There's so much local-music action this Labor Day weekend (See Music Feature, page 37, and Local Beat, page 41) that touring acts could get lost in the mix. But if you're a blues fan, this is a great week for both homegrown music and national acts blowing through town. On the local side, there's the embarrassment of riches of the Center for Southern Folklore's Memphis Music and Heritage Festival and The North Mississippi Allstars' big throw-down at Overton Park. For visiting acts, Beale and thereabouts is the place to be as a couple of Handy Award faves hit Gibson's Lounge and some familiar bar-blues road warriors land at Rum Boogie Café.
Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater has made a name for himself by melding traditional Chicago electric blues with the rock-and-roll sound of Chuck Berry. Clearwater's 2000 release, the Handy-nominated Reservation Blues, is one of the most celebrated blues albums of the last few years and makes a pretty good case for Clearwater as bandleader, stylist, and entertainer. Clearwater will be performing at the Lounge Friday, August 30th.
Sunday, September 1st, the blues vibe moves up to the Gibson Rooftop for a massive blues bill headlined by harmonica legend James Cotton. After getting his feet wet in Delta blues hotspots such as Helena, West Memphis, and, eventually, Memphis, where he cut some sides for Sam Phillips, Cotton replaced Little Walter as the harp man in Muddy Waters' band, serving as the Mannish Boy's right-hand man for a decade, through the '50s and into the early '60s, before heading out as a bandleader on his own. One of the major living blues figures, Cotton will get plenty of help at Gibson. Also on the bill is one of the country's most popular touring blues bands, the Texas-based Anson Funderburgh and The Rockets, featuring vocals and harmonica work from the Mississippi-based Sam Myers. Rounding out the bill, and possibly stealing the show, will be Oxford's fine hill-country blues stalwarts The Kenny Brown Band.
And if that isn't enough blues for you, Austin's Omar and The Howlers make one of their regular local appearances this week. With a new record, Big Delta on the Blind Pig label, under their belts, these popular blues-circuit crowd-pleasers do double duty this week at Rum Boogie Café, playing Friday, August 30th, and Saturday, August 31st.
For a slightly different shade of roots music, you could check out a couple of related New Orleans bands, both fronted by the same guy, who'll be at the Hi-Tone Café on Saturday, August 31st. With trombonist Mark Mullins (a sometime sideman for Harry Connick Jr.) leading the way, MuleBone plays grungy Southern rock with a bluesy bar-band sound. But far more compelling, on disc anyway, is Mullins' other band, Bonerama, a five-trombone-plus-rhythm-section instrumental outfit that stretches out on some funky, jazzy jams that are able to keep the attention of this generally averse-to-jamming critic. Their ace stroke is a trombone attack on unlikely classic-rock tunes (Led Zep's "Moby Dick" and Edgar Winter's "Frankenstein," for instance) that works well enough musically to seem like something more than a good joke. -- Chris Herrington