A Month of Festivals: Riverfront Blues Festival

This should have been a larger post, and there should have been much better pictures. But because of the sheer disregard for the after-hours bowler displayed by both Lucky Strike Lanes in Manhattan and Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg (and, to a lesser extent, Leisure Time Bowl in Manhattan), I did not make it to the Riverfront Blues Festival in Wilmington, DE, to see Matt "Guitar" Murphy, inexplicably snubbed by the Academy for Best Supporting Actor for his star turn as Matt "Guitar" Murphy in "The Blues Brothers," at 1:30 in the afternoon. At 1:30, I was on a bus somewhere in New Jersey, having made it past the heavy turnpike traffic but still not close enough to Wilmington to ensure that I would see any portion of the set by Matt "Guitar" Murphy and the Nouveaux Honkies. And because of my quest for the rest of the day, I didn't exactly have a prime spot when I finally got to the festival around 8:30. So, that, combined with the fact that I was using my auxiliary camera because it was smaller (an important thing to consider when you're already carrying a bowling ball across five states), means good photos were hard to come by.

But all those complications are a story for another post, a post detailing the thrilling journey of a New Jersey-based man and his quest to bowl in five states in one day. For this post, I will focus only on the 70 minutes or so I wound up spending at the Riverfront Blues Festival, where I arrived just in time to see the Perfect Age of Rock and Roll Blues Band.

The Perfect Age of Rock and Roll Blues Band (so named because "The Perfect Age of Rock and Roll" is the name of a movie in which said band is featured) clocks in at a combined age somewhere around 470 years. There's drummer Willie "Big Eyes" Smith (74), bass player Bob Stroger (78 [unconfirmed]), harmonica player George "Mojo" Buford (80), guitarist Hubert Sumlin (78), youngster (and owner of my favorite music nickname) guitarist "Steady Rollin'" Bob Margolin (61), and piano player (and fervent smoker) Pinetop Perkins (97).

Not a bad band to see on a nice summer night.

The show started with just Margolin, Stroger, and Smith on stage, and after each of those three guys had their turn at the mike, they brought out the others one at a time, starting with Buford, who still plays a pretty strong harmonica for an 80-year-old guy. Sumlin came out next, trailed closely by an oxygen tank, which I suppose you can take one of two ways: (1) it's one of the saddest things you've ever seen, because a 78-year-old man shouldn't have to be dragging himself out to play with an oxygen tank or (2) you've never seen anything quite as badass as a 78-year-old man so into performing that he'll even play while hooked into an oxygen tank. I choose to go with the latter, though there's likely some financial element tied into him still playing at this stage in the game, particularly since there has been a steady stream of shows raising money for Sumlin's medical expenses.

Sumlin definitely took a song or two to get going, but once he settled in, he shot off some strong solos. And when a song ended and the applause grew in the park, Sumlin's simple hand-over-heart gesture was the perfect portrait of why live music is so important, for everyone involved.

Soon, Margolin announced it was "star time," and the 97-year-old Perkins took the stage. He too took a little while to get into the swing of things, but he was soon there, and though it seemed, oh, a trifle odd that he essentially did the same two songs twice, well, it's Pinetop Perkins. I'm giving him leeway.

I had to bolt a little early to make sure I got my Amtrak home, but I could still see the stage and hear "Got My Mojo Working" just fine from the train platform. The Riverfront Blues Festival didn't turn out quite as planned for me, but seeing a band like The Perfect Age of Rock and Roll Blues Band was a damn fine way to cap a damn fine day.

More on the rest of the day coming soon...

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