Every year for the last decade, the diehard blues fans – joined by an ever-increasing number of new devotees – have gathered in the Western Cape in early November to pay homage to their heroes. With the weather playing along and the stunning setting of the Hillcrest Quarry a perfect venue, it proved a day to remember.
The youngsters got the day off to a flying start with both Jonathan Peyper and Aidan Martin getting the heads nodding and the hips swaying. But it was the 21-year-old Frank Freeman who had most of the tongues wagging. This “kid” is already first choice tour guitarist for both Arno Carstens and Francois Van Coke. Remember the name.
Gerald Clark’s solo acoustic set followed and the Afro-Boer delivered as he always does, always impressing with both his vocals and the ease with which he covers a whole swathe of blues styles in one set. You had to love the way The Studebakers’ approached their debut at the Blues Summit. These humble guys would never lay claim to being either classic blues students or virtuoso musicians but this was a set the crowd genuinely lapped up, in particular the call and response “duel “ between guitarist Colin Johnson and the evergreen “Mad” Mike Crawford on the mouth harp. While one just cannot deny Wayne Pauli’s prowess on the guitar, his set satisfied but only hinted at what was to follow.
I had the incredible fortune of living in New Orleans for a year and Guy Collins never fails to take me back to that beautiful place. Not only is his trio one of the tightest (with Barry Van Zyl on drums and bassist Nick Williams) you could wish to find, but Guy also deliberately engineered a set list that both entertained and took us on a musical journey that paid respect to the 10 years of the Blues Summit. This performance was a definite highlight for many.
If the Table Mountain Blues Summit was a human body, Boulevard Blues would be the backbone. Listening to Doc John and the crew is like slipping into your favourite pair of jeans for a lazy, but groovy Sunday. Always the crowd-pleasers, the boys were the first band to pack the dance floor! The bluesy rock of the Boulevard Blues then gave way to the ballsy rock-blues of the Albert Frost Trio. The Frost legend continues and Albert will always be one of our favourite sons. His sound grabs you by the jugular and just won’t let go until that last whine of his guitar, the sexy swagger of Schalk Joubert’s bass line and Jono Sweetman’s final cymbal crashes.
Then it was time. There is no way you could ever prepare someone for the energy that blows from the front of the house when The Black Cat Bones take the stage. Ironically, while I detected an ever-so-slight sense of being “laid back” (yes, that sounds wrong to me too when talking about these guys), it was one of the best sets I’ve seen from them. They ticked every box and showed exactly why they can rock with the best and croon to the moon when it fits. The emotionally charged delivery of Kobus de Kock’s acoustically-led songs was simply breath-taking. But of course, that mood doesn’t last long and suddenly André Kriel’s guitar is ringing out and de Kock’s manic energy is once again taking on another ride.
The last set before the much-anticipated all-star jam was from Basson Laubscher & The Violent Free Peace. While Basson & co. delivered a blistering delivery, with his lead guitar taking centre stage, I did feel that the “wall of sound” style of their set was a little over-powering for that time of the evening when some were ready to dance the night away. But I’m also well aware that the purists will probably be aghast at this statement. In fact most of the crowd who remained gave BL&TVFP a series of rousing ovations, not to mention calling for an encore!
This left the Andre Kriel and Chris van der Walt-led big jam, featuring not only many of the artists who had already performed, but a surprise appearance from two of Cape Town’s favourite sons, Riaan Smit and Nicholas Bekker from Crimson House. Riaan’s raspy performance proved that he hadn’t let his time overseas cause him to rust and Nick’s blissful sax just helped put the finishing touches to a day which had allowed most of the best bluesters in South Africa strut their stuff to a tired, but incredibly grateful crowd. Sincere congrats to both Hillcrest and the TMBS team. Roll on next November!