Day two of the 2011 Wheeling Heritage Bluesfest began with some very slight rain showers but nothing like what had been predicted. By opening gate time the skies had cleared, the temperature reached the mid-eighties, and the humidity soared into the ionosphere. I decided to do explore Wheeling in the AC of my van and not got the festival until the early evening.
I arrived at the fest around 5 p.m. when Zac Harmon was just taking the stage. I found a seat in the shade, broke out my laptop and spent some time writing while enjoying his music. Unfortunately, the laptop diverted my attention and I can’t recall much about his performance other that it offered a pleasant background.
Harmon was followed on stage by British blues guitarist and performer, Matt Schofield. He is another hot young guitar-slinger in the tradition of Stevie Ray Vaughn or Eric Clapton. He, along with his drummer and bass player have been touring the US and were finishing up their tour in Wheeling. Tell you the truth, although the guy is a truly gifted musician, I really couldn’t get into his music. Maybe it’s just difficult to recognize the blues in a long-haired blonde, white kid, with a Stratocaster over his shoulder, and who hails England. Some have said the same about Clapton.
A highlight of the entire festival was the next group to take the stage, Jon Cleary’s Philthy Phew. Cleary is a New Orleans piano man in the same vein as Dr. John, Professor Longhair, Jelly Roll Morton and Fats Domino. Along with his drummer, Doug Belote, and outstanding upright bass player, Matt Perrine, he had everyone on their feet and movin’ to the grovin’. This guy reeked of New Orleans and its musical traditions and I was shocked to learn afterwards that he is another of those Brits who discovered the blues back when the blues was dying in America. Being from England he goes against what I said earlier about Matt Schofield. The difference may be that Cleary came to New Orleans after art school and for decades entrenched himself in the music and culture. He sounds so Creole I noticed no traces of a British accent.
The headliner of day two was the legendary blues harp player, Charlie Musselwhite. Musselwhite, who was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2010, is a major figure in keeping the blues alive in America and around the world. His latest CD, The Well, has been nominated for a Grammy and a Mississippi Blues Trail Marker recently erected in his hometown of Kosciusko, MS.
Musselwhite’s harp, to blues, is like Charlie McCoy’s harmonica is to country and bluegrass music. If you hear a harmonica in some of the best recordings of either genre there is a big chance it’s one of these two artists. They didn’t invent the instrument but they both helped set a standard that all comers are expected to live up to.
Here’s a video of Musselwhite I recorded and uploaded to YouTube.