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Black Joe Lewis revs up Columbia on first night of Roots ‘N Blues

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Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears left its already clapping and dancing crowd yelling for more last night after a 90-minute set filled with Lewis’ wailing into the night with the Honeybears’ electric guitars and saxophones and drumming that never rested.

The group rounded out the three-act lineup for the Roots ‘N Blues ‘N BBQ stage at the intersection of Seventh and Locust downtown, following The Wilders, a self-proclaimed hillbilly band, and Southern Culture on the Skids, a surf-R&B-rockabilly-swamp-pop combo that hails from North Carolina.

Black Joe screamed out in his stream-of-consciousness, spoken word and repetitive style reminiscent of influences James Brown and Lightnin’ Hopkins. The band showcased songs such as “Big Booty Woman,” “Black Snake,” “I’m Broke,” “Raise Your Window,” and “Sugarfoot,” which the band performed on  The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, and a cover of (who else?) James Brown’s “I Don’t Mind.”

The crowd, pushed up to the stage and extending out down Seventh and Locust, weren’t the only ones dancing. Guitarists Zach Ernst and Bill Stevenson circled each other back-to-back to the beats of Matt Strmiska’s drums while David McKnight and Eduardo Ramirez floored the audience with their passionately delivered saxophone solos. And at the tail end of the set, Black Joe Lewis himself put down the guitar, picked up the mic and began to show off his moves.

Although it sounds like it might have hurt, what with the explosive and powerful quality of the band’s music, standing directly next to the amp was probably one of the best decisions I made in listening to the band for the first time. I could feel every beat, but above it all I could still hear every note sounding out from every instrument and, above all of that that, Lewis’ words.

“Talk to me,” he crooned during “Big Booty Woman.” “Hold my hand, it’s all right / I got everybody lookin’ and she’s all mine.” Their spontaneous delivery made gave the feeling that the band was coming up with these lyrics and these spot-on beats just for the audience.

The swagger of their music was no indication of the band’s attitude, though. Bill Stevenson acknowledged the presence of music legends at the festival, directing audiences to the Peace Park stage.

“If you get up and leave right now and don’t watch us, go see Huburt Sumlin, I think he’s playing around here somewhere,” he said of the guitar idol who’s been described as a major influence by such artists as Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. “He’s a lot better than we are, and we really appreciate you all sticking around.”

The festival performance was the band’s first show in a couple of weeks, Lewis. And it seemed like everything, from the weather to the barbecue to the crowds, made it the perfect night to enjoy this tour de force.

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Written by Sangeeta Shastry

September 26, 2009 at 12:36 pm

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