Fresh from my blues-immersion at the Montreal Jazz Fest, I head to picturesque Rockland for the most righteous blues event on the East Coast, the North Atlantic Blues Festival. The annual two-day event takes place at the public landing overlooking beautiful Rockland Harbor, Maine’s glorious coastline and endless blue sky.
Some of the top names in the blues are here, wow. Remarkably enough, the music gets started a early with the wonderful Dexter Allen, the award-winning foot-stomping bluesman. You may recognize Dexter — he’s handsome, he’s talented, and he’s been around. He sings, “I’m hooked!” and so am I.
Allen is followed by the hard-working Peterson Brothers. Ages 16 and 18, the brothers have opened for greats like B.B. King, Pinetop Perkins, and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. Glen and Alex agree, “We love what we do, and this is our life.” Watch for this youthful and talented duo, they have an amazing future.
Continuing our Canadian vibe, Ontario’s soul-and-country bluesman Harrison Kennedy plays between sets, fueling crowd energy and winning fans. This “Chairman of the Board” has performed with greats James Brown, Stevie Wonder, and B.B. King whose beautiful spirit seems to be following me this summer. Maybe I’ll catch Kennedy as he opens for Ruthie Foster in his home province in 2016.
Nick Moss’s gritty, electric performance is inspired. As temps climb into 90s, he dances in the heat wearing a red buffalo plaid flannel shirt shirt, wow. Suddenly the red buffalo plaid flannel shirt comes off and it’s more wow. This beefy guy blends rock, soul, and funk with such ease, it’s a wild ride.
Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers take flight for over an hour, serving up their distinctive blend of Chicago-style blues, R&B, and rock. They’ve been named Best Blues Band of the Year four times, and it’s is no surprise. They make it look easy. To the delight of the crowd, they make a surprise return later to play with Marcia Bell at the festival close.
Check out the awesome array of food and goods for sale onsite, from sunglasses and hats to Maine crafts. I especially enjoy the Allen’s Coffee Brandy tent, where I pick up stickers and recipes for Maine’s most popular adult beverage —Toffee Coffeetini, anyone?
The food, onsite and off, is pretty great. We’re issued a coupon for the Trackside Station, a funky antique railroad station on nearby Union Street, where we enjoy sweet potato fries with plenty of crunchy salt. With a cold summer ale, we’re happily derailed for a cool respite. Never fear — the blues festival outside is piped in, live!
I think we’ve brought “la chaleur” (the heat) with us from Montreal. It’s unusually hot here on the rocky coast, and I get a little squiffy watching audience members turn as red as Maine lobsters.
The beautiful people are here, and it’s a gas to watch them dancing, singing and swaying to the music — even little kids wiggle and stomp. The crowd is friendly, and the vibe is relaxed, and no one seems to mind that I clap like Al Gore. The North Atlantic Blues Fest is a gas for blues fans of all ages — family-friendly, convivial, and safe.
Seagulls wheel overhead and temps finally begin to drop as Marcia Ball brings the festival to a close with awesome boogie-woogie piano, Big Easy blues and soulful style. She compliments this beautiful Maine site, saying, “What a dump!” — an inside joke that goes way over our over-heated heads. We forgive her as she sings “The Tattooed Lady and Alligator Man,” a tune that transports all of us to New Orleans.
I don’t know how she sings with her legs crossed like that, but it doesn’t seem to cramp her style. She provides a spectacular, generous closing to an outstanding Maine music festival.
Maine visitors, tourists and locals return year after year to this wondrous blues event, the North Atlantic Blues Festival in historic downtown Rockland. An no wonder — it’s a great opportunity to see some of the most prestigious and talented blues artists performing in a glorious waterfront setting. Kudos to organizers Jamie Isaacson and Paul Benjamin for creating this stellar event, their stewardship is “keepin’ the blues alive.”
I am making this inspired and inspiring two-day event an annual tradition as of right now. Don’t miss the 23rd Annual North Atlantic Blues Festival July 16-17, 2016!