By, Tom Baldino
After a three-year hiatus, the Bucks County Blues Society led by our good friend, Mikey Junior, held the Bucks County Blues Festival on the grounds of Snipes Farm in Morrisville, Pennsylvania. Prior to the pandemic, this festival ran for 35 years and was always known for its great lineups in a relaxed, picnic- type setting. As a member of the JSJBF, Mikey and his band represented our Foundation in Memphis in 2009 and had the deepest run of any band we have ever sent.
Former IBC chair Gene Iadanza and I had never been to the event and decided that it was time we checked it out, and we’re glad we did. We were joined by JSJBF member Joe Weisbrod and his date, Denise Haller, a cousin of Mikey Junior, who had never seen him play! The farm is an ideal venue for an event of this type, and the bands didn’t disappoint. The day started off, and continued through the set changes with Brian Elliot, a local guitarist who did some great blues classics augmented by a looper. For those of you not familiar with the device, the guitarist plays a rhythm track which is repeated over and over while he then solo’s over the track and sings the song.
The first band up was Max Kaplan & the Magics, a young four- piece outfit out of Memphis. With some great original tunes like “99 Pounds” and “Born to Love You,” Max and his song writing partner Jad Tariq traded soulful licks while the rhythm section of Les Gilman on drums and Brooklyn’s Ali Bowman on bass held down the bottom. A seldom heard cover of Sam the Sham & the Pharaoh’s “Wooley Bully” was a fun choice, and Ali get’s a shout out for an excellent bass solo on the original “Come On.” The closing song, Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say,” had the audience up, singing along, and dancing. It was a great start to the day.
Next in line was Gabe Stillman with his bassist Colin Beatty and drummer Ray Hagen. Again, all young men, they did a dynamic set of mostly original material highlighted by “My Whiskey’s Gone Again” and the title track from the new album, “Just Say the Word.” This Pennsylvania-based trio has been playing all over the area and was recently nominated for a 2022 Blues Blast award. Their 12-song high energy set finished with a great cover of John Lee Hooker’s “Crawling Kingsnake.”
Things really got interesting with the next act, Gypsy Joe Alves & the Groove Profits featuring Georgie “the Blacksmith” Bonds. Georgie was joined on the stage by “Big Daddy” Lamberson on harp; Dan Goldberg on drums; Steve Nelson on bass; Georgie’s nephew Andrew Bonds, who added some tasty licks on lead guitar; and Phillip Lewis on rhythm guitar. With a seated Georgie, who is lucky to be with us after a medication problem that almost cost him his life, they ripped through some great versions of classic blues like “Little by Little,” “I’m Tore Down” and Howlin’ Wolf’s “Evil.” Georgie was in strong voice, and you could see him really come to life with the members of Gypsy Joe’s great band behind him. It was wonderful to see so many young musicians and then have an elder statesman of the blues show us all where it came from. After the mini set, Gypsy Joe came on stage with his five-piece horn section which included Cullen Bittler on trombone, David Scott on tenor sax, AJ Ranaglia on baritone sax, Shawn O’Neil on trumpet, Michael Scott on tenor sax and Adam Derr on keyboards. They took right off with “Let’s Have a Natural Ball” and followed it up with a terrific version of “I Wouldn’t Treat a Dog (The Way You Treated Me). Joe than talked to the audience about the state of the country and left them with the message “we’re still the greatest country in the world, don’t f… it up,” before launching into an impassioned Ray Charles inspired take on “America the Beautiful.” The set ended with an extended instrumental version of Stevie Wonder’s “I was Made to Love Her,” where each band member was called out for a solo. It was a fun set, and you could really see the bandleader in Joe as he spread the musical wealth around the stage.
At this point, Mikey, who had been the MC for the day, came up for a special introduction as he welcomed his stepmom and mentor Robin Hudak to the stage. Accompanied by guitarist Matt Daniels and Big Daddy Lamberson, they did a three-song set with a terrific rendition of Robert Johnson’s “Walking Blues.” Mikey Junior and his band then took the stage. It was good to see original members Matt Daniels on guitar and Jimmy Prichard on bass, joined by longtime drummer Scott Stumph and Jersey native “Filthy Rich” McPherson on guitar. Mikey’s harp-filled blues drenched set included “Somebody Help Me,” the originals “Don’t Be A Cheapskate” and “Whiskey By The Glass” and the instrumental “Wipe Out” featuring Matt Daniels blazing guitar. The song “Way Too Fast” was a poignant tribute to the late Danny DeGennaro. They ended the set with a great version of the Walter Davis tune “Come Back Baby.”
The closer, Dustin Douglass & The Electric Gentlemen are a Pennsylvania-based blues/rock power trio whose roots are in the Hendrix/SRV/Cream/ZZ Top vein. Their opening number, “Broken,” had that power cord structure which was at once familiar but unique to the band. Dustin Douglass on guitar, Matt Gabriel on bass and Tommy Smallcomb on drums, were equally adept at putting their own spin on the blues like the classic, “Born Under a Bad Sign.” The audience was enjoying the band when, unfortunately the rains came and they had to cut the set short. That being said, nothing could dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm for all the Bucks County Blues Society’s volunteers and musicians who made this day a memorable one.