Everyone Gets the Bluesby Karl Kemp / 09.12.2011
“We started this festival 6 years ago at a place called Tafelberg Tavern, with a crowd of about 400 people,” explains Mike Combrinck, full-blooded bluesman and organizer of the Table Mountain Blues Summit. “It’s amazing to see how it’s grown considering our limited options and budget. Unfortunately, for the past three years, the only date we’ve been able to finalize has fallen on the same weekend as Synergy. I’d like to see the turnout if we could change that.” Looking out at the 3000 faces from behind the stage I can’t help but agree. A shiver of resentment trickles down my spine. Of course, if you do go to Synergy, you get to come back from Synergy and update your Facebook status. But that ain’t genuine man. That ain’t pleasure. The blues are. And Bloemendal Wine Estate in Durbanville on the 26 November 2011 played host to one of the biggest blues fests in the country.
No sooner do I sit down with my beer and don my sunnies than the opening chords from a Fender Stratocaster sing out across the field and all heads within a kilometre radius instantly swivel towards the stage. Spaceman is alive and kicking; the lead singer covered in tattoos and looking like the ride to midde his age has been a rough one. The first full band to take to the stage today, they kick off the fest good and proper with a whirling, whisky-drenched, sex-laden blues-speedball IV shot straight from the needle to the heart. They rock, they roll and they funk the hell out for 45 minutes and leave the crowd pleasantly stunned.
Raoul and Black Friday are up next a mere 15 minutes later (brought to you by proper organization and sound engineering) and they continue to stomp the shit out of the stage with a more mature sounding version of classic blues rock, and even a few ballads thrown in for the romantics. That being said, they end their set with a rollicking rendition of Hendrix’s “Fire”, complete with behind-the-head guitar solos that drip with 60’s grit.
The wind has died down, it’s three in the afternoon and it seems the absolute insanity of the guitar skill on display has penetrated the skulls of most of the early-birds. The combination of blues, booze and heat has driven a few scantily-clad young ladies to gyrate their bodies in time to the music blasting from the stage; not to mention the big Nigerian guy, calling himself Johnny Cash, who has been entranced and miming along in front of the stage the whole morning.
Dave Ferguson, looking a bit too modern to be a traditional blues artist. He climbs on stage and proceeds to cut heads with a blistering set of new age beat-boxing loops accompanied by flaming harmonica skills and bluesy lyrics sung and even rapped with stylish timing and perfection. After astonishing the hesitant crowd with his unique brand of modern blues, he then invites his band onstage to do some more classic-style music. Their danceable grooves and fresh take prompts the crowd to start standing up; helped along by Dave swaggering through the first half of the field with his wireless microphone/harmonica combo whilst ripping through a harmonica solo that could easily be mistaken for a Steve Vai number. He finishes with a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire”. Speaking to him after his set, sweaty Dave provides me with the most eloquent and succinct quote of the day: “Everyone gets the blues, man. But not everyone gets the blues.”
The heat is disappearing and the sun is fading; through the glittery haze of booze and sheer musical ecstasy my nose starts perceiving the smell of homegrown herbs. There is a distinct lack of skinny jean’d pretension and a very high number of bare, dirty–from-dancing feet. Suddenly, I have an epiphany, I revel, and as this realization kicks in, Gerald Clark and his band blow my brain out the back of my skull. The sound is louder; the sun has set and the dirty side of the blues has taken over. Clark rocks the shit out of the stage with a blazing wall of guitars, splashed with a drop of unorthodox timing and a hoarse voice that positively reeks of a 30-a-day habit and an attitude that just does not give a fuck.
By the end of their set night has properly fallen, along with the morals and inhibitions of the festival-goers. Albert Frost and the Blues Broers take full advantage of this mood and steam it up further, somehow managing to incorporate three proficient vocalists and one amazing pianist into a blues-rock psychedelic dream. Beautiful melodies interwoven with amazing guitar-tones. Frost and his band have been around the blues for generations , yet they seem as fresh and young as every single one of the shining faces looking up at them. Towards the middle of their set they have the crowd properly entranced and eating out of the palms of their guitar-string-calloused hands. Frost ends his set, but expectation still runs high. The big boys are about to perform, legends of the South African blues scene; the Boulevard Blues Band.
Headed by Doc John Mostert, the 61 year old doyen of SA Blues, having sold out clubs in Belgium and Holland, and having stuck around for more than a decade (maybe two), Boulevard Blues gets fucking stuck in. “Do you wanna feel high?” The Doc sings, and follows up with, “Do you wanna feel high on the blues?” Crooning it seductively, then screaming it softly. The entire crowd is nodding yes, please, take us further into your realm. The gloves are off; this is what the day has been building up to. The Boulevard Blues Band rock and they know it; they have a quirky kind of smugness that you can’t help but admire and respect, because these guys are old, and both you and they know that they can still drink you the fuck under the table and steal your girlfriend, all whilst playing the kind of blues that makes you wish you grew up in the Delta during the 50’s. During their set various bras make their way on stage; as well as a pair of pants. Bottles of hard liquor are circulating and being kissed by many lips. My head is now buzzing; a mixture of energy drinks, beer and blues. Speaking to the Doc backstage, I am once again struck by the measure of professionalism these guys maintain amongst the chaos. “The blues are timeless man”, says the man with the most epic moustache in South African. And despite already believing that, I feel somehow validated.
Reluctantly, I leave and scurry back to the front as the first notes of Dan Patlansky’s Sunburst Stratocaster ring out into the night, piercing the shouts and screams of fans who know they are in for a display of guitar virtuosity that is impossible to comprehend if not experienced first-hand. Patlansky is undisputedly the best axe-man in the country. During a short acoustic interval, a voice cries out from the middle of the crowd: “Damn you Dan Patlansky!” He does seem to have an effect on the ladies that leaves the men cuckolded, with nothing to do but stare at our dicks. People jump and mosh, scream and cry, wonder out loud and generally have their minds fucked at the things this man does with his guitar.
As his set ends and the crowd starts dispersing, a primal scream suddenly emanates from the stage. Those of us who are lucky enough to be in the know have remained at the front and call back the less experienced. We’re in for a different flavour of blues madness now.
Black Cat Bones might possibly be one of the best live acts in the country, if only for the absolutely over the top oddball antics of the frontman, Rot, and the bassist, Chris Thundervolt who proceeds to abandon his bass midway through songs to do 10 second headstands and spends the rest of the time air-humping and shoving his crotch into the faces of the groupies now pouring over the rails and getting right up in front. They play a set like a rock ‘n roll binge-fest. Rot flails and stage dives and shouts nonsensical ramblings in between songs; during them, he mesmerizes with an unexpectedly beautiful voice that lumbers about between Kurt Cobain–like screams and Thom Yorke melodies, all the while supported by the musical grace of his guitarist, Andre Kriel, who shreds with the best of them. Joints are being passed around openly now and the field has been destroyed. We can hardly find the time to smoke or drink because the dancing has morphed into some kind of moshing, whirling explosion of passion, and still Black Cat Bones don’t let up, impressing with a cover of the White Stripe’s “Ball and Biscuit” to end off.
Walking towards the carpark I keep inserting a finger into my ears to check for blood. Covered in all manners of liquor, stinking of pot, sunnies long broken and forgotten. The blues are timeless, according to Doc John Mostert. Eternal. Everyone gets them. Seeing what they can inspire people to do, however, is fodder for another story.