On 18 May, I attended the Doheny Blues Festival for what I think is the 8th consecutive year. Each year, Omega Events brings some of the biggest names in blues to perform at Doheny State Beach in Dana Point. The performers vary from one year to the next, but one thing is for sure: a day at Doheny Blues is always a good day.
Every year, there is at least one performer that I really want to see, and every year there is at least one act that ends up as the pleasant surprise of the day. This year was no exception.
We started our day at the Backporch Stage with guitarist Jimmy Thackery (and special guest Reverend Billy Wirtz). It was a tremendous start to the day. Jimmy Thackery is a certified ax-man and wailed on his guitar. He did go to some standards such as The Star-Spangled Banner (Hendrix-style of course) and playing the guitar behind his head. But I didn't hear anyone complaining. It was a rousing start to a good day of blues.
The Backporch Stage proved the place to be all day. After Thackery, we also saw BB and The Blues Shacks (from Germany), Watermelon Slim and The Workers (the reason I wanted to attend Sunday instead of Saturday), and Eli "Paperboy" Reed and the True Loves.
I was a little disappointed when BB and The Blues Shacks came on stage, only because that slot was supposed to be occupied by Watermelon Slim (more on that later). I wasn't disappointed at the end of the set, I can tell you that. This German band put on a high-energy performance that included a lot of blues classics and left everyone cheering for more.
Eli "Paperboy" Reed and the True Loves stole the show. I had never heard this band, and they just floored me. This is a spectacular soul band with an energetic frontman. This was a performance that left me (and quite a few others, I'm sure) saying, "Wow!" Eli Reed has soul coming out of his ears. He is one part Otis Redding, one part James Brown and one part James Hunter. I was so impressed, I came away with the band's CD Roll with You.
Finally, Watermelon Slim and The Workers took the stage and in doing so, claimed the macho award for the day. Slim said that the band finished playing in Louisiana at 1:15 AM earlier that day, and then made it to Los Angeles and ultimately to Dana Point. That is why they hadn't been able to occupy the scheduled slot filled so ably by BB and the Blues Shacks. The band did not disappoint, performing songs from both Wheel Man and the self-titled album. I'm not sure if the band slept at all between performances, but it didn't show if they were tired. Slim, in a bright blue suit with a silver satin shirt, worked his slide guitar and harp and, tired or not, gave the audience what we wanted.
Bonnie Raitt closed the festival this year. She was as good as expected, but there is something a little anti-climactic about the headliner at Doheny. Generally, it has nothing to do with the performer. The VIP area is right near the main stage. Behind the VIP area is lawn seating marked off by a painted white border. The lawn seating is open to anyone, but you have to arrive early to set up camp there. I usually like to make the rounds instead of settling on the lawn. We tried to get as close to the stage as we could to see Bonnie Raitt, but were told by the fine men and women of the Orange County Sheriff's Department that we couldn't block the fire lane. One member of the OCSD told us that we had to be inside the boundary of the lawn seating. So we moved back a little bit and found just enough room inside the white line to be within a half-mile of the stage and Bonnie Raitt. Well, one bull told us we had to move. "Are you serious?" He was serious. Even though we were inside the boundary, we had to move because the bull said so. We ended up where the best view we had of Bonnie Raitt was on the JumboTron at the side of the stage. But she sounded really good and was a great capper to a great day.
Photo from the cover of Roll with You by Nicole Tammaro.