Music Review: OTW Left Bank Stage: True to the blues

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-115757690121328.jpg’, ‘Photo by Jim Hagerty’, ‘Headliner Ronnie Baker Brooks performs at the On the Waterfront Left Bank Stage Friday, Sept. 1.’);

According to some, blues is a treasure that is often hidden from the forefront of the entertainment scene. Quite the contrary, judging by fan turnout and the quality of entertainment on the Verizon Wireless Left Bank Stage at last weekend’s On the Waterfront festival.

Friday Sept. 1, fans were met with an evening of music that will not be soon forgotten. Following a strong set by Rockford’s Ernie and Po’ Boys, 15-year-old guitar prodigy Reggie Sears took the stage and gave new meaning to the song “Born To Play The Blues.” Backed by his band, which includes veterans Dave Kaye, Bob Levis and Link Leary, Sears worked with an arsenal of guitars and the licks to match. The kid from Florida proved he deserves his place on the national blues scene. He also earned props from headliner Ronnie Baker Brooks. After Brooks greeted the crowd, he thanked Sears for playing, referring to him as “a young Rico Suave.”

Ronnie Baker Brooks, who joined his father, Lonnie, and brother, Wayne, for the Brooks Family Reunion show in 2005, returned this year with his own band. From start to finish, Brooks took Chicago blues to another level, adding as much funk and soul as it could handle, paving the way for Saturday’s lineup, which was headlined by former Stray Cats bassist Lee Rocker.

With every twirl of his large stand-up bass, Rocker didn’t miss a note, mixing jazz, rock ’n’ roll and blues into a punchy rockabilly party. On the Waterfront marked the first Rockford venue for the ex-’Cat, who has been touring to support his new album. Racin’ The Devil, which hit stores in January, is his debut on the Alligator record label. Known as perhaps the most popular blues labels in the world, its artist roster includes greats such as Buddy Guy, Delbert McClinton, Robert Cray and Otis Rush.

While droves of fans poured into the Great Lawn seating areas for the Ted Nugent show Sunday night, the Left Bank crowd braved the rain and stayed put to witness an electrifying Eric Sardinas. Also a Florida native, Sardinas made his resonator sound as fat as a beefed-up Gibson Les Paul, packing a wallop of Southern slide guitar and a tight rhythm section.

Inside Davis Park, the Left Bank Stage would not be the same without a memorable Sunday headliner, which booking manager Karen Howard always makes sure of. Each year, with Howard at the helm, fans are sent home smiling. Karen and her husband, Bill, who does video production at the stage, stay busy all year keeping Left Bank one of the most popular venues of the festival. John Lee Hooker Jr. capped another successful year.

Hooker Jr., son of the late blues legend, John Lee Hooker, graced Rockford with snazzy twists of the tunes that made his father a modern blues pioneer, as well as solid originals such as “Blues Ain’t Nothin’ But A Pimp.” Dawning a Hooker-esque outfit, complete with a derby and signature black sunglasses, the younger Hooker affirmed what critics have been saying about him since his 2004 release, Blues With A Vengeance, earned him a Grammy nomination and the 2005 W.C. Handy Award for Best New Artist Debut. According to The San Jose News, “…truly John Lee Hooker, Jr. is the real thing, and not just a tired imitation of his dad.”

Other notable acts on the Verizon Wireless Left Bank Stage this year were Best of Rockford winner Dan Voll and Combo Loco, Minnesota Guitar Wizards, Poetic Justice League 4 America and Jeremy Buck.

From the Sept. 6-12, 2006, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!