Whatever way you looked at it, the weekend held all the promise of an epic, memorable one.
On top of the cricket World Cup getting started, Valentine’s Day, and the mother of all battles, India vs. Pakistan on the field, the fifth edition of the Mahindra Blues Festival seemed like the icing on the proverbial weekend cake.
The festival kicked off with one of the best blues guitarists to come out of India, Warren Mendonsa. The frontman of Blackstratblues worked his magic on stage as he went through a great set with a little help from his friends. Dominique Cerejo, Joe Alvares, Floyd Fernandes and Loy Mendonsa joined him on stage, and Warren’s former bandmate Shazneen Arethna chipped in too. The younger brigade was ably represented by Tejas Menon and Nikhil D’Souza. An awesome start to the evening, and we were just about an hour in!
The festivities then shifted to the Garden Stage with Aayushi Karnik, the winner of the Mahindra Blues Hunt. This young but super-talented singer-songwriter and guitarist seemed a little nervous, and the sound setup woes didn’t help at all. She still managed to pull off a decent set though.
(Disclaimer: I missed most of it. Had checked out to check out to some of the tasty, but slightly over-priced food on offer.)
On to the third stage of the evening, where we were hit by a power-packed performance from Nikki Hill and band. That charming little lady showed off some strong, soaring vocals and a stage presence to match! And her guitarist Matt Hill, another bundle of energy, wouldn’t have seemed out of place in a punk rock or metal band either, with his Billie Joe Armstrong style strumming action. Altogether a fun act, showcasing just why Nikki is one of the most highly-rated up-and-coming Blues performers.
Last up on Day 1 were Doyle Bramhall II and Rich Robinson. Doyle, the southpaw Texan blues musician with his Jimmi-esque afro and signature poncho is a familiar figure, having played at the festival before. He was joined by Robinson, founding guitarist of Southern blues rock band, The Black Crowes. Together, they set the stage alight with some blazing blues riffs and mind-blowing back-and-forths, ably supported by a super-tight band. They were also joined on stage for a jam by a close friend of Doyle’s, the “Mississippi Mystery Man” who may or may not have been a former Union Minister for Communications and IT!
The faculty from the True School of Music kicked off the proceedings. Ashu Phatak, Sean Richey and the rest of the band did a stellar job of representing and throwing the spotlight on the burgeoning blues scene in the city.
The first thing I noticed though, on day 2, was the significant increase in attendance. A little birdie in the know told me that the few remaining tickets that weren’t sold online sold out at the counters in 10 minutes flat!
I didn’t think much of it, however, until I strolled across to get some food and a drink and couldn’t get back in to the stage area as it had reached capacity, and the organisers weren’t letting any more people in.
That said, watching the next act, the Danish Thorbjorn Risager and the Black Tornado on the huge projected screen in the courtyard wasn’t bad at all! With almost half the population of Copenhagen on stage, (I’m not sure, I counted at least 7 or 8 band members. Copenhagen is a small city, isn’t it?), they enthralled the audience, had them eating out of their hands, and charmed them with their genuine warmth. I’m pretty sure they’ve won over a whole new legion of fans from this part of the globe.
Finally, it was time for the prodigy, the kid we were all looking forward to seeing, bluesman (bluesboy?) Quinn Sullivan. All of 15 years old, he already has almost a decade of experience playing with the likes of Buddy Guy! And as soon as he hit the first few notes, it was obvious why. Like co-organiser and host for the evening, Brian Tellis put it, “First they tell me God is fair, and then they tell me this guy’s just 15”. Buddy Guy himself had huge praise for Quinn, and it was clear that the respect was mutual, as Quinn closed his set with a song about his mentor, ‘Buddy Guy’s Blues’.
Just before the closing act, a short video recapping the last 4 editions of the festival played on the big screen, and for the people who’ve been there every year, it was goosebump-inducing nostalgia!
Last up was the legend himself. What a performer this Guy is! He's 78 years old, and if you didn’t know it, you’d never guess! As usual, the setlist, the improvs, the onstage banter, the jams with keyboardist Marty Sammon, everything hit the sweetest spot imaginable. Buddy Guy has been to the festival a few times before, but he still manages to keep the act fresh every single time, even if the setlist hasn’t changed much.
And when Quinn Sullivan, Rich Robinson, Doyle Bramhall II, Thorbjorn Risager and Nikki Hill joined Buddy Guy on stage for an All-Star Jam to bring the proceedings to a close, the crowd excitement levels hit the roof!
All in all, The Mahindra Blues Festival 2015 was a delight, and between you and me, I can’t wait for 2016!
Image Credit: Official Facebook page
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