Like the odd couple labelmates from the ‘70s, Capricorn Records’ Southern rockers The Allman Brothers Band and R&B soulsters Wet Willie, the 20th annual Pleasure Island Seafood, Blues and Jazz Festival will bring a rare mix of musical stylings to an eager audience this weekend. From a 13-year-old guitar prodigy to the illustrious Buddy Guy, the sounds of skillful musicianship will embrace Kure Beach this Saturday and Sunday, October 12th and 13th.
Though Buddy Guy’s Saturday-night performance surely is the star of the show—after all, he is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame touting six Grammy Awards and 28 Blues Music Awards (more than any other artist)—the varied line-up offers plenty of acts not to be missed.
Big Bump and The Stun Gunz will kick off the festival on Saturday, playing the blues stage at 12:30 p.m. Native to NC, the 28-year-old funky blues band boasts lead and slide guitars, plus a harmonica, bass and drums. At 1 p.m. the jazz stage selections will get underway with BLP, who will perform a blend of classic and modern jazz favorites.
The Bobby Paltauf Experience, featuring the 13-year-old guitarist, will take the blues stage at 2:10 p.m. Though Paltauf plays covers, the youngster also composes his own songs inspired by favorite artists like Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and, yes, Buddy Guy.
Featuring Wilmingtonians Kevin Kolb (keys), Teddy Burgh (flute, saxophone), Troy Pierce (percussion) and Ryan Woodall (bass), The FROG Project will bring original works and innovative arrangements of familiar tunes to the jazz stage at 2:40 p.m.
Rock ‘n’ rollers of the Justin Fox Trio will hit the blues stage at 3:50 p.m., while The Will McBride Group will bring a fusion of jazz, rock, pop and funk to the jazz stage at 4:20 p.m.
Attendees should be sure to head to the blues stage at 6 p.m. for The Slide Brothers, living legends of the Sacred Steel tradition. The act is bred from the music of their church, where pedal-steel guitar was one of the main instruments, second only to the human voice. Each member—Calvin Cooke, Chuck Campbell, Darick Campbell and Aubrey Ghent—is an accomplished steel guitarist.
Though the music has roots in gospel, no doubt The Slide Brothers bring strong elements of rock to the mix. “My mother told me she wanted me to listen to other music, because if you only get one type of music, you can’t learn what other people are doing,” Cooke, who has been playing steel guitar for 57 years, describes.
Outside of the church, Cooke’s main influences were older performers of the country and Western genre, as well as Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Miles. Today, his favorite band is the English progressive-rock act Yes.
The Slide Brothers came on the scene after their fellow church member, Robert Randolph, found success with his Family Band and urged his elders to play for a broader audience. “I’ve known him since he was a young kid,” Cooke says. “He grew up with my kids.”
Even though their music is from a religious organization and much of their experience comes from touring with the church, Cooke notes The Slide Brothers use rock and blues to better connect with their audiences. “There’s so much going on in the world,” he says. “We try to bring positivity to the people. Music is a powerful way to show them there’s another way out, without shoving religion down their throats.”
The Slide Brothers will be the precursor to Buddy Guy’s performance on the blues stage at 8 p.m., wrapping up Saturday’s line-up. Of course, Sunday will reveal another day of critically acclaimed musicians.
Fatty Lumpkin and The Love Hogs, a rock and blues band hailing from southwest Virginia, will play covers and originals at 12:30 p.m. on the blues stage Sunday.
At 1 p.m. on the jazz stage, national recording artist and loccal Lee Venters will be joined by his band Vermillion Sands. They’ll play eclectic jazz infused with Brazilian and Caribbean flavor.
At 2:20 p.m. attendees will enjoy the Southern rock and Americana by the Randall Bramblett Band.
Bramblett, who got his start in the ‘70s, played with Steve Winwood for 16 years and has also performed as a session musician with Gregg Allman, Levon Helm, Widespread Panic and Gov’t Mule, among other large names. Since, Bramblett has found strength in a more settled way of life.
