Each of the groups and musicians in the Blues Blast lineup -- which also included Kansas City's Samantha Fish Band and local icon Hans Olson -- served up varying types of blues to satisfy everyone in attendance.

Fish, for instance, played her brand of hardcore wailing guitar blues, while Olson was more in the vein of folksy blues, and Leon J and Juke Joint's blues offerings focus more on storytelling and history.

Meanwhile, Eldred and company performed their amped-up take on the genre and performed tunes from their two most recent CDs, 61/49 and Elvis Unleaded, including their bluesy cover of the King's "Burning Love." The song will reportedly appear on the soundtrack of the upcoming Disney movie Planes: Fire & Rescue.

According to Eldred, the Disney folks heard the song on Elvis Unleaded decided to use it in the animated film, which will be released on July 18.

"It's a lot of money. It's great," Eldred says. "I had to send them a version without the lead vocals."

That's not the only big news in the works as Eldred told New Times that he will pay a visit to John Mayer's house on March 29 to record a song for the trio's next album, Baptist Town. The disc is reportedly about a community where blues and history were big, but now is falling apart and not getting its due.

In the meantime, Eldred and his fellow musicians focused on performing for the Phoenix blues community during Blues Blast. While the trio usually includes John Bazz on bass and Jerry Angel on drums, due to the fact that the latter musician couldn't make it to the festival, Brian Fahey from the Rhythm Room All-Stars filled in for the band's set. Nick Riviera, the leader of local blues legends Big Nick and the Gila Monsters, who played the harmonica, also joined them onstage for the gig.

Eldred, who moved to Chandler from California about seven years ago, started playing guitar when he was 14, and was thrilled to perform at the event.

"I wanted to play at the Blues Blast since I moved here so this was a dream come true today," Eldred said. "Having Nick sit in with us is always great."

Eldred added that the 80-degree heat was brutal, but the strong crowd response at Blues Blast made the performance worthwhile.

Another performer who deal with the heat was Sugaray Rayford, who's head was beaded with sweat by the time that he and the and the Rhythm Room All-Stars completed their set.

Rayford and the All-Stars mixed up Chicago, Memphis and Texas blues at the festival and the singer had the crowd up and dancing with tunes like "Why Are People Like That," "I Ain't Got Nobody," "Money Tree," and "Country Boy."

He was doing a bit of dancing himself, moving about the stage while getting into Mardi Gras mode and throwing the necklaces out into the crowd. Rayford also offered some of his signature humor in the form of some sage-like advice.

"Men are the heads, but women are the necks and they can move the heads anyway they want," he told the crowd.

Rayford, who also recently moved to Phoenix, said he enjoyed being at Blues Blast because he didn't have to jump on a plane afterward to get to his next show.

"I'll be home before the sweat dries, but we also had a nice cool breeze," he says. "We had a good crowd. You couldn't beat it. I also love playing with the Rhythm Room All-Stars. I get an education every time I play with them."

And they've certainly performed together a lot. The All-Stars -- which include Rhythm Room owner and internationally acclaimed harmonica player Bob Corritore, as well as Chris James, Patrick Rynn, Brian Fahey, and Mojo Mark -- have served as Rayford's backing band in recent months.

As he's wont to do, Corritore provided an excellent performance on the harmonica during Blues Blast, helping accompany Rayford during their lengthy set together.

"Sugaray is a great musician, but he's also a great entertainer and person," Corritore says. "The festival gods smiled on us today."

They also smiled upon Hans Olson, as did the sun. The veteran musician, who helped found the Phoenix Blues Society back in 1989, played between sets and said the stage was so hot that at one point he couldn't pick up his harmonica or guitar until they brought him an umbrella.

Olson enjoyed performing at the event, save for the heat, and says that the "audience was fun." While he has previously appeared at the festival when it was held at Mesa Amphitheater, it was his first time performing at a Blues Blast at Hance Park.

Olson says he chose not to appear at the event since its location because of the former state of the park.

"It used to be flat, dirt ugly," he says. "But they planted high tech grass."

Olson didn't mind performing sets, which included original songs from his lengthy repertoire and covers of John Lee Hooker to Fleetwood Mac, while other bands and artists set up and broke down their gear.

"It was really easy," he says. "I enjoyed it because I only had 15 minutes at a time."

Olson staged his final performance of the afternoon right before Blues Blast headliner Samantha Fish and her band offered the audience a lengthy set of amped-up blues-rock that lasted more than an hour and a half.

While the sky turned from blue to orange as the sun set over the horizon, Fish showed off her ample guitar skills to the Blues Blast crowd on songs like "Black Wind Howlin," while tracks like "Last September" gave her a chance to demonstrate her great vocal talents as well.

Her set list also included tales of broken hearts and bad relationships, such as in songs like "Kick Around," "Sucker Born," and "Go to Hell"

The latter track isn't exactly a love song, but it's something the audience can relate to as the crowd once again rose to their feet and dancing away when Fish powered through that song, which is off the album Black Wind Howlin on Ruf Records.

As the dim lights of dusk bathed Hance Park in amber light, Fish also busted out a rip-roaring blues version of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" towards the end of her set, which certainly delighted the audience and helped cap off this year's Blues Blast in fun fashion.

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Stan Bindell