Delta riffs roared high as draft beer and sauce-slathered meats stained fingers and beards and tie-dyed shirts during opening night of the Springing the Blues Music Festival, which runs April 5-6 at the Sea Walk Pavilion on Jacksonville Beach.
Parker Urban Band opened the main stage with some of the smoothest R&B singing of the evening from Juanita Parker-Urban and Myrna Stallworth. Their rich, full voices were complemented by the tight percussion and vibrant brass and harmonica musicians. The band would seamlessly transition from punchy verses to extended, loose jams that showcased the strengths of each musician.
The Brandon Santini Band hailed straight from Beale St. Tenn., which Santini made abundantly clear by his on-stage swagger and showbiz get-up. That’s not to say they’re all show and no pulp; Santini could rip the solos out of his effects-laden harmonica for minutes on end — occasionally stopping to gasp for oxygen and offer a charming wink. The guitarist’s rig was particularly bare-bones — he used a jacked-up-to-10 tube-screamer to make his telecaster squeal and kicked it off to fade back into the rhythm.
From a guitar-playing perspective, Joanne Shaw Taylor was possibly the best musicianship of the night. Taylor could skillfully coax an array of tones and textures out of her Les Paul, transitioning with ease from cool, emotive solos to loud, ballsy riffs that would garner at least a head nod from the audience. With the earnestness and grit she used to sing the blues, it was nearly impossible to tell she comes from across the pond.
“She ain’t no Southern country girl?” an audience member remarked after she dropped the drawl between songs to talk in a natural English inflection.
The Taylor outfit was an interesting crew, with a middle-aged bassist who looked like he just stepped off the ACDC reunion tour bus with the Angus Young-inspired antics and facial expressions he would get into while delivering the rhythm. The on-stage give-and-take chemistry between him and Taylor worked very well — they were having a lot of fun, and it showed.
Taylor had the best stage presence of the night right up until Selwyn Birchwood decided to give his best impression of a snake at the front of the stage — “You gotta watch out for ‘em!” he says to the crowd — and share a beer with the audience. Their tunes were solid, too.
Everything’s bonafide funky about this band right down to Birchwood’s bushy ‘fro and the mustard pinstripe suit to the equally dated — but undeniably cool — bow-chicka-wow-chicka guitar effects.
Birchwood plays the audience just as smooth as his custom Gibson, giving nod-and-grin service while wrangling big, noisy riffs and solos out of the fret board at the edge of the stage.
The audience was mostly an older crowd, but age was just some number they seemed to forget about once the riffs started rolling and they danced out on the green by the beach and cheered and did other stuff to make present teenagers (theirs or otherwise) writhe and cringe. To the enlightened gentleman with the Sherlock pipe who danced stage-front in the retro workout gear that left entirely too little to the imagination — here’s to you, friend. Not giving a hot damn about looking too cool and just having a good time; that is what the blues is about. You are a shimmering, inebriated beacon of hope to us all.