It has been just over a month since the Music Maker Blues Revue returned from Australia. The full experience is finally carving itself down to a cohesive memory.
As a primer, the Music Maker Blues Revue has performed at the Byron Bay Blues Festival in New South Wales, Australia, eight times. The Blues festival itself is remarkable; over a four-day weekend, more than 150,000 music fans tramp around a fairground with five tented stages all day to revel at some of the world’s greatest Roots, Blues, Soul and Rock performers. Along with the Blues Revue, this past year’s offerings included Taj Mahal, Bonnie Raitt, Paul Simon, Robert Plant, Carlos Santana, Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite and more.
Byron Bay Blues Festival has earned a reputation as being one of the world’s greatest music festivals. Seeing this as an opportunity, the festival now brings in select acts to tour the rest of Australia around the dates of the festival. One of these opportunities was generously bestowed upon the Music Maker Blues Revue. Our tour started us in the farthest reaches of Australia, deep in the bush. Known as the most remote major city in the world and the capital of Western Australia, Perth is built on mining wealth and it has the air of a thriving boom-town. It has a beautiful skyline and clean streets lined with boutiques and well appointed restaurants. We literally traveled more than halfway around the world to get there from our starting point. When we landed, it was 14 hours into the future.
We were all there, all except for Major Handy. I thought, ”Well, this shouldn’t be a problem.” We had another 24 hours before we were set to go on stage at the West Coast Roots and Blues Festival, our very first show of the tour and Major Handy’s first show with the Blues Revue, ever. I think I gave air travel too much credit.
How did it all turn out? Well, Major’s flight out of Lafayette, LA was delayed causing him to miss his connecting flight in Los Angeles. He ended up having to spend the night at an airport hotel and wait for the next day’s flight out. His new arrival time would get him to the venue just an hour before we were supposed to go on stage. Yes, Major had not played with the band yet, but Ardie had been preparing Nashid, Albert and himself, working on Major’s material over the phone and by CD. They had not all been in the same room together, but through the magic of technology they had been playing with Major regularly since January when the lineup was confirmed (and after we’d made sure everyone had active passports).
Forty-five minutes before we were supposed to go on, we were sitting in our dressing tent when the flap pulled back to reveal a travel weary Major carrying his luggage and a flight case with his accordion. In spite of the three days he had been in transit, he had a big smile on his face and hugs and salutations for everyone. Before he sat down, he reached into his bag to pull out a washboard and two bottle openers with the handles wrapped in duct tape and handed them straight to Pat Wilder. “Hey Pat, you ever played one of these?” Major demonstrated a few rhythms that Pat copied. “You’re a natural!” he exclaimed, “I need you to play it during my set.”
Pat replied, “Cool.”
I asked Major if he wanted to wash up before the show and we found a locker room with showers. Fifteen minutes later, he looked like a new man and we were backstage watching Dr. Burt open the show to a capacity crowd, probably 8,000 to 10,000 people.
Needless to say, each of their performances was a massive hit. When Nashid dropped the signature bass groove of Major Handy’s original “Zydeco Feeling,” the entire crowd was rocking. The whole group fell in and Pat played the washboard without missing a beat. It was a truly amazing start to our 10-day tour Down Under.
Next up… Melbourne, Justin and the miracle rehearsal.