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Simply the Blues Festival - May 9th – 10th, 2008

Ft. Madison Iowa

Simply amazing. Between a torrential down pour and smoking hot blues, this Iowa festival brought an action packed lineup of rising talent and veteran performers to the rodeo town on the river this Mother’s Day Weekend. Between some ideal line-up changes and the laid back setting, any blues fan would’ve gotten lost in the blues this weekend.

The festival touted as simply the blues wasn’t simple in its performance ranging from the rock-laced hard-driving roots rock of Shawn Kellerman of Canada to the acoustic, sly comical lyrics of Leon Redbone to the straight-ahead Chicago blues of Magic Slim and the Teardrops, fans got a little of everything the entire weekend. Fans could have a taste of anything and everything they wanted the entire weekend.

The youth of the festival kick off the weekend with the Second Skinny Blues band straight from Ft. Madison’s high school ending Friday with the veteran Magic Slim and the Teardrops who blasted through a chronicle of many blues classics like slow jams “I Got A Crazy Woman” and “Help Me.” In between you could find the polyrhythmic scorchin’ blues of Eddie Turner and the Tin Pan Alley performance of Leon Redbone and the Delta itself personified in Louisiana Red. In the meantime, if fans wanted more local talent the Jefferson County Green Band held down the tiny blues tent off to the side.

On Saturday morning Blues kids got a chance to learn how to play the harmonica at a Blues Workshop by local harpsmith Hal Reed and several other performers. Then, the day kicked off in the rodeo barn and never let up. Saturdays show was another Promoter Matt Eimer's themed Blue shows this day dedicated to performers who have participated in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis.

Three-time participant Rich Berry from Kansas City kicked it off with his acoustic roots. Alvin Jett and the Phat Noiz Blues Band brought the funky-soul blues from St Louis next.

Then, the  2008 IBC winners the Schnebelen siblings formally known as Trampled Under Foot amazed us with their award winning performances. Their performance was a highlight of the day  as Guitarist Nick Schnebelen started off their show with a one man-band performances, stomping on the bass drum and beating out some old Delta style guitar sounds. However, it was sister Danielle with original songs such as “Honey Bee” thrilled the place flat with her raspy soulful voice. She made everyone stand up and recognize this young groups great potential.! Their performance set the tone for the evening as Shawn Kellerman, Zac Harmon, Diunna Greenleaf and Blue Mercy and Jason Ricci & New Blood gave performances that everyone danced and sang along to even in the blowing rain as the Blues fest continued and the weather began to storm.

Clearly, though the highlight performance was Diunna Greenleaf and Blue Mercy. Running on the high from being crowned Best New Artist by the Blues Foundation’s BMAs, Diunna gave one of the most riveting performances of the whole festival. With festival performer and guest guitarist Zac Harmon sitting in, Diunna jumped, shouted, and even walked to the back of the Rodeo Barn to sing to the crowd in the back creating a huge  ruckus yhat brought the laid back crowd to their feet. After Diuna’s final song “Stay” in which she roused the audience with faith-pounding soul, almost like a church tent revival, she exhausted herself to a chair. If you weren’t a believer when you went in, you surely came out one.

Promoter Matt Eimer dedicated the final night’s performance to the late Sean Costello who was originally supposed to close the night in this headliner spot. Also, Simply the Blues did what we’ve seen no other festival do which is raffle off a guitar for local charities. This idea coupled with the harmonica workshop for the kids to start the day show that this festival isn’t simply about great performances but keeping music alive in a whole different way. Then, the rains came and Jason Ricci blew his harp as hard as the wind pounded outside to cap the night on Saturday evening.

If you weren’t done, the hotel jams on both nights were for anyone and everyone who might get the chance to jam with performers from the festival. In it’s fifth year, Simply the Blues has several more years ahead of it as its popularity continues to grow in mass. Simply the best of Blues!

Ben Cox is a Blues Songwriter, Musician, DJ and Journalist.

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