“My lifestyle has totally changed since the old days,” he begins. “I’m not doing any chemicals, so I have to rely on the natural way of doing things. I’m sometimes slower [at songwriting] but I’ve learned how to write by showing up more often and focusing better—just paying attention more. It’s been a challenge to get to the more inhibited side of writing without any chemicals, but it’s paid off because it’s more authentic. In the end, it’s more cohesive.”
Indeed, Bramblett’s songwriting seems to offer proof of such, as Bonnie Raitt used the artist to co-write on her 2012 album, “Slipstream.” Bramblett’s own latest release, “The Bright Spots,” has seen more radio action than any other record he’s created. He recently performed in-studio for The Loft, a SiriusXM station.
“We went out with Bonnie last fall and played these songs before the record came out,” he explains. “They got great response then, too, even from her audience.”
Bramblett hypothesizes “The Bright Spots” offers a certain energy many Americana and contemporary/eclectic-rock stations are searching for. “It’s definitely a move up from any of our other records, as far as accessibility and the radio go,” he assures. “We didn’t plan it that way, but that’s the way it came out. This record was more fun. We didn’t label everything that much. We just kind of let it roll with some of the songs—like if they needed backgrounds and horns. Sometimes I’m kind of shy about doing that because it can get too big and ‘too produced’ sounding. But these songs kind of called for that, as far as the Motown feeling, so I put in horn players and background singers. It just turned into a real fun thing.”
Folks can expect to hear tracks from “The Bright Spots,” as well as older Bramblett Band favorites, on Sunday afternoon.
Freeport will play the jazz stage at 2:40 p.m., serving up New York City and Philadelphia-based jazz. From smooth and contemporary to the standards, Freeport entertains as a four-piece ensemble playing saxes, flute, keys, drums and basses.
Shutting down the jazz stage for the 20th annual event will be another local couple, Charlie and Rose Lucas, at 4:20 p.m. The duo is dubbed “Wilmington’s grandparents of blues,” as Rose continually sings for the National Women in Blues Festival, and Charlie has played lead guitar for legends like James Brown, Otis Redding and Muddy Waters.
Closing the 2013 festival will be Wet Willie, who takes the blues stage at 4:20 p.m. Sunday. The band formed in 1969 in Mobile, Alabama, transplanting to Macon, Georgia, in the ‘70s to become the second band signed by Capricorn Records. Though many of their labelmates were of the Southern-rock ilk, Wet Willie played to a more upbeat drum.
“We got to Capricorn realizing [part-owner] Phil Walden had managed Otis Redding,” frontman Jimmy Hall explains. “His agency was responsible for some of the best soul acts around in the ‘60s, and we wanted to wave that flag.”
Wet Willie was set apart from the more guitar-oriented bands of the time, such as The Allman Brothers Band (the members of which Hall calls Wet Willie’s “big brothers”) and The Marshall Tucker Band. But the group, also featuring Hall’s brother and sister, was always attracted to soul and R&B.
“James Brown was probably close to or maybe the top of my hero list,” Hall muses. “As a young guy still in high school, just seeing him perform was mesmerizing. It was the most exciting and soulful thing I’ve ever seen. It was that kind of music that inspired me, as well as a lot of rock ‘n’ roll bands like the Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin—and even they have a lot of American rhythm and blues in their sound.”
Known for their 1974 track “Keep on Smilin’,” Wet Willie released a live album in 2012 dubbed “Miles of Smiles.” The group, still featuring the Hall siblings, continues to perform festivals regularly.
“I feel blessed about that,” Hall confirms. “I’m 64 years old, but I really know how to handle these pipes and make them work for me … Everything we do now, it’s got to be the best we ever do. We really want to raise the bar and show we’re not just playing recycled stuff but something that really makes a statement. We don’t ever want to just sit on our laurels. We’ve made so much music; we don’t want to just throw it out there and forget about it, or not give it everything we’ve got.”
Pleasure Island Seafood, Blues and Jazz Festival
Sat.-Sun., Oct. 12th-13th
Fort Fisher Air Force Rec. Area
118 Riverfront Rd., Kure Beach
Advance two-day pass: $40
Day of: Sat., $50; Sun., $15